how to not take it personally

Not Taking It Personally When Someone Sets a Hard Boundary

While taking a walk in a local park, we passed by a homeless man, a dozen homeless folks really, but this guy stuck out.

I said hello in passing, which I usually do. He looked at me with steely, penetrating eyes, a look of fury. I could feel the heat coming from his forehead region.

I’ve never seen someone seethe so angrily from just a hello. It was frightening. A faint series of noises came from his pursed mouth, but no audible words.

My gut reaction was to remain visibly unresponsive to his glare and just continue to walk on. I wasn’t shocked, but I did feel intimidated. His mean-mug was successful.

I reflected on this encounter over the next hour, being the curious philosopher that I am.

I know I love being alone, for many reasons. I grew up playing alone in my room with a dozen dolls most of the time. I find peace and creative energy in the silence and freedom of solitary work. It’s also my safe place where I don’t have to stay alert in fight or flight mode, explain anything to anyone, or feel observed and possibly judged.

Creating boundaries between myself and the energy of others is so much work. I’ve always been a highly-sensitive receiver and transmitter for energy, a conduit. Alone time is that space where I create an emotional clean room for generating energy from the Universal consciousness – the honey pot of intuition for all existence. When I feel positive charged up and replenished, I have the strength and vulnerability needed to engage and connect deeply.

The man I said hello to in the park does not have the “luxury” of being alone, even if it is his preference or need. He has to set a really hard boundary to let people know he doesn’t want to be engaged. His level one of boundary-setting in that situation was likely just not looking at me. In his world, I may have violated that boundary by offering a hello without being acknowledged first. The glare of death was a harder “no.”

It would be easy to make it about me. I could feel it wasn’t warranted for him to be so rude. I could tell myself I didn’t deserve his anger. These things are true for me, but his reaction wasn’t about me. He was telling me something about himself. He wanted nothing to do with anyone else, or at least not me, not then.

I drew knowledge from my mental empathy bank to flesh out a story for him in my mind. This is something I do regularly to process my experiences and try to learn more about what makes others tick.

You have to be tough to maintain boundaries in situations where you have no safe spaces. Repeatedly experiencing judgment and unfairness in your world can make one feel deeply hurt, defensive, and worn out from disappointment. Our skills in interpersonal communication and emotional regulation don’t get the attention they need when all of our energy is focused on surviving. Mental illness is high amongst homeless people, and it’s likely he had illness that wasn’t being addressed. He may have a predetermined perception of me.

Is it necessary to reflect so deeply on this experience? That depends. For me, it’s a passion. I could have dismissed the event, and settled on the simple resolution – this guy wanted me to f the f off. That works for me, but stepping into other people’s shoes, or brains, is what I love to do. It helps me realize how little other people’s reactions have to do with me directly.

While it’s not OK to use intimidation to communicate with others, in the wild, it does happen. Skunks put their tails up before they stink you in the face. Cats arch their backs and growl. This guy I said hello to gave me the hairiest eyeball I’ve ever seen. Wherever he is now, I hope he is safe and resting in ease, at least for this moment.