On Being Your Own Authority

In the interests of achieving certainty, which leads to a sense of safety, sometimes it seems that the best course is to follow an authority who can guarantee protection and who has a privileged access to the right choices. Everywhere we turn there are people, organizations, or systems of thought that promise to lead us in the best direction. It is a relief to know that we can turn over the responsibility for what we do and understand to someone who knows better. 

Sometimes therapy seems like this sort of safety. We can rely on a therapist to tell us what to think, what is “healthy” or how to manage our lives and our relationships. From the point of view of the therapist, this is a heady type of trust. It is a good feeling for the therapist to believe he or she is helping someone else through their superior knowledge, life experience, and judgment. 

The truth is, no person has a privileged access to the true, the good, or the wise. Part of taking over the ownership of our lives is recognizing that we are ultimately responsible for how we create ourselves. It is a messy, confusing, frustrating, halting process. No matter how much we rail against the unfairness of the world, we are left to sweep up the pieces of our misdirection or errors ourselves.

Even though we cannot offload the ultimate choices for our lives, we can gain a lot of help through our involvement with other people who have other experiences, ideas, and viewpoints. We have to sift through the relationships in our lives and decide which ones to trust and in what ways. What we can find, however, are people who are committed to promoting our well-being, encouraging our growth, and sticking with us while we examine, together, the many complex factors that underly our perceptions, our interpretations and our choices.

Reflectively understanding and analyzing our lives and making careful, thoughtful choices is an old-fashioned process. It requires time and some effort. It is not flashy, quick, simple, or systematic. It is not a secret; it does not guarantee anything; and it is not a seven step, twelve step or three step program. It is a capacity that is developed by engaging it. Just like building muscles or aerobic endurance, it is difficult at first and takes time to build. But once we get the hang of it, it creates an internal fitness that prepares us and keeps us ready for the challenges that come with real life.

If we stop and think about it, the most mature, developed, wise people in history were reflective thinkers and invested effort in building their internal, individual and unique capacities. This process is described in different ways, but fundamentally requires a serious commitment. The benefit of learning to reflectively understand ourselves together with another person is that we are not stuck, looping in a circle, or deluding ourselves. We have an outside witness to reflect to us the progress we are making and the blind spots we keep missing. We have an advocate and partner who can provide encouragement, solace, and perspective when we lose our motivation or direction. Growth happens.

About norasblog

I am a psychotherapist with a private practice in downtown Chicago.
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