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"I couldn't help myself."

Updated: Sep 29, 2021

“I can’t believe I… (got blackout drunk, lost my shizz, had a tantrum, acted that way, broke the lamp, etc). I couldn’t help myself.”

When have you heard this?

Why do you accept it as a reasonable response to disruptive behavior?

When have you said this?

Is it true? Is it really true that you could not help yourself in order to avoid doing that thing?

Why do we give away our power like this?

Fact: you can always help yourself.

Also fact: This is a choice.

Also: We are not responsible for other people’s behavior, nor can we control anyone else’s actions except our own.

What about people who say, “How am I supposed to control myself when they did that?!?” (whatever that might be).

My answer is usually another question: who can I control? Myself. Can I control anyone else? Nope.

Truth is, it’s never up to us to control what other people do. It is always up to us what we do.

So how can you stop making excuses for yourself - or maybe you’re making excuses for someone else’s choices - and reclaim your power? First, let’s practice:

1. Acknowledge that you have A Feel, or perhaps Some Feels or Many Feels, about your own or someone else’s actions or choices. This can happen in any type of relationship, and the deeper or more valued the connection, the more you can have The Feels about the choices being made.

2. Give yourself permission to feel whatever you’re feeling. Note: you do not have to be engulfed by your feeling in order for it to be valid. You can feel it even 5% and it is still real. Lean into it.

3. Offer yourself compassion as you allow yourself to feel. Look at your reflection in the mirror and say, “I hear you,” or, “I see you,” or whatever you would say to your dearest friend who just shared some vulnerable truth.

4. This can take some extra practice: recognize that your feelings are simply energy moving through your body. Emotions are literally energy in motion, as electric impulses flow through the nervous system from the brain to the body. Take some deep breaths as you ask yourself, “Where do I feel this? Where does this land for me?” Some prime spots include your lower belly, chest, shoulders, neck, and jaw.

Depending on how in touch with your Feels you are, this practice may be something that you want to work on before you get caught in the moment when you’re next faced with, “I couldn’t help myself.” Practicing, and even being aware of, how you manage your Feels is really a way to help you give yourself a new tool: the pause. Pausing is an excellent tool in so many situations - it can give you room to collect yourself, to gather your thoughts, to decide what you would like to see happen next. It can look like a deep breath. It can be a physical reminder you give yourself, like putting your palms together or interlacing your fingers.

With practice, you develop a new pattern, a response rather than a reaction. You get to exhibit your new skill when you get caught in the moment of, “I couldn’t help myself.” And remember, this can be how you deal with your own excuse or someone else's.

Here’s what it might look like:

1. When you sense the surge in your body that is A Feel, remember that this is simply energy moving through your body (see #4 above). Breathe and ride the wave.

2. Remind yourself, “I get to choose how I use this energy.”

3. Decide your next step: for example, raised voice vs calm voice vs silence; deep breaths to loosen tense muscles.

4. When you are ready, respond with clear and simple statements:

“I don’t agree.”

“I’d like to hear more about that.”

“I can’t talk about this right now.”

All of these are okay and need no further explanation.

5. Take the next right step for you. This can look like changing the topic, getting a drink of water, stepping out of the space - go outside or to a different room (a bathroom with a fan can make a good sound barrier, though sometimes loud grumbling and yelling can still be heard, just sayin'.)

6. Again, when you are ready, take one more deep breath and return to daily life.

Congratulate yourself for reclaiming your power! Even if it feels like a tiny step, it’s a step closer to returning home to yourself.

Remember, beauty: we have the power to change because we have the power to choose. Always.

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