Two years ago, I read The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. Although the book is written in a very simple, almost childish language, it’s filled with many powerful insights into our lives and relationships.
According to the author, we all have our own personal agreements. Essentially, an agreement is a story you tell yourself about something, to the point where it becomes a belief that unconsciously dictates your whole life.
We make thousands of agreements with ourselves, with our loved ones, with the society we live in. In these agreements, we tell ourselves who we are, what we want, what we believe in, and how we should behave. We create an identity that makes us feel safe, even if it doesn’t serve our highest good.
For instance, by constantly telling yourself “I can’t do it” you’re creating or reinforcing an agreement with yourself. You’re agreeing that you’re not good enough, and therefore you’re limiting your potential.
On the other hand, if you tell yourself that you’re a strong, capable person, worthy of love and respect, then that’s exactly who you’ll become.
Don Miguel Ruiz says that one of the best ways to free ourselves from our old agreements is to create new ones. In the book, he describes four agreements that will help us release the beliefs we once created, and one of those agreements is don’t take anything personally.
This agreement changed my life.
Other People’s Behavior Is A Reflection of Them Only
We are social beings. The interactions we have, the words we exchange, and the behavior we exhibit — all influence every sphere of our lives.
However, this interconnectedness can make us feel like we’re responsible for everything when we’re not. Other people’s opinions and behaviors, no matter how personal they seem, have usually nothing to do with us.
If someone judges you for, let’s say, building your own business, it’s probably because you’re reflecting back at them something they haven’t acknowledged about themselves — perhaps their lack of courage, or their unwillingness to go after their dreams.
If your friends think you’re crazy or selfish for following your intuition and choosing a creative path, it was probably your trust in yourself and your abilities that triggered them — they secretly wish they would do the same.
If your partner leaves you, it’s not because there’s something wrong with you. You’re absolutely worthy of love, respect, and affection — don’t ever doubt that. They’re just dealing with their own personal issues, feelings and emotions, and following their own path.
If your parents judge you for choosing the nomad lifestyle instead of a stable, corporate job, you’re probably reminding them of the projects they gave up in order to live a secure life that never really fulfilled them.
In any case, their judgment is not about you — it’s about them.
Don Miguel Ruiz says,
“Your point of view is something personal to you. It’s no one’s truth but yours. If you get mad at me, I know you’re dealing with yourself. I am the excuse for you to get mad, and you get mad because you’re afraid, because you’re dealing with fear.”
From my perspective, as long as you’re taking responsibility for your own actions and behaviors, then this mindset can really do wonders for you.
Recognizing that nothing is ever about you frees you from the pressure of worrying about the opinions of your family, friends, and acquaintances, especially if you’ve always been a people-pleaser.
It was this book, and particularly this agreement that made me realize my father’s anger was not my fault. I had spent years doing everything his way, thinking it was my responsibility to fix him and make him feel better. Unconsciously, I believed I was the reason behind his explosive temper because I was not good enough to satisfy his expectations.
Besides, it has also helped me acknowledge my own emotional triggers. Now, when I feel jealous, scared, annoyed, or upset, I’m able to stop and ask myself why am I really feeling this way? What triggered me? What is this person doing that I find so upsetting?
At the end of the day, we’re all just projecting our own beliefs and programming onto others. Nothing is ever personal.
Those who try to control you or manipulate you are just projecting their own fears and insecurities. Those who can’t love you for who you are, are projecting their lack of self-love onto you — because when you’re overflowing with love, you can’t help but give it to others.
Even when someone gives you a compliment, it’s a reflection of themselves that tells you how much beauty they see in the world, and how comfortable they are in their own skin.
Dr. Lindsay Gibson, an experienced clinical psychologist whose books I love, talks about this in Who You Were Mean To Be:
“A caution that so many of my clients have heard from their parents is that dreaming is all very nice, but sooner or later you have to realize that real life is not like that. My question is: whose life is not like that? Theirs? (…) When parents invoke the name of reality to discourage their children’s hopes, it’s because they feel hopeless — not because real life is hopeless.”
“Don’t take anything personally” can be incredible advice, but it’s important to have in mind that it shouldn’t be an excuse to do whatever you want without holding yourself accountable. Each one of us is responsible for our words and behavior.
However, adopting this mindset can help you take your power back and realize that, when it comes to your life, the only opinion that truly matters is yours.
So, do what feels right for you. Leave your fear behind, work on your emotions, get clear on your ambitions, meditate on your dreams, follow your intuition and take the steps it tells you to take because that’s the only voice you should be listening to.