When you do not seek or need approval, you are at your most powerful.- Caroline Myss
Go back in time six or seven years and you'd meet a very different version of me. You'd meet the woman took the subjects she was told to at school, went to university to study business, like she was told to, and joined the family business, like she was told to.
The scary thing: she thought she'd made all these decisions herself, and even though they weren't always what she wanted, she thought she'd made a conscious choice to make them happen.
Fast forward seven years and that woman retrained first as a yoga teacher, then as a psychotherapist and is now a coach and counsellor and, funnily enough, everyone who knew me from back then says I'm much more fun to be around now!
Having had various stints of therapy over the years, I now have a pretty good idea how I ended up unconsciously doing what everyone else, mainly parents and boyfriends, wanted me to do, but what if you don't have the luxury of the therapist's couch?
Whilst for many years I'd realised I didn't seem to be as happy or feel as 'together' as those around me, I just thought that was who I was rather than acknowledging it as a symptom of something that could be fixed. Friends got excited at the prospect of careers and jobs and moving away or travelling, but it just made me feel a bit uneasy. I knew what I should be feeling, and sometimes I glimpsed it, but it was fleeting and I could never seem to lock it down.
As the metaphysical text, A Course in Miracles, teaches, often we have to get knocked sideways in order to see the light and make a shift. In my case that came in the form of an eating disorder in my early twenties. It crept in, slowly and sneakily, first in the form of healthy eating, then gradually it became less about being healthy and more about losing weight, until it wasn't about eating at all.
I never thought of myself as the sort of person who'd have an eating disorder. I was always the sensible one, the one who seemed to have it all together. I realised during the necessary therapy that it wasn't really me holding it together, I was just following unconscious (and sometimes direct) orders from my parents and others. I had zero control over my own life, or at least I thought I did.
It was the eating disorder which really shed a light on what was going on for me. I sat down with my parents, got very honest and explained my predicament; that whilst I loved how much they cared for me and tried to protect me, I was a 25 year old woman who had a panic attack every time I tried to make the simplest of decisions and had to have my parents' approval in order to feel safe doing anything. If I was ever going to be happy, it had to change.
Awareness is the first step to making a shift from listening to others to following your own intuition. If you don't know how much influence others have over you and what are your thoughts and what are other's, you won't know what needs to change. Next time you have a decision to make, make a mental note of your thoughts and process. Do you immediately text your mum, BFF or coach to talk it through? If you do, you're getting their reactions before figuring out what you think. Hold on the text and take some time to sit quietly and let your own thoughts have a voice.
I often found during my transition that my needs and wants differed greatly to what my parents expected of me, so whilst I meditated and got clear on what I wanted, when I went and told my parents, I was met with all the reasons what I wanted to do wasn't going to work. I'd be thrown into turmoil again and go back to my meditation pillow to figure out a compromise.
It's really tough in the beginning learning to trust your own voice, particularly if it differs from what you've been told. You have to think of these differences as challenges shining a light on your insecurities. Whilst these differences throw you and upset you, don't jump to defend your point of view or immediately drop your view for another. Instead, I found sitting quietly and feeling the fear really helpful. It threw a light on my own worries and I came to understand that the other view points I received were merely highlighting internal dilemmas I was having. Taking myself off and spending some time with those fears shifted my mindset and allowed me to make my own decisions.
When you treat each reaction as a mirror, (for example, when I told my dad I was moving to London, his reaction was to yell at me that I'd never get a job (middle of the recession) and it would be the biggest mistake I'd ever make) you allow yourself to still stay in control of the situation. When my dad was shouting at me, I was able to stay calm instead of getting defensive and recognise that these too, were my fears. However, instead of blaming him, I sat with the fears and allowed them to integrate themselves. In the end, I became comfortable with my decision to move to London and, strangely, so did my dad.
When you know what is true for you in your heart, often you get very little resistance from other people and, if you do, you are able to let it go. When you know what's right for you, other peoples' opinions don't worry you because they are just that - belonging to others.
It took me a long time to put my own wants and needs before others' but it was the best thing I ever did. Be patient with yourself, learn to sit quietly and show compassion for yourself and others. It will be worth it.