The Freedom to Choose Yourself

The Freedom to Choose Yourself

People disagree. It’s a normal part of relationships. Disagreements can even lead to positive results.

Many times, when conflict has arisen between a friend and myself, discussing the issues has helped me realize I was off-track. I adjusted my stance and our friendship was back on solid footing again.

That’s the beauty of a healthy friendship built on mutual respect. It helps provide personal accountability that is based on trust and goodwill.

But there are occasions where there is a true divergence in values or interests. An open-minded discussion can’t always resolve that. In fact, it can make it even worse.

Recently, a few people close to me have hurt me through their actions or words. When we followed up on our altercations, instead of resolving them this led to further conflict.

In those circumstances, I’ve taken a me-before-you attitude. My stance was this wasn’t working and, for now, I chose me first. In other words, you are an important part of my life, but this relationship is not healthy for me. I need to opt out temporarily.

This is quite different from how I’ve handled things in the past. I formerly had the mindset that if you made it to my inner circle, then you were here to stay. We’d chosen to significantly invest in each other, and proven to each other we were likeable, trustworthy, or at least had some other characteristics considered desirable in a close personal friendship.

I judged myself and where I was at in life based on the pulse of those relationships. Because surely if you were part of my tribe, then if I’m off with you it means I’m off at a basic level somewhere within myself.

However, I discovered that even those friendships, the well-vetted ones, can at times take an unhealthy turn. I realized the way I was looking at this engagement previously was from a narcissistic perspective. I was treating myself like an ever-growing creation and my friendships as my rock and foundation.

But a relationship between two changing entities is going to be continuously developing and shifting. To look at it differently is to undervalue the personhood of the other.

Plus, all my effort had a draining effect on me because it was one-sided and forced. I was trying to make it work for self-serving purposes. This helped me to understand that I had given these relationships too much power.

Therefore, it’s possible for those friendships to develop into toxic ones. When I accepted this, I realized I was investing too much time and energy into coming to terms with another’s feelings or actions.

So that’s when I stopped trying. I engaged with the other person to request a pause for an unspecified length of time. Then I walked away from that relationship.

In the time since then, I’ve discovered it’s difficult knowing someone whose opinion I value may think less of me for it. However, I’ve practiced the ability to sit with that. I’ve learned to accept it. For me, for now, the intention is to learn to prioritize my own judgment of the situation, after due diligence is given to both sides, and to accept the disagreement.

I wish this had a happier ending. I want to say I am a more joyous person now that those individuals have taken a break from my life. That would be a lie. I miss them deeply.

I’ve chosen the freedom of prioritizing myself, but it comes with a heavy burden of absent loved ones. Still, it was the right move for me at this stage in my life. So that is why I chose myself.

During this soul-searching time, I’ve learned three powerful lessons:

It’s OK to Choose Yourself

You don’t require permission  to choose yourself. Not everyone will agree with your choice. It’s important for you to be OK with that. If you’ve taken stock of the situation and have judged it as the best way, then move forward with it. Feel free to take other people’s opinions into account. However, this is your life and you’re the one that’s going to live with the results. Don’t let others make the decisions for you. Everyone is trying to figure this out as they go.

Choosing Yourself Is Not Narcissistic

It may seem self-serving or indulgent, but sometimes choosing yourself is the best choice. Investing time in your own well-being is a natural aspect of life. Relationships are a vital part of living a holistic life. And no relationship — regardless of whether it is romantic or platonic — is likely to last without the occasional mishap or misunderstanding. But for long-term welfare, sometimes it’s necessary to step back and focus on yourself.

Stepping Back Can Create Opportunities

Growth and development do not typically occur during easy times. It can come at times of strife or devastating failure. It is during these times a person is most challenged as an individual. It is also during these times that opportunities are created  which we couldn’t have imagined for ourselves. Recognizing this enables you to take advantage of these prospects when dealing with adversity.

There is an opportunity that lies in dealing with those personal conflicts that are not easily resolved in an intimate friendship. Sometimes, choosing yourself can be the best option for your own future growth.


Jacquelyn Adams, an IEEE Senior member, is a nationally-recognized leader in employee learning and development. Jacquelyn is the CEO and Founder of Ristole, a consulting business that transforms corporations through engaging employee training. Find more of her Lessons on Leadership columns here.

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