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How to Enjoy More Freedom in Relationships (Without Sacrificing Intimacy and Joy)

Subhajit Banerjee

March 17, 2024


Imagine a world where every choice is made for you.

Where every one of your desires is pushed aside for the sake of others.

This is not a dystopian fiction. It’s a reality for many.

Society tells you time and again that being “selfless” makes you a “good” person.

It teaches you to put aside your own needs, desires, and happiness for the sake of making others happy.

Being good means giving up everything important to you.

For some, this belief is so deep that even enjoying themselves or relaxing feels wrong. They think they don’t deserve it.

I was stuck in this way of thinking for a long time.

I never took breaks to just be by myself and recharge.

I took pride in always being there – for my wife, my son, our families, my bosses, and my team.

I never treated myself. I even boasted to a coworker about how I never spend money on myself.

But honestly, I did all this because I felt guilty and obligated, not because I truly wanted to.

I silently judged those who put their own needs first. I secretly nursed resentments while I did so.

And I’m not the only one.

I’ve seen friends, coworkers, and relatives caught in the same trap.

I’ve helped clients who were all fighting this same battle.

They all felt stuck.

They all longed for freedom.

They all believed it could only come at the cost of the relationship.

And they were all wrong.

What is Freedom?

Freedom is the sense of being able to act, think, or speak as you want, without any obstacles.

Everyone craves more freedom in their lives.

But sometimes, in your personal or work life, you feel your freedom is slipping away.

Your boss wants you to work crazy long hours. Your spouse asks you to cancel your plans with the boys to stay home. Your extended family needs your time, energy, and resources. Your little one keeps you up at night with their diaper changes.

It’s normal to feel unhappy and resentful about these things.

Because you feel trapped. It seems like you don’t have a say in any of it. These unfair demands seem to steal your freedom.

You feel like a victim.

But is that really the case?

Let’s dive deeper…

This feeling of lost freedom is universal. However, studies suggest that those who feel the most trapped and resentful come from a specific background.

They had one or both parents who had an overbearing and dictatorial parenting style.

All parents want what’s best for their child. They hope their kids get the best chances in life and avoid making their own mistakes.

So, it makes sense they want to teach their kids the rules of the world.

But these parents choose to do so through force.

They don’t encourage their children’s autonomy. They don’t teach them about commitment, accountability, and responsibility.

They want their children to be “disciplined”.

How do they ensure this?

Through harsh consequences. Consequences so severe, that a child can’t afford to bear them.

When these children “misbehave,” their rebellion is crushed by shaming them, withholding love, isolating them, neglecting them, or even physical punishment.

The child has no option but to comply.

As adults, these individuals feel a lack of freedom everywhere.

They never learned that freedom means chasing something you want with all you’ve got. It also means facing the risks, accountability, and responsibilities that come with it.

They were taught their desires didn’t matter. They were wrong and came with consequences.

They could only want what someone else wanted for them.

No matter how hard they tried, they couldn’t make themselves follow through – not if it went against their own wishes.

They couldn’t commit or take responsibility for choices forced upon them.

They complied just to appease others and avoid consequences.

But deep down, they always felt controlled and resentful. They didn’t feel free.

Can you relate to this? Was this you growing up?

If so, take a moment to reflect.

You’ll see that old conditioning from childhood is still haunting you today.

Think about the past week.

Did you agree to do something you didn’t want to?

Why did you agree?

If you’re honest, it was probably to avoid consequences.

You’re repeating the role of a child and a punishing parent, even as an adult.

It doesn’t matter if it’s at work, with friends, or with your partner.

When you fall into this pattern, you suffer. You feel controlled and bitter.

This leads to subconscious actions that ruin relationships.

Maybe you agree to a task but “forget” to do it.

Or you skip your plans with friends to stay home, only to spend all your time watching replays.

Resentment often leads to passive-aggressive behavior like this.

Martyrs and Invisible Strings

Sometimes you might choose to be the martyr.

You bury your resentment deep inside like a trooper, keep saying yes, and keep giving more than you want to. You tell yourself that this self-sacrifice makes you the “better person.”

But even as you do this, you’re putting invisible strings on the other person. As Dr. Robert Glover, author of “No More Mr. Nice Guy,” explains, you’re creating “covert contracts” with them.

You’re doing things you don’t want to. And subconsciously, you’re hoping they’ll return the favor.

You expect them to like you, respect you, collaborate with you, love you, or even marry you.

But they never agreed to this deal.

This doesn’t create much influence or impact.

And when you get used to feeling this powerless, what happens?

Your self-esteem plummets. You feel unworthy of love and respect. You feel not good enough.

You become anxious around others, always trying to guess what they’re thinking. You worry about where you stand with them.

You start to see the other person as cruel and heartless. You project these thoughts onto them and tiptoe around them.

Trust, goodwill, and romance fade from the relationship. Because let’s face it – low confidence and high resentment don’t exactly put people in the mood for romance.

The relationship either becomes toxic or falls apart.

And that’s not the only price you pay…

The Cost of Giving up Your Freedom to be a “Saint”

You dread expressing your needs because you’ve been punished before for doing so.

But you resent everyone for not magically meeting those unspoken needs.

That disappointment and resentment build up, turning you cynical.

Sometimes, the pressure from all this anger and resentment gets too much, and you blow a gasket.

This hurts those around you. And it comes so out of the blue that others often don’t have a clue.

When that happens, it fills you up with fear, guilt, and shame. So, you return to being passive and compliant.

Until the pressure mounts again, and the cycle repeats.

Sometimes, the pain becomes so intense that you withdraw from relationships entirely. You bury yourself in work, TV, video games, and porn.

You still crave deep connections and intimacy.

But you view others as harsh and unforgiving. You wonder if anyone is worth connecting with.

You become lonely, isolated, and bitter.

 

Now that you understand the high price you pay every day, I have a hard pill for you to swallow.

You ready?

The pain you’re in can go away – if you choose to do so.

You always have a choice.

Even back when you were a child, the choice was yours.

Yes, it was an impossible choice. No one could ever face those consequences laid out for you. It was a choice you never wanted to make.

But it was a choice, nonetheless.

You chose to suppress yourself, smooth your rough edges, give up your autonomy, become more “convenient” for your parents, and comply with their wishes – just to survive.

Because of that choice:

  • You never experienced the thrill of chasing what YOU wanted.
  • You never knew what committing to those desires felt like.
  • You never took accountability and responsibility for YOUR choices.

And today, you’ve lost awareness of that painful choice you once made. You’re only aware of the commitment and responsibility forced upon you.

So now, those concepts feel like chains. Any commitment or responsibility you can’t back out of feels like a trap.

But freedom isn’t about avoiding obligations, commitments, or responsibilities.

True freedom means not committing to anything that doesn’t resonate with you. But it also means fully committing to what you truly want, and taking complete responsibility and accountability to achieve that.

True freedom is giving it your all. Or not doing it at all.

“Anything less than a hell yes is a hell no.”
— Rich Litvin

So, do you Become a Jerk?

By now, I hope you realize that you need to protect your freedom at all costs. Nobody else will do it for you.

If you let it slip through your fingers, nothing good comes from it. Losing your freedom drains your energy, brings pain, and also hurts those you care about.

When you’re depleted and resentful, those you love receive less of you, even if you try to be there for them.

So, what’s the next step?

Should you become a selfish jerk? Should you chase after your desires without giving a damn about others’ feelings or the consequences, just to make yourself happy?

Let’s be real – since you’re reading this, it’s unlikely you’ll ever be that person.

Your upbringing and conscience probably won’t let you go to such extremes.

But there are steps you can take, which might seem selfish, but are vital for your happiness. They also improve your relationships, career, friendships, and personal fulfillment.

You need to turn up the dial on the selfish spectrum a bit. I’ve talked about this in an earlier edition – but it bears repeating.

Selfishness isn’t just an on-off switch. It exists on a spectrum.

At one end, you have the doormat who lets everyone walk all over them. On the other, the heartless jerk who only cares about themselves.

Your goal is to dial yourself up to the zone of healthy self-interest.

You prioritize your needs first. But you’re still considering others.

How do you find this balance?

Any time you do something – ask yourself this:

“Why am I doing this?”

Is it from a commitment you’re ready to make, accepting all consequences?

Or are you driven by fear and discomfort and just trying to stay out of trouble?

If it’s the first then hell yes. If it’s not then hell no. Nothing in between.

Understanding this truth was a game-changer for me. It stopped me from being a victim trapped in a life made up of choices by others.

Once you realize that, once you own up to that decision – the feeling of helplessness and powerlessness goes away.

You realize that no one can take your free will away. No one can “make” you do something.

You are always making a choice, even when it feels like you aren’t. The only thing that can make you do things are your internal demands to be a “good” son, daughter, spouse, parent, employee, or friend.

Embracing this truth helps you move from self-denial to a zone of Healthy Self-Interest (HSI).

Living with Healthy Self-Interest (HSI)

Living with healthy self-interest means feeling physically and emotionally healthier. You’ll feel balanced and in control, rather than on autopilot.

You’ll handle stress better. You will value yourself more, and see a massive boost in self-esteem and confidence.

You will become a better caregiver. Because filling your own cup first makes you more caring and compassionate.

You’ll learn how to become your own advocate. You will become adept at taking care of yourself and meeting your own needs.

This enables you to give more to your family, business, and community.

You’ll stop equating self-denial with being good. You will no longer be bound by obligation and guilt.

You will stop aiming for perfection and start being honest, authentic, and real.

You will discover a happier, more fulfilled, and loving version of yourself.

Today, my life is without obligation-based relationships.

I no longer depend upon vague hints or passive aggression to get my needs met.

I spend time and energy pursuing my passions. I disconnect and recharge when I need to. I take trips with my friends when I want to.

And I return that favor wholeheartedly – without any strings attached.

Putting my needs first allowed me to give to others freely and happily, without resentment.

My life feels so much richer with love, appreciation, energy, freedom, and fun!

How to Nurture Your Freedom

You’re probably wondering,

“How can I reach this zone of Healthy Self-Interest? How can I protect those sacred flames of freedom?”

Here are a few ways you can do that:

Figure out if it’s HSI

How do you know if you’re in the HSI zone or if you’ve wandered into harmful selfishness?

The best method I’ve discovered is the “Selfishness Algorithm” by Dr. Aziz Gazipura.

Here’s how you do it:

Ask yourself:

  1. What do I want?
  2. On a scale of 1-10, how important is this to me?
  3. What needs am I trying to meet?
    There are many theories about core human needs (Maslow’s hierarchy, Max-Neef’s fundamental human needs, Alderfer’s ERG theory, etc), but it mainly comes down to 5 needs: Certainty (Order), Variety (Chaos), Significance (Esteem), Connection (Relatedness), and Growth (Actualization). Which of them are you trying to meet?
  4. How will this impact the other person on a scale of 1-10 (1 being minimal and 10 being a burden)?
  5. How can others get the help or support they need?
  6. Are there other ways to get my needs met?

This will help clear things up.

Write down the objections

You know what you want.

So what’s holding you back?

No, this is not a rhetorical question. What is it?

Take a few minutes to jot down all your objections.

Your “Yeah, buts.”

Worried about upsetting your partner, colleagues, or friends?

Doubtful if it would work even if you spoke up?

Does it still feel too “selfish”?

List these objections and see if you can counter them.

Often, they’re just fear. Or you’re seeing yourself as a helpless, powerless victim.

“He won’t let me do it.”

“She gets too emotional if I speak up, so I have to keep quiet.”

“I have no option but to play along”

This is where you have a decision to make…

Bear it or face it – but own the decision

You could keep up the facade, but you know the pain that brings.

If the consequences seem too daunting, you might decide to let things be.

But, if you’re ready to stand your ground, commit to it and accept the consequences.

Just remember, whatever you choose is YOUR decision.

Make it and own it.

Don’t play zero-sum games

When you decide to take a stand – there would be a conflict in needs. It’s your job to resolve it.

This is where people mess up. They either back down. Or they go ballistic.

Keep your past issues and resentment out of current discussions.

You’re going for negotiation – not self-expression. There would be a time for self-expression, but this is not it.

Use “I” statements to express your needs. Say why they matter to you.

Say what you need from them. Be open to negotiation – your way or highway doesn’t work.

Make it a “us vs the problem” thing, not a “me vs you” thing.

Never play zero-sum games.

Think about what’s best for both parties. Aim for a win-win solution.

You’ll be surprised at the creative ways you’ll come up with when you’re both working for a shared goal.

There will be blood

Deciding to protect your freedom and move to the HSI zone won’t always be smooth.

Not everyone will welcome these changes. Be prepared for backlash and resistance.

Change is difficult. It triggers fear and insecurities in others.

So it will be messy.

People around you may feel upset, angry, or hurt. You may feel upset, angry, or hurt.

You will feel guilt and shame about “hurting” others.

But tolerate that discomfort. We talked about this in an earlier newsletter on how to inoculate against stress response.

Develop that muscle. Don’t waver in your resolution.

And I promise you – this “storm” phase will pass.

Banish the Atlas within

Image by Milos Duskic from Pixabay

We talked about the shame and guilt earlier.

But where does it come from?

It comes from your sense of over-responsibility.

It’s your super-ego going haywire from all of the nice-guy conditioning.

You feel you’re responsible for other people’s feelings, wants, desires, and needs. You’re not.

You know you don’t speak up about your needs. So you assume others don’t do so as well.

You view others as fragile, helpless creatures – who need you to protect their interest.

They don’t. It’s our ego playing a number on us.

You feel you’re “hurting” them – but you must distinguish between causing “hurt” and “harm”.

If your actions harm someone – then those feelings of guilt and shame are valid. Those will guide you to make amends and restore harmony.

But you can’t always avoid causing hurt.

Your truth will offend someone. Your drive to protect your freedom will trigger many – because it reminds them of what they have chosen to forego.

You can’t take responsibility for that.

Atlas was condemned by Zeus to carry the heavens upon his shoulders for eternity

Don’t let your superego condemn you to carry the burden of other people’s wants, needs, and unresolved trauma.

Banish the Atlas within you.

Commit to safeguarding your freedom

Embracing freedom in relationships without sacrificing joy and love is tough. But it’s so worth it!

Commit to it.

You know the costs of not doing so. You also know the amazing life that awaits you when you prioritize your freedom.

Protect your time, energy, and sanity from others’ demands.

Say no to invitations, offers, and suggestions from friends, family, and loved ones that don’t align with your HSI.

Remember – hell yes and hell no. And nothing in between.

“The level of your commitment is measured not by what you say ‘yes’ to, but what you say ‘no’ to.”
—Rich Litvin

 

If cultivating this kind of freedom in your life is a struggle, click here to hop on a consultation call with me.

I’ll help you navigate the challenges and pursue true freedom – so you can live your best life.

You deserve it. So don’t leave it to chance.

I’m here to help.