Too often we give others the power to make us happy or sad. Thomas Fiffer offers five powerful keys to taking your emotional life back.
One summer a number of years ago, I was riding the commuter train into New York, and an attractive young woman sat down next to me. Dark hair, green eyes, slender build, engaging smile. She was quite forward and wasted no time starting a conversation. She also let me know immediately how smart she was. I quickly learned she was a freshman at a prestigious Ivy League university with a coveted summer internship at a prestigious foundation. She then turned to the topic of her boyfriend, who was a year younger and had just finished high school, and who had the nerve to start dating another girl when my seat mate went off to college. She and the boyfriend were still “more than best friends,” and this bright, beautiful girl was trying to accept the idea that she would be one of two women in his dating life. She lamented, “If he would only decide that he really wants to be with me, I would be so happy.” I turned and said to her, “Why on earth are you giving him that power?” I asked her what she wanted and told her that if her so-called boyfriend couldn’t give it to her, she should go find it somewhere else. I explained they don’t teach these things in college. She was astonished.
Most of us fundamentally misunderstand emotional independence. We think it means not needing anyone or being alone. Emotional independence is nothing more than the power to make choices and the integrity to align those choices with our needs. We can choose the peace and simplicity of solitude, or we can embrace the excitement of intimacy and the complexity of long-term companionship. Either way, we must understand these are choices we make, not choices that have been made for us. Mastering the five keys to emotional independence not only frees you to make personal choices that serve you but also enables you to close the door on pathways—and people—who don’t.
1. You are responsible for your own emotions. This means you—and not another person’s words, actions, beliefs, or lack thereof—are responsible for how you feel at any given moment. A person may say or do something hurtful, your partner may cheat on you or badmouth you to a friend, but the feelings of hurt, disappointment, anger and whatever else constitutes your reaction—these originate, exist in, and belong to you. Think about how you take care of a house or car you own as opposed to one you lease or rent, and apply this attitudinal shift to your feelings. You’ll start taking care of yourself—and others—differently.