I can’t prove it’s true, but I choose to believe people treat
me the way I’ve taught them to treat me. This creates a big responsibility
for me. It means that if I don’t like the way someone is treating me, I can
alter their behavior by first changing my own. I can have a positive influence
on the situation. Since I have, by my behavior, taught them to treat me
the way they are treating me, I can often, by changing my behavior, teach
them to treat me differently. If I want them to change, I must change
first. It is a basic psychological teaching that if we want to change the
way we feel, we must first change the way we act.
If you remember only the title of this book, you will have
come a long way, a longer way than many people in our society, in maintaining
your serenity and peace of mind.
In 1990 I gave Max a written Declaration of Emotional Independence.
It stated that she was no longer responsible for my feelings and I was no
longer responsible for hers. My anger and all my feelings, I admitted, came
from me, not from her. From that point on, I could no longer say, “You made
me angry.” I could only say, “I chose to get angry when you did what you
All of this is what makes “victimhood” so popular. As victims,
we aren’t responsible for our lives. We blame someone else. However, this
statement is true for me, and it’s true for every one else: My life is my
responsibility. The circumstances of my life don’t determine the quality
of my life; the quality of my life is determined by my reaction to circumstances.
As we grow in the program, we realize that assigning blame
is not only a waste of time, it is a serious impediment to emotional independence
and peace of mind. It really doesn’t matter who is to blame. That’s not the
important question. The important question is who will be the first to take
a leadership role in recovery? Who will be the first to surrender, to call
a truce, to bring joy and love back into the relationship?
Instead of competing to see who will win the argument, let the spirit of
competition determine who will be the first to give in, the first to accept
the fact of the situation and change it. In a very important sense, the
first to surrender wins.
Our emotional distress often arises from our expectations
of others—either expecting too much and not getting it, or expecting too
little and getting it.
And one more time I realize that if I want to change my feelings,
I must first change my actions and my thinking—mine, not theirs. I cannot
let their behavior be more important to me than my emotional sobriety, my
serenity. No matter how much I love them, no matter how much I care about
them, no matter how important their welfare is to me, I must watch my priorities.
I must value my serenity ahead of their behavior.
In an attempt to improve my communication with my Higher
Power, I’ve recently been modifying the Serenity Prayer. I say, God,
grant me the serenity to calmly accept the things I cannot change, the courage
to change my attitude, and the wisdom to enjoy life’s journey.