With everything that has been swirling around for the last several months life seems out of control on so many levels. In these stressful times it is important to recognize the power we have to give ourselves permission to discover what we can do to address some of the needs created by today’s current events.
Consider all the times you give yourself permission to do something. You know those times when you want to take a bite of that delicious-looking chocolate cake even though you’re trying to restrict your sugar intake? Or you hit the snooze button so you can sleep for another 15 minutes? How about when you play a game on your phone even though you’re supposed to be doing something else but recognize that you really need a brain break? As human beings, it is important that we know we have the power at times to give ourselves permission to do certain things, to avoid other things, to think differently, to change our minds, to shift our focus.
Here are some thoughts on different ways we all can give ourselves permission to do or not do things. I encourage you to read through these and decide if some of them would be helpful in reducing some of your anxiety by increasing some of your sense of power. I also encourage you to develop your own list that resonates with what is going on in your life right now.
- Permission to pause frequently every day to just notice what you are thinking and feeling. Sometimes we can feel like our days have a life of their own and we are not in control of what happens. It can be liberating to recognize we have the right and responsibility to give ourselves many breaks in order to just notice our inner world. That gives us the power to strengthen those things that are positive and reduce those things that are negative.
- Permission to gain better control over being triggered. We can’t always stop ourselves from being triggered by sound, sight, smell, touch or taste, but we can get better at recognizing potential triggers and either avoid them or not allow them to overwhelm us. Sometimes you can notice that you’ve been triggered by something, and then acknowledge that something in the past just jumped into the present and choose to take a deep breath and let it go.
- Permission to set limits and boundaries. Often when those around us are feeling anxious, they can overstep personal and relational boundaries because they are less aware of their impact and the rights of others to not have somebody barge into a restricted personal area. It is important to recognize our personal rights to our space, to what we do and don’t do, how transparent we want to be with someone else. This permission is about claiming our right to decide how close others can come to us, whether or not a request or demand they are making is something we wish to comply with, or how much we want to give of ourselves to someone else.
- Permission to determine what makes us feel safer. It is important to have a personal Safety Plan that you use in any situation in which you feel vulnerable or threatened. There is no one universal Safety Plan. What makes one person feel safer may not have the same effect on another. Give yourself permission to determine when, where and how you will create and maintain personal safety.
- Permission to modify your Safety Plan. In order to be most effective, Safety Plans need to be fluid and organic. Sometimes we realize we need to add to what we believe will help us feel safe. Sometimes we need to decide something we thought would promote a sense of safety may not be effective. If you continue to struggle to feel safe, you have the right to consult with someone who will process your needs with you to help you create a meaningful and effective Safety Plan.
- Permission to monitor and, when necessary, change your inner dialogue. Sometimes our worst enemy is our inner self. Maybe that inner dialogue chastises, criticizes, shames and blames, tells us everything is our fault, that we don’t really matter, that we have little or no worth. In times of stress, our inner voice can tell us that we brought it on, that we should have done more, that we are not doing enough. We can give ourselves permission to tell that voice to go away or to send fairer and more compassionate messages to ourselves.
- Permission to practice self-care. You have the right to determine what self-care means to you and what allows you to feel you are experiencing self-care. For some it might be listening to music, for others it might be taking a walk or getting a treat from Amazon.
- Permission to feel all your feelings. It is human nature to avoid feeling painful feelings, like sadness and grief, anxiety and stress, frustration, disappointment and regret. To be fully human however, it is necessary to be able to experience all of life’s feelings, to be able to own them and know that they are part of our humanity. Sometimes we need to give ourself permission to allow those feelings to come in and be fully experienced. Doing so can promote a sense of wholeness and can promote healing from losses and pain.
- Permission to experience joy. Without minimizing or discounting the realities of today’s world – the stress, dissonance, social injustices, fear and frustration – we also need to give ourselves permission to experience joy. Sometimes it’s joy in the smallest of things: like having quiet and meaningful conversations with our families. Sometimes it’s having the gift of time to be reflective, to write notes to friends, to be creative in our own ways and revel in the gift of that creativity. It is important to allow joy into our lives and sometimes we actually have to give ourselves permission to feel joyful.
I hope each of you will think about different ways you need to give yourself permission and then to actively give the permission in order to take control of those parts of your life that are within the control.
Invitation for Reflection
- To what extent did you realize that sometimes you need to give yourself permission to experience life in a more meaningful way?
- Did you resonate with any of the suggestions for ways a person gives permission to themselves? If so, how can you actively do that for yourself?
- In what other ways do you need to give yourself permission so that you claim your power to be in control of your life?
Diane Wagenhals, Director, Lakeside Global Institute