People come to therapy for a number of reasons. Regardless of the stated reason, one of the commonalities often seen is a perceived loss of agency. What does this mean? Some people believe themselves unable to make their own choices and believe that their lives are the results of choices and actions of others. Of course, there are times when others give us little choice in a given instance – that is not the topic here. There are a number of areas in which this perceived loss of agency shows itself, but a common one is in the context of amorous relationships.
Agency Within Couples Relationships
How is this loss of agency seen? If you find yourself talking consistently about things being done “to” you, you might have ceded your agency. An example might be when a person reviews their relationships and repeatedly says that “he [or she] did this to me” when discussing every major amorous relationship of their life. As a therapist, the question often arises – “But what did you do?” Therapy is ALWAYS about the person in the room – the person in therapy, not others – so the therapist attempts to bring the conversation to the choices, actions and beliefs of the client sitting in the room. Of course, people do things that can cause us incredible difficulty, but if you review the relationships of your life and this is all you see, it might be worth considering whether you are attracted to a sort of person to whom you are able to give your own power.
Lack of Choice
There are times when all of us experience limited choices. This can be difficult to accept, but sometimes we have to work with what life has given us. Other times, we have choices, but must be willing to make them. Even choosing to not make a choice (or giving that power to another) is itself a choice. Understanding your power helps you know when you actually don’t have a choice, or if you are avoiding making choices yourself out of fear.
The Holocaust survivor Viktor E. Frankl said, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” Sometimes choices are about practical events and sometimes choices are about our responses to events.
Regaining Your Agency
How do you regain your sense of power over your choices? Sometimes this involves negotiated changes to the relationship. Sometimes this involves consideration of the beliefs and fears that power your interpersonal dynamics and choices. Sometimes this involves taking time to learn more about yourself, before you become involved in new relationships. There is not a single answer to this question, but the first thing in bringing change is realising that whether you give up your power intentionally or not, you have still given up the power over your own life choices (speaking of adults in relationships here).
Couples Counselling Wellington and Online
If you are struggling with agency within your relationships, or you would like to consider your approaches to relating before getting into a new relationship, contact us to book a counselling session.