THE BLOG
07/28/2015 10:35 am ET Updated Jul 27, 2016

Why It's Not You, It's Me

You know what people love? LISTS. Bucket lists, to-do lists, shopping lists, Letterman's top 10 lists... lists help us prioritize and give us a sense of accomplishment. Ever make up a to-do list and then add something to it that you've already done, just so you can cross it off? ME TOO! Love to cross something off my list! Done and done! I've also noticed that people enjoy reading other people's lists. Every time anyone publishes a list ("Top 10 Romantic Getaways!" "30 things to do before you turn 30!" "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover!" No, wait... that was a song. But people loved that too!), it gets about a billion "likes" because lists are fun and easy to read and understand. No complicated grammar to wade through, no use of semi-colons; I really should get into the list business while there is still time. I'll put it on my bucket list! My next article will be "Top 10 Ways to Get a Billion Likes on Facebook" -- #1 is: MAKE A LIST!

Of course with all of these lists flying around, there is bound to be some cross-over. I have seen a lot of lists that feature some variation of "Worst Break-Up Lines of All Time," and invariably, no matter how many people take a stab at this particular topic, "It's not you, it's me" always makes the cut. ALWAYS. And invariably, the reason why this is seen as a horrible break up line is because the interpretation of "it's not you, it's me" is always it's polar opposite: "It's YOU, not me." ALWAYS. It is human nature to take rejection personally and to tailspin into a woulda-coulda-shoulda retrospective... "If only I had done this or hadn't done that... if only I were smarter, funnier, sexier...if only I was not ME, it could've have been YOU." We get past it eventually, and even engage in a little healthy mental mudslinging to do so: "You know what? It WAS you, because your world-famous omelet isn't even admired statewide!" We move on, but the idea that we weren't "enough" stays with us.

I'd like to reframe "It's not you, it's me" for all of us. This is actually the 100 percent truth of every single situation we engage in, even if the end of that sentence is "it's me who hates to be belittled and tormented" or "it's me who doesn't want to work in a toxic environment" (some people thrive on that crap!). "It's not you, it's me" makes my list of the most empowering sentences in the English language because it both takes full responsibility for what is going down and also draws a healthy boundary. While games may be almost as popular as lists (definitely #2, though, because of all those complicated rules!), one game I despise is "the blame game." We have all played that one, too. It is a temporary balm for the soul to think another person (or situation, or corporation!) is responsible for our unhappiness (or situation or conundrum!) but ultimately there is a moment where we get a kind of clarity that life is a "do-it-to-yourself project," as my Dad liked to say. And that while passing the buck might feel good for a moment, ultimately it is going to get us nowhere we really want to go. "The buck stops here" is the essential truth.

Whenever I find myself being triggered, I try to understand why I'm feeling the way I am feeling. Because it IS ME, not you! I have insecurities, I have wounds, I have buttons... these are mine, I own them and I honor them BUT I don't let them run the show. The unique life experiences we have are what make us each invaluable, but they are also often what motivates our reactions. When I feel upset, I have to ask myself -- "Am I upset about what is happening now, in the moment, or am I upset because I am processing this through my insecurities?" Believe me, more often than not, this happens AFTER I have snapped someone's head off; not to brag, but I snap off heads like a pro. What I have learned is that you can, in fact, get a do-over with most people if you are willing to own your reactiveness. "It's not you, it's me" transforms from a weak excuse into a powerful affirmation. It can diffuse the tension and open a dialogue of trust and acceptance. Or it can make the triggering person/situation GO AWAY. And that is an outcome you should always trust and accept. When we take responsibility for how we are feeling, all consequences are good ones, even if we can't see it in the moment.

"It's not you, it's me" can be a wonderful way to live your life, once you get the hang of it. And don't worry that you are letting evil-doers off the hook with it, because "It's not you, it's me" is EVERY BIT AS TRUE FOR THEM AS YOU. When you can take full responsibility for your emotions, it has a great residual: you give other people full responsibility for their emotions as well. This means no more feeling guilty about how other people react and no more feeling guilty for how you react. I think the two most condescending sentences that can ever be employed in a relationship are "Calm down!" and "I'm sorry you feel that way." Shaming someone you care about for their emotional response is the absolute pits; the only thing worse is when you do it to yourself. You feel how you feel because your journey has brought you through the experiences and relationships to this exact point and you are doing the best you can. When you forgive yourself for being human, it makes it a lot easier to extend this courtesy to others. "It's not you, it's me"... I am learning to accept myself, I am learning to forgive myself, I am learning to be myself more honestly. That is the greatest gift you can give the world. And the only game in town, as a matter of fact.