How to stop being dependent on other people for your own happiness and worth

Allison Briggs, LPC on Jun 11, 2018 in Relationship and Family

I began taking on adult responsibilities at a very young age, and I carried that weight with me into adulthood. Because of these early experiences, I believed I had control over more in my life than was actually true and I took responsibility for other's feelings and even actions towards me. I was responsible for their sadness, their happiness, and their emotional well-being. I was also responsible for the way they treated me. If they were sad, mad, happy, etc., it had something to do with me and if I only had the secret key and could try harder, I could fix it.

I later learned that people who take responsibility for everything end up with those who take responsibility for nothing and I came to realize that my taking responsibility for the way others treated me gave me a sense of control, but it also took all accountability and responsibility off of the other person. If I was just a bit kinder, I didn't use that tone of voice that one time, I wasn't moody, I wasn't insecure, then "they" would be nicer to me, whoever "they" happened to be. I had to keep striving and working to fix who I was because if I fixed who I was, then they would be fixed as well. I realize that this type of thinking is a symptom of co-dependent behavior and I no longer have to give my own personal power and control away. 

So what is it that we can and can't control in personal relationship with others?

We can't control other people's thoughts, feelings or actions. How someone behaves and feel towards you and others has everything to do with them and who they are. The reminder that you're not responsible for how other people behave, think, or feel can take a tremendous load of pressure off of you and provide a sense of inner freedom. Someone once used this analogy with me, "you see this pen, it's a pen, it doesn't matter how much you kiss it, hug it, buy it flowers, it doesn't matter if you throw it on the ground and stomp on it, it will never be a giraffe, or a bike, because it's a pen." That stuck with me, and each time I find myself bending into a pretzel in order to manipulate another person's actions towards me, I say to myself, "a pen is a pen." 

We can control our awareness of our own thoughts and feelings. Does this mean it is easy and you won't sometimes say things you don't mean, and do things you wish you could take back? No. But each time you do get triggered, you can stop, breathe, and think about how you want to proceed before actually responding. How much energy and power do you want to give to the situation and how much energy and power do you want to give to the person? You can become aware of the story you might be telling yourself. Typically, if you are dependent on others, you'll have a tendency to believe it is your fault. Or perhaps not, perhaps you blame them and say it's their fault. But there is a third story that offers a bit more grace to both yourself and others. You can remind yourself we all do the best we can with the current tools we have. This does not negate or diminish if or when someone is harmful towards you, or vice versa. However, when you get clear about what you own in your interaction with others and what others own, you are more likely to respond instead of react. You are more likely to feel empowered rather than powerless. You are more likely to feel self-respect rather than self-blame.

You can choose to walk away or stay. This step isn't easy either, but once you have felt what you needed to feel, you have become aware of your own thoughts and then challenged the old story you tell yourself with a new one that offers grace, you then get to decide what to do about it. The key here is asking yourself, "what is it that I need?” When you ask yourself that question each time you are triggered, you will become more clear about yourself and your own needs, versus over focused on the needs of the other person. Knowing what you need will provide you confidence and a sense of whether the relationship is worth maintaining or not. 

We all have some degree of internal power, responsibility, and control in any given situation. We can choose to give all of that away, or we can choose to own it. Owning it isn't easy. However, by owning your own power, you will more likely be able to show up in situations with more confidence in your own thoughts, feelings and actions which can lead to a deep sense of inner peace.

Allison Briggs is a Counselor in Pearland, TX.

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