“When you operate from a place of pure integrity in your relationship with self, you can rest assured in your beliefs, and not feel compelled by the views of others.” ~ Janine Rudder
Although I’d heard the phrase “Don’t take it personally” scores of times over the years, I first learned of the practice about five years ago. Don Miguel Ruiz’s insightful, powerful, and truly life-changing book, The Four Agreements, delves deeply into the overused term. He explains what it actually means to not take things personally, why it is essential to living peacefully, and how understanding this powerful practice can shift your perspective and change your internal dialogue.
Before I explore Ruiz’s thoughts, I want to share what occurred recently that brought this front and center into my life.
A little over ten years ago I lived in Central America as a volunteer. I was in a cohort of about thirty other twenty-something Americans, some of whom I grew very close to. One of the women I most connected with ended up living on the opposite end of the country where we volunteered, yet we were still able to communicate regularly and find time to share significant experiences. She turned out to be an essential piece of the fabric that was my support system. I appreciated and cherished her.
When we returned to the States, we remained connected via text and were each able to visit each other once although we still resided on opposite sides of the country. As the years passed, we communicated less frequently, but when we did, we were able to maintain the level of adoration and connection we once had, or so I thought.
I recently reached out because I hadn’t heard from her in a while. In the text I inquired about her life, made a few jokes and expressed how much I missed her. No response. After a few days, I looked back at our correspondence thread and noticed that she hadn’t responded to the last text I sent her either over a year ago. I understood that we all live over-scheduled lives, so I jokingly followed up with a text that read “Are you ghosting me?” with a laughter emoji.
About a day later she replied. Her response was sharp, cursory and shrouded in sarcasm. For the first time, I now realized that there was a problem. I immediately did my best to step into my most compassionate, honest self before responding. It turned out that I wasn't consistently responsive over the years and became harder to reach after I got married. This did some damage to our bond. She was hurt and instead of explaining that to me directly, she opted to quietly and deliberately fade from my life.
While randomly scrolling on social media I saw an announcement that my dear friend is pregnant. My stomach went hollow and I was immediately hurt to have found out, with the rest of the world, on social media. “Wow, I thought we were real friends.” I said aloud. After about 30 seconds of self-pity and questioning the authenticity of our friendship, I reach for the phone and sent a truly heart-felt, congratulatory message to her about the announcement.
The Harm in Taking Things Personally
The second chapter of The Four Agreements is dedicated to the concept of not taking anything personally. In it, Don Miguel Ruiz outlines three primary reasons why taking things personally is not in alignment with our true selves, and is a major disruptor of personal peace.
While processing the emotions that arose during the scenarios outlined above, I had a flashback to when I first read chapter two of The Four Agreements. Revisiting Ruiz's words reminded me of some important core values, which I explore later in the post.
1. Taking Something Personally Validates its Truth. Ruiz asserts that you take it personally because, on some level, you agree with what was said. This struck me when I first heard it because I had some resistance to it, yet it makes so much sense. Most of the time when people make judgments, they are totally subjective and grounded in their interpretation of your words and / or actions.
Someone’s opinion of you obviously isn’t truth; and even if you find their views of you hurtful or offensive they are totally based in how they filter information through their five senses. In other words, opinions are highly slanted and internalizing them is akin to giving them credence.
Your beliefs help to form the vision you hold for yourself. Allowing your beliefs about yourself to be tainted due to someone else’s assessment of you could damage your confidence and inhibit what’s possible for you.
If someone gives you an opinion, don’t take it personally, because the truth is that this person is dealing with his or her own feelings beliefs and opinions. That person tried to send poison to you and if you take it personally, then you take that poison and it becomes yours. – Don Miguel Ruiz
2. What People Say and Do is Always About Them, Not About You. Ruiz says that even when others praise him he doesn’t take it personally. His position is that so often we are all at the whim of our mood and circumstances that our perspectives can be precarious and ever-changing.
He insists that we must know the truth about ourselves. If you know who you really are and trust your truth about yourself, then nothing else matters. To that end, working on getting to a place where we are completely honest with ourselves, even when it’s difficult and uncomfortable, is essential to living an empowered life.
When you operate from a place of pure integrity in your relationship with self, you can rest assured in your beliefs, and not feel compelled by the views of others whose level of sincerity may be questionable.
I know what I am. I don’t have the need to be accepted. – Don Miguel Ruiz
3. Thinking Things are About You is Self-Important. Taking things personally may be about your need to be at the center of things. When I first read Ruiz’s words on this, I thought it was a bit harsh. He says that taking everything personally equates to selfishness because it’s never really about you. Ouch.
For me, it’s a hard truth that I eventually came to accept and when I did fully succumb to it, I felt liberated. I was freed from the notion that I somehow have control over someone else’s emotions. This also absolved me from the responsibility of keeping others happy or saving them from anger, sadness or despair.
Understanding this kept me mindful of over-inflating my own sense of self and level of influence over others, while helping me to embrace the idea that people are naturally capable, resilient, and able to think, process and act for themselves.
What you say, what you do and the opinions you have are according to the agreements you have made – and these opinions have nothing to do with me. -Don Miguel Ruiz
Reflecting on This Practice in My Own Life
In scenario #2 above, I fully own that I was suffering from a bit of self-importance. How I overcame it was to:
In scenario #1, it was clear that my friend had taken something that I had said or done personally. I addressed it by:
I would love to hear your thoughts and stories about how you are dealing with taking things personally in your own life.
Janine Rudder is a coach and Co-Owner at Manifestara LLC - https://manifestara.com/