Principles Before Personalities Explained

“Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our Traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.” – The Twelve Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous

Whenever the Twelve Traditions are read, many of us may stumble over this final line. In the rooms of recovery, even as we are trying to support one another, we may not always agree with others in the room. What does “principles before personalities” mean, and how can it contribute to our experience in a 12-Step setting?


Overcoming the Clash

We’ve all met people we just don’t get along with. Whether they speak out of turn or are brash with their language, it can be difficult to ignore the agitation that these individuals spark within us. We may even be so distracted by the irritation they cause that we don’t get very much from the meeting. This is when principles before personalities becomes an important aspect of our 12-Step philosophy. It is crucial to get past what others are doing to further our own recovery and well-being.


Problematic Personalities

There are plenty of people you may struggle with in an AA or NA meeting. There are often folks who ramble, who interrupt, who feel the need to brag, who lash out, who make snide remarks or who eat loudly in the middle of a meeting. How should you respond when your fellow meeting-goers begin to bother you?

When in active addiction, you may have chosen to react by behaving out of turn yourself. By saying something clever, insulting them or calling them out in front of everyone. However, in recovery, we are asked to place the principles of Alcoholics Anonymous before everything else. This means that we must choose honesty, open-mindedness and willingness, along with patience, humility and understanding. Just because we do not like someone doesn’t mean that we have carte blanche to mistreat them or derail our own progress.


How to Practice Placing Principles Before Personalities

Don’t Take Anything Personally

Perhaps the best way to put principles before personalities is to consider another famous recovery phrase, pulled from Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements: don’t take anything personally.

Ruiz’s point is that even when a situation seems geared to push your buttons, that is rarely the case. Even if someone directly insults you, that has nothing to do with you; instead, those actions say everything about them. Over time, as you practice detaching from others’ opinions and choices, you’ll come to understand that:

  • You are never responsible for others’ actions, and
  • You are only responsible for yourself.

This disconnection can be freeing. It gives us permission to focus on our own work – to tend our own gardens. When you stop spending your time on what others think, do and decide, you may be surprised by the rapid progress that you are able to make.

Practice a Principle

You can also work on bringing greater awareness to each moment. First, identify what is bothering you and how it makes you feel. Next, assign a principle to practice in direct response. If someone continually interrupts during a meeting, for example, you may use that moment to focus on patience or inner calm. If a person feels the need to brag in every interaction, you might see a chance to work on your own humility and understanding. With a bit of extra mental effort, you can turn irritations into opportunities.

Remember: The Person May Fail, But the Principles Don’t

Overcoming substance abuse is an ongoing battle. When you’re a newcomer working the Steps, you may find yourself looking up to others in the group. If there is a gap between what members say and what they do, you might pass judgement or feel concerned. This is when principles before personalities is especially vital. It’s important to realize that while those in your meetings may make poor choices, lash out or relapse, the principles remain. Remember that as long as you stay dedicated to just doing the next right thing, your own recovery is secure.


Recovery Support Rooted in the 12 Steps

At Cumberland Heights, we have blended 12-Step work with clinical excellence for a proven approach to recovery. Our residents have access to regular meetings, one-on-one counseling sessions and a host of therapeutic modalities. To learn more about our treatment centers throughout the state of Tennessee, contact the Cumberland Heights admissions team.

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Your gift to Cumberland Heights through our annual and capital initiates gives immediate support to patients and their families. To make a longer term impact a gift to the endowment fund will provide patient assistance funding for years to come.