“The purpose of a relationship is not to have another who might complete you, but to have another with whom you might share your completeness.”
Neale Donald Walsch (American Author, “Conversations With God”)
“The greatest thing in the world is to know how to belong to oneself.”
Michel de Montaigne (French Renaissance Writer)
“The quality of your life is the quality of your relationships.”
Anthony Robbins (American Author & Speaker “Awaken The Giant Within”)
I like to think of myself as a strong individual.
I know who I am and what I want.
And I won’t sacrifice myself to anyone!
Well… unless I’m hungry.
Or if I want something really badly.
Like peace and quiet.
As tough as I think I am, I feel the urge to compromise on myself constantly.
Something as small as wanting a hamburger is enough to make me want to give up on a goal sometimes.
But being hungry isn’t what worries me.
Being constantly stressed and miserable is what worries me.
Being in an awful relationship, whether it’s a friendship or romantic partnership, with someone who will make me miserable unless I change who I am — that’s what worries me.
Look — it’s easy to lose yourself in a relationship, especially a new relationship.
There’s a whole chemical process that’s creating excitement around any new partnership.
It can cloud your vision as you develop closer connections.
Just because someone is close to you doesn’t mean they know what’s best for you.
You know what’s best for you.
You need to stay true to yourself.
Why Autonomy Is Important In Relationships
The protection of your autonomy directly translates to the protection of your values and your goals.
The balance between attachment and autonomy is a confused issue.
You want to be in relationships with people, but you don’t and shouldn’t have to give up who you are, or what you want in life, to do so.
Simple and clear right?
The wake of failed relationships, friendships, family connections, and business partnerships suggest otherwise.
Autonomy is your sense of choice, freedom, and independence.
The Journal of Humanistic Counseling refers to autonomy as a universal basic human need in cross cultural studies.
It’s not optional.
You don’t have to feel selfish for wanting it — we all need it.
Autonomy is defined in this journal as authentically endorsing your actions with the freedom to make choices in your own best interests, reflecting your own personal values, irrespective of external pressure.
Short version — you’re the boss of you.
Protecting your autonomy is related to an increased ability to self-regulate and increased authenticity in the expression of who you are.
Maintaining it in any relationship context is essential for the protection of your happiness, focus, and goals.
Losing it makes you vulnerable to manipulation and being taken for granted.
It means you give up everything you want to fill the bottomless pit of someone else’s pursuit of happiness.
Someone that will never be full on their own, so you’re signing up for a life-long mission of sacrifice.
This deficit-based model of interaction is not only unhealthy, but quickly becomes both codependent and toxic.
Not the fairytale you hoped for.
Personality and Individual Differences Journal calls this dynamic an “autonomy-proximity imbalance” — where insecure attachment creates intrusiveness in relationships.
Staying in imbalanced relationships creates consistent tension and conflict, unless you give up something of yourself for the other person’s happiness.
And it’s a slippery slope because once you give a little, you’ve set the precedent of expectation to give up more, until you’ve lost yourself and your own goals entirely.
Leaving you feeling like a spineless jellyfish.
The challenge is in finding the balance of being your own person and being connected to others in healthy ways.
When both parties are secure in themselves, there can be a healthy mutuality where attachment isn’t suffocating and where individual autonomy is preserved.
In any relationship, this is the healthiest combination, reports the Journal of Counseling Psychology in their study of adult attachment to provide a foundation for a “healthy and effective self.”
This is one reason we naturally cringe and pull away from people that come across desperate or needy.
There’s a sense of suffocation because they need so much from us just to feel temporarily secure in themselves.
When they enter into relationships, they are looking for their connection with another person to fulfill all they are lacking in themselves, including the bolstering of their self-esteem.
You’re the barometer for every emotion and experience you share.
It creates an exhausting dependency where you’ve allowed yourself to be an excuse for them to avoid their own work.
Meanwhile, you’ve missed out on everything you wanted in the process.
How To Stay True To Yourself In A Relationship
You want to be liked, or loved.
You want to be seen as easy to get along with, reasonably compromising.
I get it.
But you also don’t want be a doormat.
The good news is you can have both.
You don’t have to choose between relationships or autonomy when you can have it all.
In fact, you can protect your autonomy and have healthy relationships.
Here are 3 keys to staying true to yourself in a relationship…
1. Never sacrifice your identity to someone else.
Never change who you are for another person.
The only way to not lose yourself in a relationship is to stop sacrificing your identity to someone else.
Look — being in a relationship is not easy.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a friendship, romantic relationship, or family relationship.
Either way, things can get hard.
Over time, more and more conflicts happen.
As a result, it’s easy to stop standing up for yourself.
Fighting is exhausting.
People get worn down.
It’s easy to stop doing what you want to do, just to keep the peace.
It’s easy to lose who you are.
Too many people sacrifice who they are at their core just to keep other people from going crazy.
They sacrifice their very soul to keep smaller-minded people from creating drama.
These people falsely assume that by keeping the peace, they’re doing the right thing.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
By rolling over again and again, you don’t become stronger, you become a former shell of yourself.
Don’t make the mistake of changing who you are just to please someone else.
Stand up for yourself and let the chips fall where they may.
Realize you can’t control other people’s reactions, and let them go crazy if they’re going to go crazy.
And have the courage to check out of that when it happens.
2. Set strict boundaries with other people.
Set non-negotiables with your space and time.
The reality of being an adult is that everyone wants a piece of you.
When you have to pay bills, meet obligations, and provide for others, it’s hard to find time for yourself.
Not only is it hard to find alone time, it’s hard to feel like it’s okay to be alone.
Too many people feel uncomfortable, or even guilty, for spending time alone.
Or they’re in relationships with people who try to make them feel guilty for taking time alone.
They feel selfish for making room for their own thoughts, desires, and actions and that is sometimes reinforced by others.
The problem with this is that the quality of your alone time determines the quality of your relationships.
If you’re not mentally and physically at one hundred percent, you can’t be there for others one hundred percent.
The value you add to yourself is proportional to the value you can add to your relationships.
This is why doing your own work and having personal insight is so important.
You have to create your own happiness first, before you can be happy with others.
Start protecting your space.
Start protecting your time.
Realize that you need time and space for relaxation, reflection, and improvement.
If you’re always busy giving your time and space to someone else, you’ll never grow.
Your relationships will become stagnant and full of resentment because you’ve allowed perpetual sacrifice to be a part of its foundation.
3. Stop feeling obligated to agree.
You don’t have to care about the same things that someone else cares about.
You don’t have to agree with someone on every single issue.
You get to be different and care about different things.
And you should be different.
This is a huge part of your autonomy that you shouldn’t have to give up for anyone.
You shouldn’t morph into a blended version of yourself and the other person.
You get to be deeply connected to things that fire you up and make you excited about your life.
You don’t need everyone to share in that.
You need to be audacious in your pursuit of those goals and care about what’s important to you.
Your friend or partner isn’t going to do the work for you.
You do the work.
Your values, your goals, your freedom to choose.
Remember, this is a universal need.
Everyone is NOT obligated to fight for the same cause.
Everyone is NOT obligated to do what you want.
At the same time, you’re not obligated to do what other people want.
You have to decide what’s important to you and stick to it.
If you constantly let other people distract you from your goals in life, you’ll never get anywhere.
If you constantly let other people use drama to steal your attention, you will fail.
Stop feeling obligated to care about other people’s problems.
Stop letting other people make you feel guilty.
Instead, start putting your time and energy towards the things you believe in.
Start feeling obligated to yourself and owning what matters to you without expectation of approval or acceptance.
Close relationships can make it hard to balance healthy attachment with preservation of your own identity. Maintaining your independence in who you are and what you want isn’t often celebrated as a shining characteristic of relationship harmony. But it should be. Healthy relationships are established on the foundation of people having a mutual respect for one another’s autonomy. Sacrificing yourself for anyone else will only end in misery for everyone, and failure for the relationship. Protect your goals and your sanity by refusing to lose yourself in any relationship.
To learn more about how you can maintain your autonomy in relationships, and to get instant access to exclusive training videos, case studies, insider documents, and my private online network, get on the Escape Plan wait list.