When I was about 17, my parents strongly objected to some of my friends. Yes, they were my friends and my parents didn’t know them nearly as well as I did otherwise they would have agreed with my point of view. The more they protested about my spending time with them the more time I invested into our friendship. To tell the truth – and after all these years I can – even then I intuitively knew that they were right, but there was no way that I would ever do what they told me to do. My eagerness and need to be right and the power of making my own decisions was simply overwhelming. Sure enough, most of those friends turned out either not to be such good friends as I imagined. Several of them became alcoholics, or ended up in jail. And, yes, I admit my parents were right. They knew what was good for me and they acted as responsible parents to the best of their abilities.
No-one-tells-me-what-to-do attitude is perfectly normal for teenagers anywhere. Their need to break away from their parents’ influence and prove themselves as able to be successful and responsible in the “real world”, is healthy and necessary behavior for the development of a healthy psyche. But as we mature this attitude may present a significant barrier to healthy relationships and a happy life.
First, this kind of rebel behavior may result in pushing away anyone who comes close to you. This is how it usually works: You know from your own experience that it is very easy for you to see when others are about to do something that will not serve them well. If that person is a stranger or just an acquaintance you most likely will not open your mouth to stop them. But, if it is someone you care about, you will do your utmost to point out the fallacy of his/her intended actions. So, whenever you become resistant to the suggestions of the people who care about you, you are jumping into don’t-tell-me-what-to-do modus operandi. In other words, you are digressing into a teenager. I certainly do not propose that you should accept all recommendations from everyone who cares about you. What I am suggesting is openness to the possibility and willingness to consider other points of view.
This kind of resistance to do what people ask you to do (or not to do) is a sign of insecurity, low self-esteem, inferiority complex and such. The more often you exercise your “right” to do what you want, the more you alienate people around you and more you push yourself in the direction of insecurity and low self-esteem. Choosing not to do what people ask you to do is just as much a free choice as accepting other people’s requests and suggestions. You have right to change your mind. The choice is always yours. Be responsible for it. By refusing other people’s requests because you did not generate the idea, and thinking that somehow by accepting it you will lose power, is a victim behavior. The choice is always yours no matter which way you go. In fact, by accepting, or at least considering and being willing to discuss it in order to learn more about other people’s point of view, you show generosity, trust, respect, understanding and security in your own beliefs. Paradoxically, the more you are open to the possibility of changing your mind the more you gain self-esteem. Most cultures teach us that changing your mind under any circumstances makes you a person of a weak character, wishy-washy and less respected by others. Consider the following: you decide to do something against other’s recommendation, and you fail. Who do you blame? Yourself, of course (low esteem). Do you learn from the experience? No, you don’t. You vow that you’ll do it better the next time using the same strategy of the don’t-tell-me-what-to-do variety. Do you give credit to the person who suggested otherwise? No, you resent him/her even more. What happens if you succeed? Do you give yourself credit? Rarely. It’s just you. You just made a good choice. That’s it. You were lucky this time (low self-esteem). Your relationship with that person worsens.
Now consider that you take someone else’s advice. If you fail, what do you think? You see, I told you so. I should have done it my way. (Higher opinion of yourself.) If you succeed, you will be grateful to him/her and you will praise yourself for making a good choice of accepting the suggestion and executing it (high self-esteem). Your relationship with that person will become stronger.
So, yes, just as you have right do to what you want to do, no matter what advice you get, you also absolutely have right to change your mind to your benefit and take other people’s advice. These are the two equal sides of the same coin.
Again, by all means, you should NOT go around doing what everyone tells you to do (low self-esteem), but being able to make a sound choice free of the baggage from the past, or emotions that may pop up unbidden at those moments of decision. Sometimes even “blind trust”, although normally regarded as irresponsible, is acceptable. Think of professional advisors, teacher, friends and others that you trusted blindly, maybe with mixed results, which, by the way, will always be mixed, i.e., we will always make occasional mistakes whether we do what we want, or if we listen to other’s advice. Mistakes are a part of life. Learn to live with them. But at least with the absence of the don’t-tell-me-what-to-do attitude you will have happier life, better relationships and open end for self-growth and being a responsible wise adult instead of a perpetual teenager.
Doing what others request from you, being a “yes” person, will provide you with an opportunity for service, whether it is gladly bringing your partner a cup of coffee*, or caring for the sick and elderly, or anything in between. We grow by serving others. We serve ourselves by serving others. We are social animals. “Doing onto others what they want done to themselves” is a higher motto for peaceful relationships and peace the world. It is an attitude of peace, not confrontation. It is about care, contribution, prosperity, efficiency, effectiveness and self-growth from teenage-hood to adulthood. Remember the choice is always yours.
“To be bound by our choices is not to have lost our freedom
but to have exercised it.”
*See The Relationship Saver: “Reverse the process”