For most of my life, I’ve let other people tell me how to live. I always thought someone else knew better than I did, whether they were more qualified, more established, more respected. I told myself I’d be much better off letting them make my choices than making them myself.
Eventually, I realized none of them was infallible. At the moment I saw each person clearly for the first time, I panicked. I went into monthslong tailspins, devastated by the loss. Disillusioned and confused, I was filled with shame by my errors in judgment. Why couldn’t I find a true teacher?
This can take the form of a therapist, a significant other, or a parent. You place all your hopes in someone, and they can never live up to the image you’ve created. Realizing this is traumatic, because you were counting on them to fix your life. But these disappointments are telling you something. They are telling you to develop self-agency.
I was given so many opportunities to claim my own authority — to look within to find what I so urgently needed and to stop looking everywhere else. Learning how to do that took time and emotional investment, but it was the greatest gift I ever gave myself.
Many of my clients come to me after years of turning to things outside of themselves to find meaning and wholeness. Eventually, they realize someone else can’t teach them how to create the life they want.
In the course of my own healing, I identified five simple beginning steps that help to create a stronger sense of self-reliance and personal power. It can feel overwhelming, but take it one step at a time, and you’ll find your way. You are more capable than you know.
1. Prioritize mental wellness.
We spend time on our physical wellness. It’s equally important (if not more) to take care of our minds. Meditation is a great tool for this. It’s like green juice for your mind. Find a reputable center and sign up for an introductory class.
2. Simplify your life.
Go through your home, room by room. Be ruthless. Donate, sell, or give away anything that no longer fits into your idea of who you want to be. When we are surrounded by our past, it can be hard to step into our future. Do this with every room until there is nothing in your home that doesn’t honestly reflect the person you are today, and hope to become tomorrow.
3. Remove toxic influences.
Take a step back from those relationships where you feel your independence is compromised. That might mean reducing the amount of time you spend with someone. It might mean ending the relationship altogether.
Most media presents impossible standards of living, especially for women. It can be difficult to develop self trust when the messages coming in say there’s something wrong with you. Set rules for yourself. If you have one favorite show, allow yourself to watch it. Then turn off the TV and open a book.
You’d never talk to your friends the way you sometimes talk to yourself. Monitor your self-talk. Make a conscious effort to speak to yourself the way you would to anyone you loved: with kindness, encouragement, and humor.