The more I practice each of the Four Agreements, the more I seem to expect that others will do the same. The most common pitfall of the ego is to experience brief moments of delusions of grandeur – it gets you into real trouble with reality. Sometimes, I think that by conducting myself in a certain manner, I will inspire people to take notice and say to themselves, “Hey, wow look what she is doing! I think I will make that change too!” And then I imagine people will start being nicer to one another, and we will stop being angry, and magically we will have world peace. The End. (Delusions of grandeur is also an indicator of mental illness….)
But that isn’t really how the real world works, is it? People don’t always act, think, say, do things in ways that we expect them to….more often, they never do. I, myself, do not generally act or say things that others (nor that I) expect me to because, well, some days my filter is just not as good as others. Ruiz is clear in his instructions pertaining to the Second Agreement – Don’t Take Anything Personally…..and that means ANYTHING. Great…so now that I am not taking the s**t people say, or do, personally, can (or should) I also expect others to follow suit? Could and Should are two very different concepts.
Should I expect them to? Possibly.
Can I expect them to? Not likely.
What, then, are we to do if/when someone takes something we have said or done personally? If you harbor the capacity for empathy, then it is likely you will feel a deep sense of regret if you inadvertently hurt another’s feelings. Telling someone that they shouldn’t take things personally can give the impressions we are being callous and insensitive towards the other person’s experience. Practicing the Second Agreement assumes that we also agree to take accountability for our own feelings and reactions to any given situation. I often struggle to find the balance between caring about other people’s feelings without taking care of other people’s feelings.
Sadly, someone who has no capacity for empathy would not even need to debate the balance. For most sociopaths, there is never a concern over whether or not they hurt someone’s feelings because they genuinely do not care, and have no ability to care, about another’s feelings. In fact, if your feelings differ from their feelings, rather than worrying about taking it personally, they simply remove you from their life without the slightest twinge of regret. Oddly enough, there is something we empaths can learn from this practice. When relationships are out of balance, and one person continually takes from the other, without giving anything in return, the giver needs to learn to walk away from the taker without feeling guilty.
Too often, givers are too worried about other people’s feelings because they sense discord in the relationship that creates a certain level of anxiety in their personal state of being. They take it personally when someone is upset and thinks that it truly is because of something the giver said or did. Someone who continually gives needs to recognize when the taker is not taking responsibility for how they feel in a situation, rather expecting the giver to be the one to resolve their emotional turmoil. Takers often exploit a giver’s capacity for empathy and manipulate them into believing that their needs are secondary to those of the taker’s.
Recently, a friend of mine and I had a falling out. It wasn’t the first time and I decided it was time to walk away from the friendship. This was not an easy decision, not that they ever are, but it was necessary to protect my own sweetness of mind. Unfortunately, this person continually sees themselves as a victim of life’s circumstances. They often perceive everything people say or do around them as a personal attack against them, even if the circumstances really had nothing to do with them to begin with. When we take everything this personally, it is generally an indication of low self-esteem and extreme lack of confidence. As was true in this person’s case. They did not hold themselves with very kind regard, which truly breaks my heart. No one wants to see another human being suffer, especially at their own hand.
I got caught up with trying to get them to see that they have value, and then found myself providing them with constant validation and constantly needing to validate my intention to maintain a friendship with this person. Rather than spending time being able to exchange pleasantries and discuss what was happening in each of our lives, I felt like I was having to defend myself for not living up to this person’s unrelenting expectations. The relationship was clearly out of balance and I found myself harboring resentment towards the other person because each interaction with them left me feeling exhausted. However, I didn’t feel like I could walk away because I was appreciative of the fact that this person had provided some support to me when I was suffering from depression a few years ago and I certainly didn’t want them to feel like I took advantage of their kindness. But, I had to acknowledge I was not trained to deal with their extreme feelings of insecurity.
The more I observed this cycle, the more I realized that it was not going to change, because the person wasn’t yet ready to change. I couldn’t take this personally, they genuinely see the world from a place of fear and lack. My desire to walk away was also nothing personal towards them, but rather based on a need to be protective of my own resources, as a caregiver, and think I could do anything to “fix” this person. I was also tired of being placed in a position of constantly having to defend myself. The Second Agreement helped me let go of the anxiety and guilt I felt about having to walk away from the friendship. By not taking it personally that things just didn’t work between us, I was able to walk away without any feelings of anger, or vengeance, but rather with a sense of peace. Despite the person’s manipulation tactics that I was harming them by doing so, I ended the friendship, knowing that if they wanted to take it personally, that was their choice, but I had to maintain my own peace of mind.
We never really know if we are doing the right thing or not when we walk away from a relationship. It’s really hard not to feel like the asshole when we have to protect our own best interests (aka a healthy state of mind). Yet, when a relationship is healthy, and reciprocal, neither person gets placed in a defensive role. Both parties involved take accountability for their own feelings and both are able to acknowledge, and quickly rectify, when they have mistakenly said something that was hurtful to the other. No blames the other for their own feelings, no one is a doormat for the other’s inability to control their reactions. All adult relationships should be a reciprocal, even exchange of understanding, support, and love.
While not all adult relationships function in this manner, I am free to choose which ones I will give my time and energy to and it isn’t personal if I choose not to spend it with one person versus another. Please know I am not trying to be an asshole, nor is it something you need to take personally, but rather understand that our energies just don’t vibe together. It happens. When you can accept this, it is much easier to move on and find relationships that are more harmonious. Our time on this earth is short, we must invest wisely.
We Must Do No Harm, But Take No Shit Either.