The other day, I was faced with a choice.
I could speak the truth about my life, or do what I always did in the past: keep quiet because I was afraid of making others uncomfortable or causing them to experience negative emotions.
I was at a dinner party with my extended family. To give you some background, my family does not like to talk about personal issues, especially things like feelings and things that could be perceived as “bad.” It makes them extremely uncomfortable.
But this time, I chose to share the truth about my life. I told my family that my partner and I were now separated. I shared it without shame or guilt. I shared how I actually felt about it and my partner too—we’re happy and excited. We see it as a good thing. There is nothing to feel sad about here.
And in my sharing this, others were uncomfortable. It brought up a lot of negative emotions for them. Some were angry at me for speaking so honestly. Others felt sad for me.
But what I felt was freedom.
Not freedom from my marriage or anything like that, but the freedom to actually say what was going on in my life without shame or guilt. The freedom to fully and completely be and express myself without worrying about what others would think or feel because of it.
Freedom has meant many different things to me over the years.
First, it meant freedom from living at home with my parents. Being out on my own. As I got older, it meant financial freedom—always having enough money to do whatever I wanted. In my spiritual journey, it meant realizing the ultimate freedom—experiencing myself as an eternal soul or consciousness.
But now I’m taking freedom to a whole new level in my life. And it’s actually deeper and more satisfying than any of these other forms of freedom I’ve experienced thus far.
The ultimate freedom for me is this: releasing myself from believing I am responsible for someone else’s emotions.
In other words, trying to please others.
I cannot tell you how huge this is for me. And how liberating.
As females, many of us are brought up and taught how to be caregivers for others, to always be looking out for how someone else feels, to be the “nice” girl who is always sweet, kind, and sensitive.
We are told—and shown by example—the “right” way to be from the other women in our lives. That’s how it looks like to be a “good” person, a “good” woman, to cater to everyone else’s needs at the expense of your own. As a society, we worship selflessness.
And this is fine. This is a valid way to live, and I’m not judging it. But what happens when you live your life so overly concerned for other people and their emotional experience?
You suffocate yourself.
You shut yourself down in order to please others. A part of you dies. You are now in a prison of your own making.
I’m realizing more and more that this way of being, shutting myself down for others’ comfort, is not really being compassionate, loving, or even helpful. It’s not loving—for me or the other people in my life.
Because any time I shut myself down or hold myself back for fear of what other people are going to think or feel, I am not being true to myself. I’m keeping myself in a prison of “what other people will think.”
And how does it help anyone to keep yourself in a prison? To shut down the magnificent light of your own being so someone else is more comfortable?
I’m also realizing more and more that what people need, myself included, is not to have people please me, or for me to try to please others and cater to what I think they need from me.
What people really need is an example.
They need to see what it looks like to love yourself completely and unconditionally, which means breaking yourself out of that prison. It means being true to yourself. It means speaking the truth about your life when it’s appropriate. It means letting go of trying to be responsible for someone else’s emotional experience.
Because once someone sees an example of what it looks like to be fully yourself, you give them permission to do the same. You show them the potential of freedom.
And they now have the option to free themselves.
When I spoke freely the other day, it was challenging not to get sucked into how I “should” feel about my life and my current situation. Many of my old beliefs were reflected back to me that day: The primary one being that I’m doing something wrong, somehow, because of who I am or how I’m living.
In this sharing experience, I was given the opportunity to remember who I really am, that I’m not doing anything wrong, that I can choose to experience a life of freedom where I’m not holding myself responsible for anyone else’s emotional experience anymore, and to reaffirm that I can fully be myself at all times.
As a modern woman living in the sometimes oppressive social and societal framework of what and how a woman is supposed to be, I cannot tell you how huge this feels. How groundbreaking and paradigm-shifting this is for me.
It’s breaking a millennia’s worth of rules about the role of a woman in a family and society at large.
I’m breaking the “caretaker” rules. I’m letting go of being responsible for others and it feels amazing! (And also scary sometimes, too. There’s not too many out there doing this out loud but some of us have to go first, right?)
I’m finally giving myself full and complete permission to live for myself, 100 percent. I am no longer holding myself responsible for anyone else’s experience.
I should mention that this doesn’t mean I don’t want to help others. That’s not the case at all. But since I’m now extracting myself from these old dynamics of pleasing others at the expense of myself, I have more energy to serve in the ways I really want to.
My real and true passion for service is coming out in full force. It’s my writing, the sessions I hold for others, and I’m sure many more ways I haven’t even realized yet. My passion is helping others to love and free themselves.
But it starts with me. I have to do it for myself first.
So for all you women (and men too) reading this article, ask yourself this:
How freeing would it feel to come out of hiding and be your full self? To share who you authentically are?
How liberating would it feel to not hold yourself back anymore?
How good would it feel to release yourself from the burden of trying to be responsible for everyone else’s emotions and life experience?
Because the truth is, you really can’t be responsible for anyone else. You can try and think you are being nice, empathetic, and compassionate, but no matter what you do, you cannot control how someone else feels.
The only thing you can really ever do is be an example. You can show the other people in your life what it looks like to take full and complete responsibility for your experience and emotions and no one else’s. If they come to you for help with how to do that, you can offer it. Otherwise, let go. You are not responsible for how they feel.
The only person responsible for your emotions is you. This goes for everyone else in your life as well. The only person responsible for their emotions is themselves. No matter how much they try to convince you otherwise.
So…are you ready to free yourself too?
Author: Lindsay O’Brien
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Copy Editor: Lieselle Davidson
Social Editor: Yoli Ramazzina