Finding your own way

Throughout our lives, we’re being influenced by the outside world. We might think that we’re very individual human beings and that we’re largely independent of others. But even then our family, friends, colleagues, neighbours, government and all different kinds of media play an important role in how we look at ourselves and at life in general. The extent to which we are affected is more profound than we might think. Age doesn’t appear to play a decisive role in this.

Families, in particular, can play a big part. For example: when parents or guardians repeat a certain point of view often enough, it is most likely that their children will embrace this as their own. The rest of the family can also make their specific mark. Our actions and thoughts are often, especially as a child, based on our immediate surroundings: this is our main reference. We’re not only affected by spoken words; a look, attitude or action usually says more than enough. Some families specialise in this “unspoken influence”. This often says a lot about the relationships within the family, and the desire of some family members to emphasise their vision (and their power). Many television series are based on this specific behaviour.

Why are we so easily influenced in certain situations? The fear of being excluded by others can be a factor. We are (often unconsciously) willing to make concessions, as long as we feel appreciated and accepted. We like to be part of a group because of the feelings of safety and security that this brings about. That’s why these themes are often used / abused by others when it comes to exerting influence.

Of course, we can also be influenced in a positive, caring way, but deliberate negative manipulation is undesirable. It is therefore, good practice to analyse ourselves on a regular basis: do we really make our own decisions? Because of the relative subtle signals that go with manipulation, it can sometimes be difficult to pinpoint what exactly is going on. Yet it is important to realise in which areas we are most receptive to outside influences.

So how important are other people’s opinions to us? What would happen if we’d rely more on our own compass? Of course, there’s some degree of adjustment required of us since we live in a society. Otherwise, it would not be possible to live together. But while there’s often enough space available within those limits, do we actually take that space? If not, why not? Are we able to determine without others what is good for us? How dependent are we (in this respect) on others? Are we strong enough to go our own way? Are we able to recognise the internal signals that indicate what’s good or not for us? Or should we learn to point our antennas more inward instead of outward?

It remains a dynamic balance: choosing between our own opinions or someone else’s. Each of us can decide where to draw the line. I can also try to exert a certain degree of influence with this article. But to what extent this really is the case: feel free to decide for yourself.

Franklin Heilbron, blogger, and spiritual life coach lives and coaches in Amsterdam (The Netherlands). He loves life, loves people, hugely enjoys intelligent conversations, and can be deeply moved by beautiful sounds and images.

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