Do you think and behave autonomously or, are you you unduly influenced by others?

It’s always a delight to me when a client recognises the power they have to change their life. This usually comes about when they recognise when faced with making a decision there is always a choice. In making a choice we are acknowledging our autonomy. The initial sense of fear and responsibility is usually followed by a sense of freedom and recognition of the ability to make significant changes to their life. Life becomes more exciting.

The underlying reasons for the way we think and behave may be beyond our awareness. We may simply accept the way we are without question. ‘Like father, like son’ and, ‘like mother, like daughter’ may be said when a child indicates a similar ‘way of being’, or traits, of a parent. That may be a good thing but, on the other hand, it may not. There is an inevitability of this being true, due to the conditioning children are subjected to in early life. Patterns of behaviour, beliefs, attitudes, prejudices, judgements are all projected by parents, consciously and unconsciously onto their offspring. Initially, in our early years, these will be absorbed without question but, as we grow older and having been in the presence of other family members, siblings, aunts, uncles, friends’ parents, family friends, teachers and other significant adults we may experience different perspectives to those of our parents. Peer groups, the internet and the media also offer vast amounts of influential information, creating a veritable minefield. Or is that mindfield? Which can lead to a great deal of confusion.

Life then gets complicated and challenging.  Which do we choose? Are we to be loyal to our parents or, do we rebel and choose to be different from some, or all, aspects of their way of being? It’s a bit like pick and mix. We can choose to accept the bits we like and dismiss those we don’t. However, that may be problematical and lead to arguments. So, what do you do? Do you do as your parents wish you to, do you compromise, or do you choose to be different? Which is in your best interest? If we choose the way of our parents because we agree with it, we then need to ‘own’ it. We don’t do it just because they do it, we choose to do it because we believe it is in our best interest to do so.

What we don’t know, and it may not have occurred to our parents, is what influenced them in their childhood. Did they experience any significant life events such as the death of a close family member, or some form of trauma? Were their parents married? Did their parents’ divorce? Was their birth planned and the baby wanted? In what circumstances were they born? Did their parents have a secure income? Were they born in an urban or rural area? How well did they do at school? Did they go to college or university? Did they have skills, or take part in sports or pastimes? There are so many variations and possibilities, and each may have a significant influence. On top of all that, each child is unique!

If we are to think and behave autonomously, we need to have an appreciation of the influences we have experienced which have affected our personal development. So many, perhaps too many, individuals live their life unaware of how much more expansive it could be. Unfortunately, without the understanding of ‘why we are where we are at’, that is impossible. We are not born with the necessary information needed to live as fulfilling a life as possible. Some are content to abide by an unwritten script and are, consequently, oblivious of the power they have to enhance the quality of their life. With greater understanding we can not only recognise the influences there are upon the choices we make, but also the opportunity of making choices which are in our best interest. Every choice we make, whether ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ is a learning experience. Every day we are faced with new experiences and hence new challenges. Consequently, we act, or react, in a way we believe to be in our best interest, albeit often unconsciously. It is only following the outcome will we know whether, or not, it was in our best interest. Following that experience we will, should we be faced with a similar challenge in the future, be able to make a more informed choice, and so life goes on and the process continues.

There are many benefits of having a greater understanding of our self. Primarily the fundamental ‘relationship’ of our life, the one we have with our self, is enhanced. The better that is the better we relate to others. If we are unable to relate well to our self, how can we wish others to do what we cannot? We need to love our self ‘warts and all’, knowing we are far from ‘perfect’, whatever that is seen to be. Otherwise, we become needy. We seek from others the love, affirmation and validation we cannot give our self. Unfortunately, if we are unable to love our self, we are unable, despite seeking it from others, to believe any love offered to us is genuine, no matter how often, or how powerfully, it is expressed. Consequently, we continue to seek it but are never satisfied. Rather than seeking love from others, those who love themselves are able to share it. The same applies to happiness. Others cannot make us happy unless we have happiness within us. If we do have it, we are able appreciate it in others and, to share it too.

Another important benefit of having a greater understanding of our self is having a greater understanding of others. If we can appreciate that we are doing the best we can, knowing what we know, we will appreciate others are doing the same. We then become less judgemental and prejudiced and all our relationships take on different dimensions.