Don’t Take Anything PersonallyPosted: April 6, 2011
This is the second — and my favorite — of Don Ruiz’s four agreements. (Click here to read about the first one, Be Impeccable with Your Word.)
Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.
Can you see how healing this can be if you really internalize it? It’s not easy to do, but man, is it freeing when you start to get the hang of it.
When I first read what Don Ruiz has to say about not taking things personally, it really resonated with me. Perhaps because I have a long history of taking everything personally.
What was really eye-opening was when he took it to the extreme, with the example of someone you don’t know coming up to you on the street and saying, right in your face, “You’re stupid!” Who’s that really about? You, or this random person? It’s about the other person, whom you’ve never seen before in your life. But the majority of us would still be affected by that experience. As Ruiz writes: “If you take it personally, perhaps you believe you are stupid. Maybe you think to yourself, ‘How does he know? Is he clairvoyant, or can everybody see how stupid I am?'”
He goes on to say, “When we take something personally, we make the assumption that [others] know what is in our world, and we try to impose our world on their world.” We try to make it about us, when it’s so not about us. And the way we choose to react to whatever it is can have implications. It can cause us needless suffering.
For example, for most of our married life, when my husband would come home from work and snap at me in a mean way (not that he does this every day, but when he does), I would take it personally. I would decide it meant he thought I was a bad wife, a horrible cook, lazy, a bad mother, you name it — whatever it was, I now realize, that I might have been thinking about myself that day. What he was actually upset about, almost always — no, actually, always — was something that happened at work or elsewhere. When I made it about me, we’d end up in a stupid fight that wasted time and emotional energy for both of us.
When I finally decided to stop reacting — because after years of getting to know this person and having this same fight again and again, I realized it wasn’t something about me that he was upset about — he’d apologize and then take the opportunity to vent to me about what was really frustrating him. That’s way more constructive for both of us.
The anger I often feel as a mother has much the same shape. Usually when I blow up at the kids, it’s because I’m anxious or stressed about something completely other than what they’re asking me about or telling me. The mess in Kate’s room is really not that big of a deal, but because I’m overwhelmed by all the organization I need to do on some PTA project, or whatever, it puts me over the edge. Did Kate make the mess just to piss me off, which I can then use to prove that I’m a horrible, angry, mother? Of course not — she was just playing and being creative and having fun, as she should do as a seven-year-old.
It’s not all about me.
This idea was also once illuminated for me quite powerfully when someone accused me of something so over the top that I had to take a deep breath, sit with it and think, “Is this really something you could say about me, or something I would ever do?” And I decided, rather quickly: absolutely not. It became crystal clear that whatever led this person down that road was hers, not mine. Letting go of responsibility for that was a huge relief.
Not taking anything personally is not just an easy way to avoid responsibility for things that are yours to own, or that are your fault. But I’m pretty good at owning up to things. It’s the rest of the stuff, the stuff I used to take on just because other people handed it to me, that I’m able to let go of when I remember this agreement.
And that’s made all the difference.