There is nothing like the slightly claustrophobic feeling of a middle seat on an airplane. You neither possess the liberty of the window view nor the freedom to use the restroom without playing a game of human Tetris. Last week, I was wedged in the middle on a Southwest flight, when I noticed my window seat neighbor had his shade down. Now, I’m not exactly a fearless flyer, so seeing the take-off helps me breathe a bit easier. In my most polite, pleading voice, I asked him, “Sir, do you mind lifting the shade just for the take-off?” His reaction was so visceral you would have thought I had asked for his credit card to do a quick online shopping spree.
An awkward silence filled the air for the rest of the flight, while his irrational response was now the uninvited guest in my mental space.
For the next hour, I found myself spiraling down the rabbit hole of his reaction.
His behavior stuck to me, as if I was an emotional Velcro, disturbing my peace and overshadowing my thoughts.
It consumed my energy, my rest, and my peace.
That is until I had a lightbulb moment.
This isn’t really about me or my request at all.
This is about him and whatever internal dialogue he is wrestling with.
So, I looked straight ahead and, with my inner voice so that he couldn’t hear me, declared, “Sir, it’s not me. It’s you.”
The shift was immediate, like swapping my Velcro suit for a Teflon one.
Suddenly, I was free from the sticky, uncomfortable mess of his overblown response.
When someone reacts with a magnitude that doesn’t match the situation, it’s less about you and more about their current state of mind. Their internal struggles, past experiences, and emotional landscape – these are the real drivers.
I’m certainly not suggesting we should shrug off the potential impact of our words or actions on others. Quite the opposite. We should absolutely try to understand and empathize with the reactions we provoke. But we shouldn’t be so quick to let the behavior of others stick to us like superglue.
It’s not always about us.
It’s usually about what they are going through.
Think of it like a puzzle made up of unique pieces of experiences.
When someone reacts in a way that blindsides us, it’s often just one piece of their puzzle coming to the forefront. And it’s critical to remember that we can’t see the whole picture based on that one piece.
So, the next time you face an unexpected or harsh reaction to a simple question or harmless action, take a step back. Remind yourself that you’re interacting with someone who may be tuned into a different frequency for that moment.
And with a heart full of empathy and a mind full of clarity, tell yourself,
“It’s not me. It’s you.”
Therein, you will find freedom.
Freedom from unwarranted guilt.
Freedom from spending your days internalizing every emotional jab.
And most importantly, freedom to maintain your peace and joy.