This was Mrs. Rudder’s third visit to see me about Harry’s skin. The little old pug sat happily on the bench next to her and I gently looked him over. Overall, he was doing great! His skin was less red and he was no longer keeping her up at night with his scratching. However, as I looked up at Mrs. Rudder she didn’t seem happy at all.
Which was odd. Mrs. Rudder was generally a very sweet and kind woman who loved her little dog. Our visits were usually pleasant and we often laughed over how much Harry liked his belly rubbed. Only today she seemed upset. She was definitely not happy and I began to wrack my brain as to what I had done wrong.
Was she not happy with how Harry was doing? Was she upset I was running a little behind and she had to wait? Was she mad that this was her third visit? Had I overstepped by asking for one more recheck just to make sure he was doing ok? On and on my brain went. Trying to make sense of why Mrs. Rudder was so obviously upset with me.
Before I could make sense of what was happening Mrs. Rudder stood up and told me that she needed to go. She hurried out the door to the lobby with Harry in tow and I slowly walked back to my desk, still running the interaction over and over in my head. My brain was in overdrive. I felt out of sorts and had a knot in my stomach.
Ten minutes passed. Ten very unproductive minutes. I walked out to the lobby to greet my next patient and was surprised when Mrs. Rudder reappeared and motioned for me to come over to her. My heart sank as I made my way over to her, dreading whatever she was about to say.
As I approached her, she laid her hand on my arm and she said, “I’m so sorry dear, I have the worst diarrhea and had to run to the bathroom”.
Instantly I felt a weight lift from me and we both giggled at the embarrassment of having to admit such a thing.
There were things happening, literally, inside Mrs. Rudder that had nothing to do with me. And yet, it completely changed how she responded and reacted to me. Not knowing what was happening inside of her, I immediately took her responses personally and began to doubt myself and our relationship when all along it had nothing to do with me, and everything to do with her, and her gastrointestinal tract.
This is a beautiful example of a mantra I like to hold close at hand which is “it’s not about you.”
“It’s not about you,” helps me to remember that everyone is walking through this world with their own set of rules in their head. How their day should go and how people they interact with should act. And when things don’t go according to the rules in their head, people behave badly.
In those moments I have a choice to make. I could take their bad behavior personally and let it ruin my day, week, year or life. Or, I could realize that their bad behavior has more to do with the rule book inside their head and what is going on in their life and very little to do with me. The second choice helps me to stay present so I can help instead of becoming mad or spiraling into a heap of self-doubt and anxiety and being of no use to anyone.
So I choose the second. I choose “it’s not about you because it feels better and helps me to stay in a place where I can respond with compassion.” And it’s not to say that I don’t look at my actions and look for the lessons in those moments to make myself better and grow. I still do that.
But I have unhinged myself from a lot of the self-blame.
Now please don’t think that I’m asking you to be a verbal punching bag. I most definitely am not and have very little tolerance for verbal abuse. I am, however, asking you to see the curt, rude, abrupt, less than stellar behaviors for what they are. An outburst due to some kind of deviation from the rule book inside their head or a side effect from what is happening in their life.
So the next time someone shows less than ideal behavior, just remember, they might have diarrhea.
And see if that doesn’t make you feel a bit better about your day.
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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the DrAndyRoark.com editorial team.