“The greatest thing in the world is to know how to belong to oneself.” ~ Michel de Montaigne
This is the 4th of a 5-post series in response to an email from a reader asking for advice. Because the letter sets the context to what I have to say in today’s post, I excerpt it (with permission) here:
“I’ve been following M2bH for about 3 months now and have learned a lot about self-improvement…. But there is one thing I never got an answer to: … How can we live on our own and feel complete and happy? … I won’t say I’m an angel who didn’t make mistakes; I lack self-control and have temper issues…. I am a negative thinker and cannot let go of things easily…. Please help me know how I can survive and stay complete on my own?
Here’s my reply:
True happiness is not the offspring of ideal circumstances. It is not the result of the way others behave around you or the attention you get from them or the degree to which your spouse or others love and appreciate you. It is not necessarily the absence of troubles or challenges or life’s myriad moments of disappointment or failure either.
As a matter of fact, happiness in the midst of great challenge is commonplace. Countless numbers of people are even thankful for the challenges they were obliged to endure because of the lessons about happiness it taught them.
So if an emotionally independent life of joy cannot be found in arranging the conditions of life just so, where does it exist? How do we divorce our feelings about ourselves from others attitudes about us? How do we live happy lives despite the trials and tragedies of life or pain from the past? How do we like who we are even when it seems others don’t?
6 Ways to Live Emotionally Independent and Happy Lives
A life of emotional independence is one wherein my mood and self-esteem and self-worth and happiness are products of my own design. I am not the product of others’ opinions. My feelings are independent of theirs. Others don’t “make” me mad. I choose my emotional responses to life’s circumstances.
Here are some ways you can learn to do that:
1. Reframe the Past
Whatever life was like growing up, no matter the difficulties presented by ill equipped parents, you can change what it means to you now.
Where we often, almost by default, internalize and personalize the neglect, abuse or otherwise poor parenting to reflect poorly on ourselves to mean we were not lovable or worthy or whatever, we can change those messages. We can shake them out and turn them upside down and inside out and completely rewrite the messages imprinted in our minds and on our hearts.
We can toss out the guilt and shame and feelings of worthlessness and replace them with the more accurate interpretation of parental inadequacy, selfishness or psychosis. By reframing what the past means, we can limit how it makes us feel about who we are today.
Check out this article about reframing at Shake off the Grind
2. Forgive and Forget
One critical step to putting the past behind us and moving on, freeing ourselves of the pull of the past, is forgiving those we’ve allowed to hold us there for too long. If your parents were subpar parents (or anyone else deeply hurt you), start to view them as deeply flawed human beings who were likely raised themselves by deeply flawed human beings.
This way you can move from hate and guilt and anger and rage, to the more subdued emotional response of pity or maybe even compassion for the lives of internal anguish and unhappiness they must have lived as well.
Note: This is not to excuse them, but to understand the broader emotional context they operated in as well. Think Jesus on the cross or Gandhi as he was beaten and jailed.
This step may admittedly be very difficult for some who suffered (and still do) from particularly harsh parents. If that’s the case, I’d recommend following the link to a guest post I wrote called 12 Ways to Forgive Your Parents for Doing such a Crummy Job of Raising You.
3. Know Who You Are
The more you know who you are, the less outside forces can make you feel less than who you already know yourself to be. So who are you? I have a few thoughts on the subject:
You are a remarkable human being of infinite possibility and divine heritage. You are an amazing creation with innate value and worth. You are a being of light and beauty that transcends parental ignorance, amnesia, stupidity or meanness. And you can become who you decide to become.
As a matter of fact, why not choose now, today, from this moment forward, to make the following phrase your new identity, your internal motto (or write your own and imprint it on your heart by virtue of frequent repetition):
“I am a wonderfully imperfect person of infinite worth and divine heritage! I matter because I am. I am because I was supposed to be. I was supposed to be because I am.”
Never again accept the silly message that you are anything less than that. Your identity, as a matter of fact, now comes from other sources. So no matter what someone else says to you, it will fall from their lips, through the floorboards, into the ground, seeping into the emptiness of meaninglessness because they are wrong and you now know it.
4. Accepting Yourself
Do you wait to see if others liked a movie before committing to an opinion one way or the other? Do you promote an idea only after it has passed the scrutiny of public opinion? Do you do the same with yourself?
Is your self-acceptance but a mere reflection of others real or perceived opinions of you? Do you get offended or hurt or angry when someone doesn’t like you or says something rude about you? Do others’ opinions about the job you do or the person you are stick to you like cactus spikes in the tender flesh of your heart?
If you answered yes to any of those questions, you’re letting others control your internal climate. Stop doing that!
There are only two places you should go for acceptance. One is inward. Knowing who you are (#3) will help you better accept yourself, thereby needing external validation much less than before. Work on #7 (see below) will help as well.
You can also look safely up for acceptance. You are His creation, after all. And as has been said so many times to the point of cliché, but no less true: “God don’t make junk!”
So accept yourself as a person of immense potential, beautiful in your creation, limited only by the prison bars you’ve allowed others keep locked or that you imposed on yourself.
It’s time to free yourself of those restraints!
Stagnation does not breed respect. But personal growth does. We admire deeply flawed human beings so long as (and especially when) they make the effort to grow and evolve and develop in areas before undeveloped or immature or just plain bad.
As you take steps down the path of your own personal development, you’ll increasingly start liking the person you are gradually becoming, less dependent on others’ thoughts, moods and attitudes about who they think you are (or were).
There’s a tool that can be very useful in mapping out a life of independence. It has at its roots a historical pedigree of significant consequence. The tool is to write a Constitution of You!
What principles define you? What values do you most cherish? What priorities most excite you? What is your passion? What adds meaning to your life? What is your life’s purpose? What legacy do you itch to leave behind?
Let your answers to these questions be the starting point to creating a map to your soul and a commitment to how you will live. In the end, you will become more emotionally independent as you come to increasingly respect the agent of personal growth you become.
For additional insight into reinventing yourself, read this article at Advanced Life Skills.
I’ve once again beefed the post up with links all over creation. Some internally and a few to great posts that would serve my readers better than an internal link would. The purpose is to provide a rich supply of resources for those who may be struggling with life, looking for answers to life’s challenges. Follow some of the links to see if the added clarity doesn’t help.
- I would love to know your thoughts!
- Have you had a time when you struggled with emotional dependence?
- How did were you able to achieve emotional self-reliance?
- What advice would you give?
Photo credit: The Alternative to Real World