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You Don't Own Me

freedom mountaintopWith love and respect for Lesley Gore and her wonderful, powerful lyrics, I want to talk about another meaning of this statement from the title of her song. I mean, sure, don't tell me what to say or do, and don't try to change me. I'd say those limits are fundamental in any relationship. 

Don't should all over me, for sure. Can you take it one step further and speak to me from the assumption that I am someone of equal power?

Uh-oh. Now I went and said that nasty word...power. 

Don't be alarmed, please. Power has a bad reputation, as words go, but its first definition is a simple, benign one: the ability to do or act; the capability of doing or accomplishing something. That's it. So, if you don't tell me what to do or say, then we're all good, right? Nope.

If you're just keeping your mouth shut on all the things you'd like to tell me to do or say, then we're not all good. Not by a long shot. My definition of "you don't own me" includes that you don't own your story about me. Or, rather that you DO own it, let it go, and thereby keep it entirely out of the background of all our interactions.

Huh?? Give me a minute, here, and I'll blow your mind.

You have a story about me. I have one about you. That's a given. If we both have healthy boundaries, we know, with absolute certainty, this one, basic truth: we cannot possibly know what is truly going on with the other person...not even 10% of it. Therefore, whatever we think we know about each other is a story. I've made up a story to explain you to my mind and all my unhealed wounds. You've made up a story to explain me to your mind and all your unhealed wounds.

So often, far too often, we approach each other not face-to-face, but story-to-story, declaring (but maybe only internally) what is true for the other person and what should be done about it. You own me with your story of me, because it controls what you see and hear. Any way that I express that doesn't fit your story, gets re-interpreted or ignored. That's not what I want in my relationships.

I want you to approach me with curiosity. I want to approach you the same way. I want you to wonder what I am thinking and feeling, rather than assuming you know. I want to ask you why, rather than tell you. This leveled playing field is one of power, as I see it.

Here on the field of equal power, you assume I have the ability to do or act, AND you assume that you have that same power. I mirror these two assumptions. If we assume equal power to act in ourselves and each other, then our conversations can focus on really getting to know each other, through sharing our thoughts, feelings, dreams, and the mysteries we ponder. Here's a quick illustration....

As a fellow member of a leadership team, my once very close friend approached me after a workshop and said, "You need to get a new game face." Let us just notice how laden with story this apparently simple statement really is.

First, there are the assumptions that I know what she means by game face, that I have one, and that I'm conscious of it. Then there is the assumption that there's something wrong with that face. Finally, there are the assumptions that I have a need and she knows what it is better than I do.

Categorically, all these assumptions were pure fantasay on my friend's part. Unaware of her story, she simply spoke from within it.

Here's how that conversation might have gone if, instead of owning me, she had owned that story, and let it go in favor of knowing me better. If she hadn't been owning me through her story, she may have said, instead:

"Hi. I noticed something in the workshop I'd like to ask you about, if that's okay. [Pauses for agreement and doesn't continue without it.] Several times when the facilitator was talking, I saw that you had an expression on your face that looked angry to me. There were frown lines between your eyes, which were narrowed, your mouth was turned down at the corners, and you seemed to be grinding your teeth, from the way your jaw moved. I wondered if there was something bothering you."

The answer she'd have gotten to such an approach would certainly have been different than the one she got. And, who knows? We might even still be friends.

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Dr. L. Carol Scott.

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