I haven’t written about Don Miguel Ruiz and The Four Agreements lately. The reason, at least in part, is that I managed to misplace my cards. While emptying the bookcase, I set them somewhere they’d be safe; of course, now they’re gone and I don’t remember where.
So I write today about one of the Four Agreements themselves: Don’t Take Anything Personally.
This Agreement bothered me for years — I have taken many different things personally, throughout my life. I thought I might list them all as part of this post, but I would have to write till Saturday, and I still wouldn’t have them all. My family operated by taking things personally. I became a champion competitor in this event.
I took personally every judgmental word my father ever said to me, and I still do now, even when he doesn’t mean them critically. I took personally the teasing and taunting by my siblings when we were very young — some of it I still remember. Since then,I came to trust my sibs for who they are, but still, with some of them, I don’t sense that all is forgotten.
I took personally any scholastic or academic negative evaluation — I even gave up my French Horn major, when the teacher wanted me to learn over from scratch. I was sure that he was just trying to slow me down, or hold me back, when all he wanted was to teach me a better way to play. I have taken jobs personally, to the point where I would quit, rather than facing criticism of my work.
And others’ opinions weren’t all I took personally. I lacked the confidence to resist my vilification of myself — by the time I was 30, I had such a web of disappointment and disgust built up, I listened quite willingly when I called myself stupid, or weak, or lazy, or so many other self-disparaging names. I had no defense at all; over the years, I became more and more crushed under my own chastisement, and that of people whom I love the most. I was beaten down by my physical circumstances, by failed relationships and jobs. I took anything and everything personally, adding minute by minute to my own misery.
What changed? Many things, but especially a couple of my root beliefs. Most importantly, I have forgiven my own shortcomings, which manifested themselves over so many years. I learned to love myself for who I am, without trying to avoid or ignore my own faults and challenges, but also recognizing my own potential and accomplishment.
I learned, as well, to understand that all people say disdainful and unkind words about each other; what other people say about me is only as personal as I allow it to become. In most circumstances, (though not all, and not always,) I choose not to allow others’ judgments to influence my life choices. Sometimes, I believe I should, but I am always careful to remember that my self-judgments are the ones that count, and when I listen to them, I must always remember to love myself.