Relationships are all around us—and the way we relate with people has a strong impact on us. In this article you will learn 8 practices for creating more empowering relationships.
What is an empowering relationship? It is a relationship, based in truth and understanding, where you are aware of your value as a person, can set healthy boundaries, and don’t give your personal power away.
In a way, empowering relationship is a synonym for authentic relationship.
1. Hold your ground – depend on nobody
There is something awesome about this cat. What is it?
Self-reliance. Self-confidence. Inner strength. Not giving in to the bully.
How can he be so composed under such pressure?
Why can’t we be more like this? In a word: because we allow ourselves to be emotionally dependent on other people. Be it our friends, family, workmates, or even spouse—we give away power by feeling we need their approval. Their love and admiration. It seems to be a universal human drive, and yet it keeps us in an emotional prison. It doesn’t need to be so.
There are many strategies to deal with this – from avoiding negative people to developing coping mechanisms – and all are valid. But at the heart of it is a simple fact: we have the power to choose what we believe in, and if we will accept all the crap that is delivered to us or not. We have the choice to look for happiness in the pursuit of our intrinsic values (SEE OUR POST, sections 1 & 6), instead of depending on anyone for happiness (they can’t give us). We have the choice to care or not to care about how other’s think of us.
The unhappiest people in this world are those who care the most about what everyone else thinks. It only matters if you think it matters; and you have the power to think it doesn’t. It’s arbitrary, like that. You can choose what to believe in. You are the one that will live your life and the results of your actions; not them. What they think of you is their problem, not yours. Your value doesn’t decrease based on someone’s inability to see your worth.
Action step: Make a list of all the places in your life where you are giving away your power to other people, or feeling upset with their opinions of you. What are you losing? Choose one of these places to start the change.
2. Stop trying to change people
Trying to change other people is not only a task likely to fail, but also a frustrating and exhausting process. It’s not impossible to change others, but it’s better to focus that energy on something we can have more control of: changing ourselves and choosing our companies.
Motivate and inspire. Air your feelings clearly. But focusing on changing another person’s behavior against their preference is a waste of energy.
Action step: Are you investing your energy trying to change somebody against their permission and without their cooperation?
3. Let go of the hard feelings
Negative feelings like resentment, grudge, and remorse, are just frozen emotions. Our mind keeps re-living a past event (or group of events) because it has not released itself from that particular feeling. We can learn to let go of the past (see point 13 of this post). It’s essential if we wish to open up for new beginnings.
You don’t need to wait for an apology to forgive. This is a self-made concept that we believe in. Forgiving and letting go is not about the other person; it’s about freeing you. It doesn’t mean that you agree or like what has happened, but that you release yourself from it and take the right to move on.
For more tips on how to forgive, TinyBuddha has an interesting article.
Throw a bucket of salt in a small pound, and you make it salty. Throw the same bucket on the ocean, and it makes no difference. How large is your spirit?
Action step: What is the one person that you are keeping hard feelings towards in your life? Write down in detail the event that happened and how you feel about it. Write down at least 5 things you have learned from that. Give yourself some space to re-process that under a more positive light. Say it to yourself “I release you”. Make a decision to close that chapter in your life; to let go and move on.
4. Feeling life through someone else’s skin
Socrates teaches us that the desire for happiness is natural, and that every person does whatever they do in search of their own good. So the only difference between the selfish and the kind, the fool and the wise, the jerk and the compassionate… is the amount of wisdom they have in determining what is “good”, and what creates true happiness.
Learning to put yourself in someone’s shoes, to see and feel life through their skin, is perhaps the single most important skill in relating to people. It will give you compassion and also prevent you from blaming and being judgmental. The person we are struggling to relate to is doing whatever they do in search of happiness. It will also increase your communication and persuasion skills. It will put you in a happier and broader space in your personal and social relationships.
Action step: Think of conflict you have recently. Now try to re-live that conflict through the skin of the other person involved. What is the new perspective you gain? Does it change the way you felt about that event?
5. Who is your average?
We also find this same wisdom in several traditions, from the Daoist sages to ancient Greek philosophers. The Buddha even says that, “In the path, if you find nobody equal or superior than you, walk alone”.
People we spend time with have a huge impact in our body, moods, and ways of thinking. It seems that one of the easiest ways to create change in our life is to simply change our companies. Bad choices seem to be contagious; but happiness is too.
In fact, one of the goals of this blog is to be a place where growth-minded individuals hang out. Thank you for being here!
Action step: Make a list of the 20 people you most spend time with, and divide them into three groups: the negative, the neutral, and the positive. Then make a decision which people you need to not spend time with anymore, and which people you need to spend more time with. Perhaps it’s time to go out and make new connections?
6. Don’t compare yourself to others.
There are people in our lives that have achieved more than us, and whose presence inspire us to move in the direction we wish to go. That is actually empowering. On the other hand, there are others that provoke social comparisons in us, comparisons that simply makes us feel unhappy with our current job, current earnings, current house, etc.
In Predictably Irrational, Dan Ariely demonstrates how comparing ourselves with other people is the root of in satisfaction about our lives. Social comparison robs us of happiness, by making us desire things we don’t really care about, only for the sake of “status” and receiving social approval. It also makes us unhappy about things we were previous satisfied with (see this interesting study with monkeys).
You don’t need to care about what other people are doing, getting or achieving. Love yourself as you are – in personality and body shape. Self-acceptance is the root of power and satisfaction.
Action step: Who are the people in your life that make you feel unhappy about what you have, or make you struggle to chase meaningless things? Do you need to spend time with them? If so, how can you stop caring about what they have or do?
7. What are your parents attitudes?
Our parents have a deep influence on the way we see life, and on many of our subconscious drives. The reason for many of our irrational behaviors, and the reason for us chasing certain things in life, can many times be rooted in us wanting to be loyal to our family patterns, to secretly seek approval and love, or to rebel. There are several theories about family systems, perhaps one of the most well known being the Bowen’s system.
While exploring this subject is beyond the scope of this post, I leave you with this: for us to really find what genuinely makes us happy and fulfilled in life, we must learn to find our own true voice. Not the one that comes from family conditioning. And this can be a journey of a lifetime.
Action step: Rethink your core values and in life. If you had had different parents, would your attitudes and current drives be the same?
8. Practice gratitude
Yes, gratitude doesn’t need to be a random feeling that sometimes comes; it can actually be practiced. Count your blessings every day. Send thank you letters to people that have touched your life, and call them. This YouTube video is quite inspiring, as well as this TED talk.
Developing gratitude is one of the easiest and quickest ways to boost our happiness – and it also sets another tone for your relationships. There is at least one thing you can be grateful for each person in your life – be it a family member, a friend, or somebody that hates your guts.
Action Step: Start a gratitude journal, either on paper or digital. Write down 1 to 3 things you are grateful about every day. When you are feeling down, read this journal.
9. Spend some time alone (BONUS)
Yes, spending time alone will empower you to have better relationships, because it will give you more clarity about yourself, and make you feel less dependent on others. It gives you the space to reboot your brain and have some self-reflection – which is the foundation for all personal growth. Other benefits are explored by these posts from EliteDaily and Psychology Today.
Action Step: Create an appointment in your calendar to enjoy some time alone.