Recovery and The Four Agreements

We know that spiritual growth and emotional intelligence are beneficial for those in recovery. Why is this? One of the most common reasons is that both spiritual growth and emotional intelligence are healthy and self-sustainable coping mechanisms that often help the individual filter through and deal with unnecessary emotional distress, which could potentially put the person at risk for relapse. About 25 years ago, Don Miguel Ruiz introduced the world to The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom. The four agreements provide a list of actions one can take to lead a higher quality and more fulfilling life through the elimination of emotional suffering. Let’s delve into what this might look like in recovery. The four agreements, according to Ruiz, are:

  1. Be impeccable with your word.
  2. Don’t take things personally.
  3. Don’t make assumptions.
  4. Always do your best.

For many of us, rumination of negative thoughts often tends to cause a downward spiral into anxiety and depression. Not only do we usually internalize negative comments and behaviors perpetrated by others and ourselves, but we often believe that they hold truth. Negative self-talk and gossip about others eventually leads to a manifestation of self-doubt, guilt, shame, anger, and a host of other uncomfortable feelings that often become unbearable to manage. This unmanageability may lead some toward substance use to cope. Words have the power to build and destroy. Words can destroy self, words can destroy relationships, and ultimately words can destroy lives. So, it makes sense that the word should be used in a way that will encourage and inspire rather than discourage and tear down. The word should be used to build a healthy relationship with self and with others. The first agreement, Be Impeccable With Your Word, means speaking with integrity and saying only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word to offer love and never to cause fear or pain. In doing so, one can expect happiness and health in recovery and a positive ending in any situation.

The second agreement, Don’t Take Things Personally, says that nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a result of their own perception. A person’s mood can change by the minute and, as a result, so can their actions towards self and others. A person’s reactions/ responses are subjectively informed by past experiences having absolutely nothing to do with you in that moment. People will always have something to say about you but not everything is about you! Others are going to have their own opinions according to their experiences and belief system. Whether you are in active addiction or even if you are in recovery, it is important to understand that you are never responsible for the thoughts, feelings, and actions of others. You are only responsible for your own. Make a consistent attempt to claim your power in instances where you feel personally attacked, by considering various perspectives and reframing the narrative around the situation. This provides an opportunity to lessen potential triggers that may put you at risk of relapse. When confronted with hurtful/ negative comments, distasteful stares, and so on, consider how best to respond knowing that you are just a recipient of projection in that moment; and understanding that when you take things personally you set yourself up to suffer for nothing.

The third agreement tells us not to make assumptions. We all tend to make assumptions about any – and very often every – thing. We often speculate based on feelings rather than facts. We jump to conclusions and become expert mind-readers and fortune-tellers. Basing our decisions not on what someone says or does but on what we believe they’re thinking, without any definitive evidence; and expecting that things will not work in our favor. You see, the main problem with making assumptions is that we believe they are the truth. We make assumptions about what others are doing or thinking – we take it personally – then we blame them. This results in feelings of anger, resentment, and fear towards others. We also make assumptions about ourselves which causes a lot of inner conflict and turmoil. Even if we hear something and don’t understand, we assume we know what it means and then believe the assumption. What good does any of this serve to the individual? Don’t Make Assumptions. Utilize effective communication techniques to gain clarity and understanding. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness, and drama/ chaos. The way to keep yourself from making assumptions is to ask questions. If you don’t understand, ask. Have the courage to ask questions until you are clear as you can be. And even then, do not assume you know all there is to know about a given situation. But use this understanding to make an informed decision about how you will respond.

The final agreement, Always Do Your Best, is really a culmination of the first three agreements. It is about taking action. It tells us to always do our best, no more and no less, under any circumstance. Keeping in mind that your best may look different depending on how you feel in any given moment. As Ruiz says, everything is alive and changing all the time, so your best will sometimes be high quality and other times it will not be as good. Doing your best helps you to become your best self! You will be more productive, your self- esteem and confidence will increase, and your relationships with others will be strengthened. The fourth agreement encourages us to do our best, by taking the necessary actions to care of our mind, body, and soul.

The four agreements should be applied in tandem. They are interconnected and one can neither be implemented nor mastered without the others. Putting these agreements into practice can be helpful in lessening emotional triggers and building healthy relationships in recovery. Remember, just continue to do your best! By doing your best, the habits of misusing your word, taking things personally, and making assumptions will become weaker and less frequent over time. Allowing for a higher quality and more fulfilling life in recovery. Always remember, everyday is a fresh start.

The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom, Don Miguel Ruiz, 1997.

T’Mira Looby, MS, NCC
Primary Addiction Therapist

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