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The Second Agreement: Don’t Take Anything Personally

Don’t take anything personally.

That’s the second agreement of Don Miguel Ruiz’s classic, “The Four Agreements.”

I need a reminder today. So I open his book to that chapter and read:

Whatever happens around you, don’t take it personally… Nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of themselves. All people live in their own dream, in their own mind; they are in a completely different world from the one we live in. When we take something personally, we make the assumption that they know what is in our world, and we try to impose our world on their world.

Even when a situation seems so personal, even if others insult you directly, it has nothing to do with you. What they say, what they do, and the opinions they give are according to the agreements they have in their own minds…Taking things personally makes you easy prey for these predators, the black magicians. They can hook you easily with one little opinion and feed you whatever poison they want, and because you take it personally, you eat it up….

18 Comments to
The Second Agreement: Don’t Take Anything Personally

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  1. I don’t think there is any such thing as being “too sensitive.”

    Would that the world… too sensitive.

  2. Not true.

  3. I enjoyed your post, thank you. There’s a book “Thick Face, Black Heart” by Chin-Ning Chu you might check out, that talks about ways to “become tougher” mentally. Also, like you pointed out, if there’s something or someone you know will upset you, avoid it/them!

  4. But the whole idea isn’t that you need to avoid people or ideas that anger you. You have to understand that they don’t really want to hurt you, they are going for their own selfish needs and it’s quite possible you do the same too.
    All jerks think the world is filled with jerks.
    So learn to hear them, and it’s ok to get angry, emotions and such are not something that is wrong to have, or something that should be avoided, even emotions such as anger. But you have to remember where you need to channel them. Don’t channel your anger against other people, they don’t really wish to harm you. Just whenever someone says something that irks you remember, they don’t really understand, and just keep going.

    • Charlie…thanks for this reply…you certain clarified things… I get it but I did struggle with this agreement for awhile…but once you get it…you get it…and you want everyone else to get it too!

  5. I really appreciate this posting for what it teaches and I think I’ll order a copy of that book!

    I especially like the teaching because it resonates so well with a major concept in the DBT-CBT recovery workbook I wrote, the concept of “Emotion-Driven Thoughts.” These are thoughts that are driven by or are caused by our emotional state. When we’re in an upset Emotional Mind state, many of these thoughts or statements are “Emotion-Driven Lies.” They are false beliefs based on our mood and the quality of these thoughts often change as our mood or situation changes. Thus, they do not reflect the facts, the truth, or the reality or ourselves, others, the world, etc.

    We believe Emotion-Driven Lies when we are in Emotional Mind. When we turn on Rational Mind, we often come to recognize that they are lies and just the way we are thinking because we’re angry, hurt, discouraged, scared, etc.

    One of the key skills in this program is to become mindful of our emotion-driven thoughts and to turn on Rational Mind to look at the Big Picture of the situation, of ourselves, others, the world….and to challenge these thoughts to determine truth and reality.

    The workbook also teaches that we need to follow the same process and challenge the criticisms, judgments, and ugly statements of others to determine fact or fiction. It teaches us to recognize that most often, they are speaking out of Emotional Mind…and are saying such things because they are angry, hurt, mad, scared, etc…and that what they are speaking are Emotion-Driven Lies.

    We learn that what THEY say is no different than the ugly, emotionally abusive things we say to ourselves…and we should not let emotion-driven thoughts penetrate our soul and our sense of self. We should not believe these things to be accurate perceptions of our personal qualities or character because they do not define us other than how we may think or feel when we are emotional and upset! We need to live the wisdom of what many of us said in childhood, “I am rubber, you are glue…what you say bounces off of me and onto you!” – because the ugly comments of others are only a reflection of their emotional stuff and the way they think and feel when they are upset and speaking out of Emotional Mind.

  6. I would like to agree with this message, but I can’t.

    I think it is very important to consider the opinions of others, at least for the purpose of getting independent feedback.

    For example, when my doctors say I am noncompliant, they may not get me to take medications that cause me to have side-effects, but I need to at least consider their arguments.

    If someone says I have offended hem, I need to think about that and perhaps make amends.

    We don’t live in isolation, and we shouldn’t try to do so.

    Jim Purdy

    • I think that a lot of people are misunderstanding this concept. The idea is not to listen to others. In fact, it is important to listen to others. But not taking things personally is not allowing yourself to be injured by what others do or say. You can take it and analyze it, see if there’s anything in what you see or hear that might help you do better, anything in it that might help you understand the other person better, anything that might help you manage a situation with that person better the next time. But taking it personally, allowing yourself to be hurt, only makes you dysfunctional and likely leads to a worsening of the relationship and situation over the long term.

      Taking things personally mostly hurts you, but it can also badly hurt many who care about you!!! None of us is perfect in this (I myself have allowed myself to be badly affected by this several times in my life), but the better we get at taking things rationally, the better we will get along with others in our environment and the better we’ll feel about ourselves.

      • This is a great reply…one of the best. I struggled for many years because I took insults to personally…had I known that what the other person was saying was just a reflection of how they felt…I would have suffered less. I am so happy that I was introduced to don Miguel Ruiz’s 4 agreements.

  7. Hmmm . . .

    I have mixed reactions to your post . . .

    I am learning that it is best to not take anything personally . . . otherwise, I spend my entire day being offended.

    However, that is not to say that the other person in the transaction didn’t mean it personally . . . that may be true . . . but, how do I know if it was intentionally personal (harmful), or if that person is just lashing out because of pain?

    Does it matter? Maybe my response can be to not take it personally, regardless. It seems a waste of my time and energy to always be figuring out if someone else’s action should be arbitrarily labeled “personal” . . . whatever that means.

    – Marie (Coming Out of the Trees)

    • I think that it doesn’t matter if they intentionally or unintentionally insulted you…it’s about how we react to it….and if we react in a negative way…we just add fuel to the fire…I struggle for many years because I took everything personally…but no more…and I’m so happy…I wish I could have know about these 4 agreements sooner.

  8. Little things in your post reminded me of little things I have read (and re-read) recently. Books and websites that in combination, I think, have started to change my life more than anything before…
    1. Feeling Good by David Burns MD
    2. Conversations with God by Neale Donald Walsch

  9. This philosophy can be quite liberating, but a pandora’s box nonetheless. Every aphorism is a “catch-22”. As such, to play the devil’s advocate:

    1. “Even when a situation seems so personal, even if others insult you directly, it has nothing to do with you.”

    What happens when two people are in disagreement and both subscribe to this philosophy of emotional projectionism? Do they ignore the matter until the situation resolves itself?

    2. “Immunity in the middle of hell is the gift of this agreement.”

    But to what limit? Is ignorant bliss better than principled action? Is there not a time and a place when one must stand up for themselves, for what is just? Otherwise we give license to unjust cruelty.

    In Buddhism, the Boddhisattva only goes to hell to relieve the suffering of others.

    3. “You will only need to trust yourself to make responsible choices. You are never responsible for the actions of others; you are only responsible for you”.

    Is this justified narcissism? It absolves responsibility for the provocateur’s action. In extremity, this maxim can be a rationalized affirmation for heinous activity.

    Timothy McVeigh wrote “I know in my heart that I am right in my struggle… I have come to peace with myself”.

  10. From a neurological perspective, we can teach our children/students another simple rule related to needless suffering by “taking things too personally.” The way we frame the issue (see our being hurt by others’ actions or words (including bullying)is a simple process — quite different from denying our pain:

    1, Emotional pain stems from primitive, impulsive instinctual brain functions, which often confuse our conscious, rational brain.

    2. Rather than ignore or deny emotional/social pain we teach kids to NAME the kind of pain they are feeling. (My book, “Emotional Honesty & Self-Acceptance,” describes 4 core emotional wounding experiences — loss, rejection, betrayal & humiliation.) Naming what we’re feeling gives us control by giving emotional upsets “substance” and perspective.

    3. Once named, our rational brain takes charge by categorizing that it is our job to claim (own) and reframe the wounding experience without blame.

    4. The final step of this self-awareness coping with pain is realizing that what hurts is our need and REALLY desire — is the OPPOSITE of that wounding experience. It informs us that we all care deeply about ourselves, others, good friends and supportive relationships.

    We’ve found this process can be taught in the classroom using a brain game that allows pre-teens (9-12) to play out this “self-awareness” process when they land on a “Hurt Card” square that require them to first land on a “Healing Help” card by landing on that square. All this is done by rolling dice, just like playing Monopoly.

    A virtual “Name the Upset” version of the game has been played by thousands of kids (and their parents, teachers, counselors)for FREE on our educational website. In little over 2 years, the non-commercial coping skills site has been visited by over 70,000 kids and adults from 168 countries.

  11. Have to say I’m with Socrates on this.

    The Four Agreement is basically a watered down version of some of the basic tenets in Buddhism. Indeed, taken out of context these concepts can lead to narcissism and imblanace.

    Buddha, was never a doormat. He had great compassion, great confidence, and a very open mind.

    However he still believed in what is termed “right action and right speech”. And so, while he definitely advises that one not take things personally, in the face off offence, for the reasons mentioned above – he would take action (driven from pure heart and clean mind) to correct a wrong.

    I just love how all these books are written, with items taken out of context to appeal to a secular, western audience. It’s a ltitle dangerous actually. I by no means imply one should embrace buddhism as religion but if you like what you’re reading in the self-help section please do a little research and develop a deeper understanding.

    • Thank you! I’ve been trying to understand this concept for years but something always bugged me about it. What about the extremes like racism, sexism, and bigotry? Especially true, I needn’t take these personally, but should that undermine activism? The implication of this agreement is that I won’t be able to change another person’s opinion. However, I cannot sit back and tolerate prejudice, as this is a choice to allow offensive behavior to continue.

      I suppose the solution, as with anything else, is to be mindful. Am I responding in this way because I feel personally slighted, or is this a true attempt to make an impact on the way this person sees the world for the better?

      • I struggle with this as well but now I get it and once you get it you will understand. I don’t see where he says not to fight for injustices. He says not to take things personally, which for me is that I shouldn’t take it to heart and should not be angry or feel insulted because someone said something insulting to me. If I am being discriminated by not being offered a job, a home or some benefit–then that is “a horse of different color!”

  12. Assume Innocence. In all the “touchy-feely” seminars I attended in a previous job that is the only phrase to stick with me.

    As we go through life, most people are not intentionally attacking you. Maybe they don’t understand how much the words hurt; maybe they don’t realize you’re having a terrible day. Of course some people will say or do things intentionally to slash away at your heart.

    We can’t know the other persons thoughts or intentions. Maybe it’s simply a bad choice of words, a tone of voice, the look on a face. However that’s our perception, not necessarily their intent. Of course we will all meet the purposefully malicious type in our lives. But even them, they might have some type of mood disorder. We can never know.

    In a more general way, all those people we interact with during the course of a day are not irritating you intentionally. Throughout our lives, many people will be in line at the less-than-15-items checkout line with 17 items; many people will seem to take forever at the ATM or the drive-thru or searching through their purse or pockets for the exact change; many people will cut in front of you on the freeway or not use their turn signal. Waiters or retail clerk will sometimes treat you badly.

    However, we shouldn’t assume these people are intentionally aiming their actions at us. Our impulse may be to feel they’re doing these things because they noticed it was you behind them or because it’s you they are waiting on. As someone said previously, we are not the center of their universe.

    Assuming Innocence makes things a lot easier day-to-day. Assume their actions are not aimed at you: they could be totally lost in thought and oblivious to what’s going on around them. Or they might be completely self-centered and don’t care.

    How many times have you parked your shopping cart in the middle of the aisle and wandered away looking for something? How many times have you stood perusing the menu at the fast-food counter when you know what’s there, and will end up ordering the same thing you always do? You weren’t aiming that at anyone specific.

    Things Happen. Assume Innocence.

  13. I love that philosophy, Christine. It seems better to assume that other people aren’t intentionally trying to hurt us. Assuming innocence on the part of others allows us to be more forgiving.

    However, while it works in theory, it doesn’t always work that way in real life.

    I don’t mind little things that people do. No one is perfect. But what comes to my mind is the REAL slights and insults that people dish out.

  14. This is good advice, I think it is totally true when we take things personal we are accepting another persons poison and in a way are allowing them to have control over us, when we refuse to take anything personal in the moment that moment will pass and we are not allowing it to control what we think or say the rest of the day.



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