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My coworker Alayna prides herself on having hard boundaries — she says no to working weekends, refuses to lend money to family, and never, ever has sex with someone before the third date.
You would think that Alayna would be someone who has a peaceful mind, one that is impermeable to the outside world. You could also be forgiven for thinking that Alayna has her act together and is in total control of her world.
And you would be dead wrong on both counts.
In fact, Alayna is quite possibly the most emotionally volatile person I know. An emoji from her crush can send her sky-high while a negative comment from a stranger on Instagram can bring her crashing down.
The problem is that Alayna sets hard physical boundaries but has almost no emotional boundaries. She may not do things she doesn’t want to do but she very frequently feels things she doesn’t want to feel. Her heart is like a giant sponge soaking up anything and everything around her. Like a sponge, she can also hold on to those feelings for days.
“I’m having the worst morning. Some idiot cut me off in traffic and made me late for my presentation. Then I got that doomsday email from Dan telling our entire department that numbers were way down and now I’m worried about my job. Luke still hasn’t called so I don’t know if I should make weekend plans and to top it off, my sister just got engaged. They’ve only been dating for a year! I really didn’t want to be the last one to get married!”
She had allowed four people who hadn’t spoken to her, hadn’t thought about her, and weren’t even there to affect her emotional state. All before 10 am.
Alayna is aware of how people affect her. She often tells me, “God, these people drive me nuts. They just make me lose control!”
Is It Really Outside of Your Control?
I’ve often found Alayna’s choice of words interesting. They make me do this. They drive me nuts. She describes it as though things are happening to her and she has no control over the matter. Here’s the twist — Alayna and I know a lot of the same people. The people in her life that are doing these things to Alayna don’t do the same to me. Why is that?
It’s because they aren’t doing anything to her, she is always allowing people to affect her. By letting everyone and anyone into her emotional space, she is basically giving away her personal power.
A different way to think about it is to imagine your emotional space as a safe filled with the most precious treasure — your energy.
If you owned a trove of diamonds, you wouldn’t allow anyone to just come in and take a piece, so don’t allow people to do that with your energy. Remember, they can’t come in if you don’t let them. Make it the most exclusive club ever and only let people who have earned their key in.
If you’ve never thought about it this way before, here are some ways you might be unknowingly giving your personal power away.
1. You Care Too Much About What People Who Don’t Matter Think
Alayna is a talented artist and had often been encouraged to sell her art online. After months of effort, she finally set up a website to promote her work but was extremely distraught by some of the negative comments she received.
Despite receiving far more positive comments than negative ones, she decided to shut her website down. By caring what strangers thought of her, she had given people she had never even met the power not only to upset her but to tear her dreams down and build a wall of perceived limitations around her.
The biggest problem with making decisions based on what others think is that Alayna was likely overestimating how bad those judgments were. Four studies on actors who had committed public and embarrassing blunders found that the actors often imagined that strangers think worse of them than they actually do.
Researchers discovered that people tended to fixate on the negative comments they received while ignoring positive ones. They concluded that the actors could avoid unnecessary social anxiety by not ruminating over what onlookers thought.
How to stop doing this
The next time someone you don’t care about leaves a nasty comment on your social media or is rude to you in real life, just remind yourself that they don’t have a key to your energy bank. Even if you are unable to stop the initial reaction of anger, don’t hold on to it — this person who doesn’t matter to you has already taken more energy than they deserve.
2. You Compare Yourself to Others
Alayna has two sisters to whom she constantly compares herself against. A few months ago, Alayna and her sisters signed on to a fitness routine together. Alayna was feeling great about the 10 lbs she had lost until both her sisters posted on Instagram that they lost more weight than her.
Although she still looked fabulous in her new dress, her euphoria was gone and replaced by envy and self-judgment. If she had signed up without her sisters, she would have stayed euphoric but her act of comparison stripped her of her joy and gave her nothing back in return.
Social scientists have known for a long time that social comparison can rob people of their joy. In fact, studies have shown that people who identify as generally unhappy were highly affected by people who did better than them. Contrastingly, people who identified as happy people were either unaffected by people who performed better or even inspired by them.
How to stop doing this
If Alayna's story resonates with you and you're curious about other ways you may be giving your personal power without knowing it, click on the button below to read the full article I wrote about it. It may not be the easiest thing to do, but you can reclaim your power and choose how you want to feel.
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