By Eliza Jones
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my brain — particularly, how I am hardwired to think, to engage, to respond and emote. Along with that, I’ve been thinking about the ways in which I navigate my life. What about my behavior is immutable and what is fluid? What about the relationships in my life are in the realm of my control, and which are beyond it?
I talked to someone new this week about some of the challenges I’m dealing with right now, and she offered a startlingly simple strategy, one that has the potential to change my life. She told me to choose not to give people power over me. I sat there for a minute and let her words sink in. What would it mean to do that? I thought about the types of relationships I’ve had over the years, relationships with parents, aunts and uncles, cousins, friends, bosses, co-workers, peers, spouses and lovers. In which of those relationships did I give power to myself and in which did I give it away?
I didn’t have to think about it for very long. The truth was that for most of them, I’d given the power away. Love me, I’ve always said. Choose me, respect me. Don’t be mad at me. Don’t think poorly of me.
Like me. Love me. Choose me.
It was a devastating realization. It meant that for my entire life, I’d never believed enough in myself to say, “I choose you. And if you don’t choose me back, then I choose myself.” I don’t think I’m alone in thinking this way, either. I suspect that a lot of people do, too. So why is it that we give other people power over ourselves?
For me it has a lot to do with anxiety, with a lack of confidence in my own potential and in my own dreams. My parents don’t understand my choice to leave a good job and go back to school to be an English student. They don’t understand my choice to leave a marriage and to try to start a new life. I lay awake at night with my guts on fire, feeling bad about their disappointment and their confusion. There is a brown-eyed boy (isn’t there always a brown-eyed boy?) who treats me like the gum on the bottom of his shoe, and subsequently, I feel like the gum on the bottom of his shoe.
I lay awake at night with my guts on fire wondering why I’m not good enough for him, why he doesn’t love me, why he won’t choose me. I live in a small town where people gossip and judge. I lay awake at night with my guts on fire and my heart in my throat, worrying about what people are saying about me. I have a friend whom I’ve known since childhood who gets offended if I can’t or don’t want to do the same things she wants to do. I lay awake at night and worry about her, too.
But I think I’m finally starting to get it. I’ve been giving all of these people power over my life by choosing to think that they know what’s good for me better than I do. But what if I simply choose not to do that? What if I decide to believe enough in myself to stand up tall and straight and say, “This is my life. I am who I am. And this is what I want my life to look like.” What if I decide to say, “I choose you, and if you don’t choose me back, then I choose myself.”
My doctor told me there is scientific evidence that by simply changing the way we think, we can ultimately change the way we behave. We can change the way our brains naturally operate. So, listen: If there is anyone else out there reading this who also lays awake at night with your guts on fire because you don’t think you’re good enough — because a brown-eyed boy hasn’t called, because someone is disappointed in you — I hope you understand that you are enough. Give the power back to you. Believe in yourself. Choose yourself, always.