In Flux

Embracing transitions and change

6 Ways to Take Control

If you don't take charge of your own life, someone else is bound to try.

"If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it’s not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That’s why it’s your path."—Joseph Campbell

 

Living life is can be very challenging at times. Getting the hang of what works for you and what doesn’t may take a very long time. Sometimes you get confused and frustrated by what you’re doing, or where you’re going. You may try to follow your own wisdom, but there are times when your internal navigational systems may throw you way off course. You may be lured away from where you need to be. Often, this siren’s call comes in the form of well-intentioned people who may want to help you direct your life so that you do "the right thing.” But people are not always so well-intentioned.

Sometimes, we trust other people more than ourselves, accepting another’s opinions and views as more valid than our own. Somehow, we think they know what’s better for us than we do—or we’ve been told that so often that we come to believe it. It’s frequently the early influence of our family that sets this scenario in motion. Sometimes, confusion about who we are and what is best for us involves a deep-seated conflict focusing on allegiances to and boundaries with people who we deemed vitally important to our lives. Unchecked, this same familiar pattern may find its way into future relationships with spouses, bosses, mentors, or friends.

For some people, it’s just simpler to allow others to keep doing for them what they need to learn to do for themselves. For others, there is a naive expectation that things will just come their way without having to take action on their own to make it happen. Still other times, there may be an unspoken agreement to sacrifice one’s own authenticity in return for love.

The bottom line is that by not taking responsibility for ourselves, we too often allow others to take responsibility for us. And in doing this we are essentially giving them permission to take charge of our lives.

It doesn’t stop there.

There is an enormous price to pay for giving your life away in this way. It’s simply not your life any longer; rather, it's someone else’s projection of what your life should be. If this seems familiar to you, if you’re passively drifting through life, barely participating in actively creating what happens to you, consider these suggestions:

Take back ownership of yourself. This is much easier said than done since this involves extricating yourself from a relationship where you’ve really been a passive participant. There may be a lot of protest and challenges from others who like things just the way they are and wish to keep the status quo. You may have to put up with this for a while before you learn to stand your ground. But before you can fully take your life back you may need to acknowledge regret for time lost. The only way to move forward is to acknowledge what has happened to you—how you got there, and what you need to do that’s different from what you’ve done so far.

Although you may mourn the past and the fact that perhaps you should have taken charge of your own destiny years ago, it’s essential to recognize, acknowledge, and accept that you have been responsible in part for the life you find yourself in, since you have not been fully present for yourself. You need to begin to identify and shift your attention to your own needs and goals. From a practical perspective, prioritize what’s most important to you, regardless of what others think and feel about it.

Create a healthy space between yourself and your relationships. Admittedly, this is a hard thing to do since so much of who we are as individuals is tied up with and dependent upon our most significant relationships. It’s often difficult to be emotionally attached to someone while still remaining somewhat removed psychologically and intellectually. But creating enough room, a kind of “psychic space” between yourself and others, allows for enough personal expression while minimizing emotional and psychological entanglement. The goal is to gain a healthy perspective of others, without creating conflict within yourself.

Recognize and acknowledge your own worth. We all have specific abilities, talents, and skills but need validation, which at times we don’t get from those we most want it from. When someone you count on for support refuses to acknowledge your positive qualities and abilities, it can undermine self-esteem and confidence. Beyond manipulative, this withholding behavior is often designed to keep a person dependent and needy. This is not someone who really cares about you.

Learn to recognize those individuals who have their own agenda. Limit especially your involvement with those who insist that you live in their shadow rather than shine on your own. This is not a hard thing to recognize since there is usually nothing subtle about other people trying to organize your life around theirs and their agenda. As a corollary, don’t undertake anything that serves the good of someone else when it’s at your expense or hardship.

Heed the warning signs. Watch out for individuals who don’t have the time or inclination to work on the relationship they have with you—or on themselves, for that matter. Be wary of those who make you feel inadequate or “less than,” or put you down, instead placing the burden on you to clean up your act so that the relationship can stay on course. Don’t accept a relationship that is one-sided, limiting, and subtly undermining; where there is simply no room for you in the equation. Existing in an environment fraught with unhealthy undercurrents, threats both subtle and overt; jealousy; and one-sided conditions are potentially hazardous to your health and well-being.

Don’t try to fix people. Although “fixing” others may seem like a good idea it usually doesn’t work because, from the other’s perspective, there’s nothing that needs to be fixed; there’s nothing wrong with them—it’s you that’s the problem. Inevitably, these people will want not accept the fact that you’ve changed and will try to convince you to return to the way things once were. Don’t do it. And if they continue along the same course, unable to accept who you’ve become apart from them, let them go.

Abigail Brenner, M.D., is a psychiatrist in private practice. She is the author of Transitions: How Women Embrace Change and Celebrate Life and other books.

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