I’ve always been sensitive. Seriously, like, since birth. For example, one of my first memories is of my siblings playing The Magical Quest Starring Mickey Mouse on the Super Nintendo (#throwback) and in it, Pete (the mean bulldog that is Goofy’s frenemy) has kidnapped Mickey’s dog, Pluto, so he’s the final boss. But let me tell you, guys… He looks like a straight up BULLY. He’s all red with rage and has a weird staff that’s head is like, an alligator? Anyway, I couldn’t handle how angry he looked. I sobbed so loudly that my dad came in from mowing the lawn and made my siblings turn off their game. (#sorrynotsorry)
Basically, I’ve never liked when people are mean, even if that person (or bulldog, I guess) is fictional.
So when people are mean to me? It crushes me. I’m talking a wear-my-sweats, devour-pounds-of-ice-cream, cry-in-my-bed level of devastation. Or at least, it used to.
Until I figured out that how people treat me? It’s not a reflection on me at all. It’s a reflection on them.
The Friend Who Dropped Me
A few months after I turned 19, one of my very best friends (we’ll call her Lizzie) became more and more distant. I wasn’t sure what had happened—Lizzie went from being my shopping companion and my stay-up-all-night-talking confidante to someone who no longer saved me a seat in class. She ducked my calls, avoided me, and eventually blocked me on social media.
I had no clue—I still don’t—what I did to upset her so much. I remember saying to her, “Lizzie, I can’t fix what I don’t know is broken,” to which she simply responded, “I don’t feel like I have to tell you.”
It broke my heart. A few months later, I received a few emails from her detailing ways that I was a bad person (or at least, that’s how it came across to me). I waited a week to respond to her because I was so upset and didn’t want to reply in a moment of anger. When I replied, I apologized for anything I’d done to hurt her feelings but explained that I wasn’t perfect and wouldn’t ever be. Her response crushed me: she didn’t want to be my friend anymore.
Those emails haunted me for a long, long time. Every time I did something well, every time someone complimented me, her words would replay in the back of my mind. Maybe they just don’t know me very well; if they did, they wouldn’t like me, I would think to myself. I’ve always thought I was a good person, but suddenly I even doubted that. I’ll never measure up was the thought that whispered itself in my ear constantly, making me question everything I thought I’d known about myself.
Fast-forward to a year later, and I was on a mission. I found out that Lizzie was also serving a mission, so I sent her an email. This is what I wrote:
“You are going to be—and already are!—an incredible missionary. You have such light, [Lizzie], and the people of [your mission] are going to be so blessed by your testimony. You’re wonderful and I have always been so blessed by your example!
Missions aren’t easy, as I’m sure you already know and have figured out, haha, but they are so rewarding! It’s amazing to see the Gospel brighten up someone’s life and to see the change in someone’s countenance. My mission president also talks a lot about how the mission will change us—he always asks, “What are you becoming?” You learn and grow more than you ever imagine possible on a mission, and it’s incredible. I’m so excited for you, [Lizzie], and so happy for you. You’ll be fantastic!
Hope things are going well for you. Don’t feel obligated to respond; I just wanted you to know that I love you and am so happy for you. Hope all is well!”
Well, she did respond—and she wasn’t pleased that I had emailed her. She asked why I had messaged her and I told her that I wanted to wish her good luck. My gesture of goodwill wasn’t reciprocated; she responded by saying a number of cruel things about me, like that I was resentful and nosy.
I was baffled and depressed. What was so wrong with me that this person whom I respected and admired had such disdain for me? I was trying so hard to be kind and loving but somehow ended up feeling like I was a callous jerk. It wasn’t until later (and I’ll repeat this over and over again!) that it dawned on me: how Lizzie was treating me—how she saw and felt about me—had nothing to do with me, and everything to do with her.
The Woman at Work
I struggle with a lot of things, but in general, getting along with people isn’t one of them (except for a few random cases like Lizzie). But a few years ago, there was a woman at work whom I simply couldn’t win over.
I was a 23-year-old newlywed and I was excited about this new job opportunity. I’d quit my last job because I felt impressed to, which turned out to be a great decision because it enabled me to finish school faster. In any case, though that job had been stressful, I loved the people I worked with and we got along great.
But this new job? I’ve never felt more disliked in my life, and by people who didn’t even know me! Turns out, it was all thanks to one woman: Rita (name changed).
Rita hated me from the day I started. I’m not sure exactly why she targeted me, but I became the victim of her rumors and the subject of her jokes. In the office, we had an instant messaging system, and one of my only friends at the office told me that Rita would message other people about me and how awful I was: I was bad at my job, I made up being sick when I had to call out, and any other mean (and untrue!) thing she could think of. Unfortunately, to the people who didn’t take the time to get to know me, her words seemed true.
I remember leaving work one day and calling my mom, crying. I felt so judged by almost everyone in the office in spite of going out of my way to be nice and thoughtful. “Why does she hate me so much?” I cried. My mother told me something to the effect of, “Amy, people don’t treat other people unkindly unless they’re unhappy with themselves.”
I’d heard those words before, but suddenly they rang out so clearly to me: it wasn’t my fault people were being rude and hateful. It was theirs. These people were struggling and were likely unhappy with various aspects of their lives, and I was an easy target because I wouldn’t say anything mean back.
There wasn’t anything wrong with me. In fact, how they treated me wasn’t a reflection on me at all. It wasn’t even about me!
It’s Not Me, It’s YOU
The classic break-up line goes, “It’s not you, it’s me!” But in this case, it was reversed. It wasn’t me, it was them!
Rita and Lizzie weren’t bad people, but they were both probably going through things I didn’t even know about. Whether they meant to or not, they made me feel like a loser and a bad person. But even still, I’m grateful for them because they taught me a valuable lesson: no one else’s opinion of me matters. My opinion—and most importantly, God’s opinion—is what really determines who I am.
Lizzie later apologized to me for how she had acted and I appreciated it. Honestly, though, I don’t really care anymore whether or not she likes me, because I don’t need her approval to know that I’m a worthwhile, good person. I know it for myself!
I learned that when others treat me badly, it isn’t a reflection on my worth as a human being because no one else determines my worth. All of us are beautifully unique children of God, and He loves us. He never makes us feel like bad people who are hopeless and unable to become better! He reminds us that we are the “workmanship of [His] own hands” and that He loves us infinitely.
So next time someone treats you badly? Walk tall knowing that their cruelty has nothing to do with you, because it’s not about you. It’s about them.