The Four Agreements of Don Miguel Ruiz: a guide to identifying psychotherapy issues
- Category: Psychotherapy and Recovery Work
* Sorting out the swirl of fact, belief, projection, weaknesses and strengths
Don Miguel Ruiz states four agreements between us and the world that can bring joy, satisfaction, health, good relationships and success to our lives. Stating these agreements as clearly as he does gives us the gift of facing them. When we face them, we have an opportunity to see how we do and do not bring these agreements into our lives on a regular basis. That gives us the opportunity to see what’s required to improve our lives. It’s a wonderful guide to identifying issues that can be explored and addressed in psychotherapy.
What follows are each of his agreements and the psychological issues that might be indicated in psychotherapy work when you have difficulty honoring them.
- “Be impeccable with your word. Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.
If you can’t do this your psychotherapy work may involve past or present habitual situations where you lived in fear of reprisal if you spoke your truth. You may have been abused physically or emotionally. You may have been intimidated by people in power. You may have experienced long term physical or emotional extortion or blackmail. You may have been certain that if you did not bend to the will of others you would lose your security, your home, financial support, love, care or your job.
If you can’t do this you may suffer from a low opinion of yourself and need to speak, lie or exaggerate to put yourself in a better light with others or go so far as to make yourself out as heroic. You may inflate your weak association with a well-known person or way of life to inflate your importance in another’s eyes.
These qualities within you can be worked through, with time and patience. You can free yourself to say what you mean and mean what you say in the support and validation of what you believe and wish for yourself and the world.
- “Don't make assumptions. Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life."
If you can’t do this your psychotherapy work may need to address magical thinking or your holding an alternate reality to the world in which you live. This does not mean psychosis. It means living a fantasy, holding on to naïve ideas and visions from childhood, an inability to grasp the reality of personal responsibility and personal effort.
It may involve the letting go of a belief that others are responsible for your well-being. It may involve a breaking away from an entitled frame of mind and learning what strength and skills you need to develop to take the actions necessary to fulfil your goals.
Assumptions are short cuts to understanding your current situation or what someone else is saying or doing. Your assumptions are based on your imagination, your personal experiences, wishful thinking or expectations of catastrophe, harm or wondrous good. Assumptions may be made based on your certainty of being superior or inferior. Therefore, you assume the other person comes from a less valuable position or more valuable position than yourself. What that person is saying or doing you judge based on the certainty, perhaps misguided, you have about who you are.
Your therapy may need to be peppered with fact checking processes as well as self-examination about the source of your impressions. You may need to explore which of your assumptions come from deeply held beliefs that don’t make sense in your relations with others or your current position in life.
- “Don't take anything personally. Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won't be the victim of needless suffering."
If this is difficult or impossible your psychotherapy work may need to address the span and scope of your real and imaginal world. You may be focused on your own feelings and needs to the point where you exclude or can’t imagine the experience of another person. The roots of this limitation may be easily reached or may be profound. For example, if you’ve led a life of deprivation and/or danger, you are accustomed to focusing on what you need for survival and can’t imagine someone else being confident and secure in their safety and well-being. You may experience the self-confident opinions of others as a threat to you personally.
It’s possible that you are extremely empathetic and get lost, without realizing it, in another person’s experience. If that happens, what they say or do resonates with you as if you were experiencing what they are describing.
As a highly empathetic person who doesn’t know how to pull out of such an experience, you may be really feeling what they are describing. You don’t understand that despite your feeling deeply, the content is not about you.
If what a person is accusing you of has within the accusation a grain of truth, you may be more vulnerable to accept the entire projection/accusation. For example, if another criticizes you for being insensitive because you are late for meetings you will not be affected if you know you are meticulous about time. But, if being on time is important to you and you feel badly when you are occasionally late, the accusation of hurting others by being late may sting. You are not immune. You may take on the full brunt of their accusation even though you are innocent.
In your psychotherapy you may have to learn to accept your faults and skills so you can compare the reality of your behavior to the projected accusations. The projections are usually far more extreme than the grain of truth of your experience.
- “Always do your best. Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret."
If you can’t do this, in psychotherapy we’d have to explore what limits you from doing your best. Will you offend someone by outshining them? Will you hurt someone or disappoint someone by showing skills and abilities that may take you beyond the possibilities of their limits?
Are you afraid your best will bring you into experiences you are afraid to see or know or enter? If you think doing your best is acting on thoughts and ideas others do not share, you may think it’s not doing your best at all. Bringing in your creativity or innovations may seem to you as clumsy, stupid or ridiculous activities for which you would be punished in some way.
If you are not motivated to do your best perhaps the activity is not something that of interest to you. Perhaps you have an unacknowledged learning disability that needs attention. Perhaps you want to please someone by being involved in an activity and just do the minimum to gain their acceptance and approval.
You may limit your ability to do your best because you are depressed or using alcohol or drugs or suffering from an eating disorder.
You may be tired or burned out or questioning the value of doing your best in an area. You may not be able to do your best in all your areas of interest and need to learn to trim down your expectations of yourself (or the expectations of others).
These issues can be explored, understood and resolved in psychotherapy so you are free to do your best where you heart and conscience lead.
Don Miguel Ruiz gives us a guide map that helps us discover agreements worth living. Since none of us is perfect, he gives us an opportunity to see how our imperfections can show us how to develop more into who we want to be.
The Four Agreements
*Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay