Have you ever been told: You know, it is not all about you! Or maybe you uttered those words of dissatisfaction yourself as to how a conflict is being discussed. Taking things personally is a cognitive error we all make at different times, because everyone has a pool of insecurity, some more than others. If I tell you I just fell and broke my arm, and you proceed to elaborate on that time when your leg was shattered in three places, you are not listening and only relating the event to yourself. Ergo, it is all about me!
When we are in a stressful situation, the response by the physical and the emotional systems involves anxiety as well as depressive thoughts. Setbacks bring on feelings about this being a fault in behavior, in character or in decision-making. None of those responses comfort, so then comes coping mechanisms that might have helped us in the past. First: You started it, you did it! This is our inner child rebelling. That is the cognitive error I refer to. You are no longer a child, and life is not a smooth path. So how do you deal with a stressful situation and not take it personally or ascribe the fault to your partner? How do you take the appropriate amount of responsibility and get away from 100% blame to yourself or to the other?
In a relationship, it is crucial to realize that we are not the total purveyor of the partner’s happiness, not are they the same for ours. In loving a person, we do contribute to their well-being or lack thereof. If I lie and cheat, of course it will affect the loved one’s state of mind and actions. But how they deal with the disappointment is what they determine. That can range from total unacceptable violence to a rational discussion. Likewise, at my end, there are many options as to how I would take responsibility or at the extreme end, claim they caused me to lie and cheat (Yes, I have heard this, that the partner made the person have an affair!).
So how do we figuratively step outside of ourselves and discuss a difficult matter without making it all about ourselves? The first step is not to respond impulsively. Take a deep breath. Give each other a bit of time to recover from the shock. Own your behavior, hard as it might be. And most importantly, know that you are responsible for your own mood and behavior. Getting yourself to a better frame of mind will help in sorting through the stressful conflict. In claiming ownership of your state of mind, and giving your partner theirs, you take a huge step in following a healthy and strengthening connection.
In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity. – Albert Einstein
As a psychologist in private practice since 1979, Janan Broadbent, Ph. D. offers individual, couples, group and family therapy, in addition to conducting workshops on topics such as stress management, communication skills and assertiveness. She writes about current issues relevant to relationship building and conflict resolution in LGBTQ and minority populations, with emphasis on health, fitness and education.
Born in Turkey, Dr. Broadbent earned her undergraduate degree in psychology in 1965. At that time, first as a Fulbright Scholar, then as a CENTO Fellow, she received her master's and doctorate degrees in psychology and education from the University of California at Los Angeles. She has taught graduate and undergraduate courses in psychology at St.Mary's College of Maryland, Mt. Vernon College in Washington, D. C., Johns Hopkins University and the College of Notre Dame in Baltimore. From 1981 to 1988, she was also the Director of Counseling at Notre Dame College.
While in graduate school, Dr. Broadbent worked for the Voice of America radio program, writing and recording materials on the cross-cultural college experience. She has been interviewed on various news programs on TV and has received media training.
Dr. Broadbent is a member of the American Psychological Association and has served as the chair for the Public Affairs Board and as a member of the Executive Council of the Maryland Psychological Association.
Dr. Broadbent's office is located at:
Village of Cross Keys, 120 West Quadrangle, 2 Hamill Road, Baltimore, Maryland 21210-1847 phone: 410-825-5577