Over the years, I have used an idea I refer to as “OPS” with my clients, which refers to what I call “Other People’s Stuff.” Admittedly, sometimes it is “Other People’s Shit” when it gets really damaging!
The idea behind OPS is that often when people say or do things that hurt us, or they make it clear they think something negative about us, it is actually OPS – meaning that it has way more to do with them than it does the person they are directing it at. And a fair amount of the time, it is about manipulating you.
Unfortunately, too many of us take on OPS and make it our own. We believe it. We react to it. We take it on as the truth even if it isn’t true OR healthy for our own well-being.
But. You don’t have to take on OPS because it might not be the truth, or anything you really have to do something about.
Here are a few examples of what I mean, with some common reactions when we are taking on more than our own stuff.
OPS: Your friend becomes angry with you because you didn’t invite her to come with you and another friend to a movie. This is really about her insecurity and jealousy towards the other friend.
Unhealthy Reaction: You feel guilty, apologize and promise not to do it again even though you know those two friends don’t get along very well and it will only lead to more trouble for you and them.
OPS: Your mother asks you, “Are you sure you want to eat that?” in an obvious judgment that you are too overweight to be eating a second brownie. This is really about her poor body image and being too heavily influenced by mass media and advertising, and she might even believe that how you live your life can somehow reflect negatively on her.
Unhealthy Reaction: You feel shamed, it lowers your self-esteem, and you are certain you will somehow never be good enough. And you don’t even get to eat the brownie because you put it back.
OPS: One of your employees continually refuses to complete all the appropriate details in his reports, despite your repeated direction that he needs to make sure it is done correctly. It is really about his inability to deal with authority.
Unhealthy Reaction: You keep wondering what you are doing wrong that he keeps on missing important information in the work he does, and feel like you are a terrible boss and have trouble communicating.
To avoid letting OPS impact your self-esteem, or influence your choices in life, here are some things to do:
- See OPS for what it is – When you can recognize it in the moment, you are better able to separate yourself from that person’s OPS and evaluate the situation more objectively.
- Run it through your own filter – Challenge whatever it was someone just put out there. Do you know what they are thinking? Is it actually true for you if you consider all the factors? Just the question, “Is this true?” can help you to separate someone else’s issues from your own.
- Decide what you think – There’s no need to carry the burden of what someone else thinks or does if you know it doesn’t reflect truthfully about you. Decide one way or the other if what they think, said, or did has any merit.
- Respond in a purposeful way – If it isn’t true, throw it away. Let it become completely separate from you, and give it a lot of emotional distance. If you decide that what they put out there is true and it’s something you need to work on, then figure out what you need to do to make changes and get started.
- Have good boundaries – You can set limits on how people treat you, and you definitely can set limits on yourself and how much you let things get to you.
It is natural to try to figure out and solve problems between people, and it is also a healthy thing to consider things you may need to change in yourself to take care of the important relationships in your life. Each of us has enough stuff to deal with, try not to take on other people’s stuff too.