Don’t Take It Personally

It is the end of an era, and as such a time for reflection.

Stato, who has cerebral palsy and is partially sighted, has just had his last appointment with his paediatrician, the lovely man who has been such an important member of our “village” since we moved here fourteen years ago as he has overseen Stato’s development, treatments and education.
Stato was four when we met Dr J; a talkative, inquisitive little boy with a cheery smile. He understood that the world revolved around him. He could talk and relate to adults very well because he had spent lots of time with adults – doctors, nurses, health visitors, physiotherapists, occupational therapists. These adults always took a great deal of interest in him. He had started school and this was emphasising the fact that he was special. His mobility problems meant that was allowed to sit on a chair when all of the other children had to sit on the floor at story time or in assembly. Someone carried his lunch tray. Every week someone (from support services) came into school to see him, find out how he was and monitor his progress. Oh yes Stato was very definitely the centre of the universe, and he intended to make the most of it. It was when he was 5 that he began to have temper tantrums. Dr J wasn’t surprised by this at all. In fact he thought that it would be this stubbornness and attitude that would help Stato overcome the problems and barriers that he was likely to encounter as he grew up. He said, about the tantrums, “don’t take them personally.”
Keeping this advice in mind was not always easy, particularly when I was tired or busy, but I slowly began to realise that Dr J was right. I started to analyse what caused the tantrums and what managed to stop them. I noticed he found it difficult to keep control of his behaviour when he was excited and when angry. Sometimes distraction techniques worked and a tantrum would be diverted, however if he couldn’t be distracted and a full tantrum happened he would be unable to remember what had caused the tantrum in the first place. He would become distressed and anxious which in turn prolonged the tantrum. Most of these tantrums occurred at home and not many people witnessed them. In public and at school he was, generally, very well behaved. He wasn’t being naughty when these occurred; he was having trouble dealing with his feelings. Realising this allowed me to think about these bouts as symptoms of his disability, and this somehow made it easier not to take them personally.
I realised that I had perfected the art of not taking it personally after one particularly distressing incident. Stato was about 12 or 13. We were in his favourite sports superstore one Saturday afternoon with Cousin P. He had £20 to spend. The item he wanted cost £22. He asked if I would give him the extra £2. I said no and he would have to wait until next Saturday when he had got his pocket money. Frustration kicked in. He didn’t want to wait, didn’t see why he should wait, it was only £2 etc etc. The only way that I could stop the tantrum was to give him the money. In fact I think he may have actually said that to me! I knew that giving in would just set a precedence. If pestering worked this time he would believe it would work next time. I said no, for the fifth time. He began to raise his voice, tears streaming down his face. I said “I’m sorry, you will have to wait until next week” as calmly as I could. He spat at me.
This was a completely new dimension. I am glad to say that it was the first and last time he spat. I didn’t say a word; I just turned and left the shop. Cousin P and a now very subdued Stato followed me. We went home.
Later my cousin asked how I had managed to stay so calm and I explained that there was no point in getting upset as Stato had not been in control of his emotions. “But he spat at you!” he seemed horrified. I explained that I hadn’t and wouldn’t take it personally.
Stato apologised to me on the way home. It was a milestone. We have talked about it on several occasions since. It made him aware of how out of control he could get. He said it made him realise “that I had to grow up and take responsibility for my actions and that the world didn’t revolve around me.”
Not taking it personally allowed him to reflect on his actions without adding extra emotions and allowed him to apologise. He knew that I would accept his apology. It has also allowed us to discuss it dispassionately.
I have been shouted at and called all sorts of names by my teenage boys (usually under their breath I am pleased to say) but I tried not to take it personally. I have always received an apology and we have always discussed the incident later when things have calmed down.
When I have reflected on my own upbringing I realise that that is just how my Mother had been. She didn’t take things personally. In fact it had sometimes irritated me that, while I wanted to sulk and wallow after a disagreement, or a “teenage” episode she would always act as if nothing had happened. We can sometimes find ourselves cringing when we hear ourselves saying/doing the very thing we vowed we would never say/do to our children! Not taking it personally is something that I am very happy to say that I learnt from my Mother.