Second agreement: Don’t Take Anything Personally

“Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.” – The Four Agreements

Every time I say I help people learn how not to take things personally they always respond—oh, I need help with that!

Now, if you thought the first agreement needed lots of practice, I find this one to be more challenging.

We get emotionally affected by the things that happen around us, and that happens through our own interpretations. Those interpretations are formed based on our wounds. The more aware we are of those wounds and the better we heal them, the better we get with not taking things personally.

I was talking to one of my clients this week who was hurt by the behavior of his boss. For the first time he was late to work due to blocking of some roads by an accident, preventing him from taking the direct path to the office. The boss was disturbed by this lateness, about 15 minutes, and over the telephone accused my client of being careless with his time and not planning ahead. In other words, my client should leave 15 minutes earlier so that once a year when there is a road problem he could arrive 5 minutes early but the rest of the year he would arrive 20 minutes early! The tone used in talking with my client was also grating and seemed to be attacking.

However, the truth still holds: the boss was expressing his anxiety, anger with the world, and perhaps displeasure with the way his company was doing in its financial struggles. I advised my client to examine whether the critique from the boss was appropriate to the situation, and also to look inside and decide whether he felt he had truly done anything wrong at all. With more awareness of the role that each person—the boss and he himself—played in this situation, my client felt more at peace and confident.

If there is a situation where you want to get a different perspectives in perceiving an upsetting episode with someone in your life (family, friends, co-worker, boss, etc), you can ask yourself and reflect on the questions below:

  • Why is this situation upsetting me?
  • What is the meaning I assign to it?
  • What else could be in play here?
  • What is going on inside the other person’s mind and life?
  • What is the bigger picture?

The second agreement invites us to take back the power we have given others to flatter or demean us, in order to free ourselves from being swayed or controlled by other people’s opinions. Notice that even words of praise or appreciation should not be allowed to deflect us from our own self-knowledge!

This principle does not mean to totally avoid listening to people openly and honestly, taking their feelings and opinions into account. The second agreement includes staying open to kindness and love as well as constructive criticism and honest disagreement, but without being thrown off-balance by any of those.

When you keep the second agreement you can follow your heart and be authentic without fear of being praised or criticized. You can keep your inner peace and happiness no matter where you are, and no matter what situation you are caught in.

Practicing this agreement has brought much freedom to my life. I hope you will try it too.

Happy Thanksgiving!