The term “agency” is defined as an innate ability to act as an agent of yourself regarding your life, the world, and the environment. Understanding your responsibilities is a key requirement for being an effective agent.
Abuse distorts your sense of agency by giving you the impression that you are not supposed to act in your best self-interest. Additionally, a trauma-bonded relationship conditions you to become an agent of another person completely absconding duties and obligations that propagate your best self-interest.
The aspect of cognitive dissonance also comes into play as your mind is programmed to perceive that you are in control while someone else is pulling the strings.
Abusers destroy your sense of agency by forcing, cajoling, or assaulting you into submission. Afterward, they transfer all their responsibilities in a way that makes you responsible for their thoughts, actions, and feelings. Since they are unstable, narcissistic, and self-centered they will be ready to blame you for everything that does not serve their needs and wants. Over time, your boundaries become thin and blurred and your role in the relationship becomes defined by the other person.
One of the common phrases that define such an unbalanced relationship is “I did that because you made me do it.” Repetition will make you believe that you played a role in their action, and you will overlook the glaring fact that people have choices. The person weighed their options and consciously settled on a course of action that they felt to be ideal. Once you decipher that choices are personal in origin, you will be able to draw your boundaries and regain your sense of agency.
You can be gripped with the sensation of powerlessness when you perceive that your actions, feelings, and thoughts are dictated by other people or situations. In such circumstances, you will be reacting to situations. Nonetheless, regardless of the incidence, you must be in control of your actions and thoughts by regaining your freedom of choice. Having authority over your life enables you to transition from a trauma-bonded relationship to healthy living.
This does not mean that you should ignore how other people make you feel. As social beings, we can be hurt, motivated, or affected by other people. They, therefore, play a role in our lives. The reaction to the interactions with other people is what is important. For instance, if someone makes you feel guilty or sad, you can overcome the sadness and guilt by choosing to not let their actions adversely affect you. This is not a mean feat, and it requires you to have a clear and impermeable boundary.
You may feel cornered by circumstances where the seemingly way out is to be pragmatic and respond to the situation. Additionally, you may feel justified to demand certain things from people and you may try to attempt to influence them to act to your bidding. Regardless of the scenarios, you should explore tour choices and only act in your best interest.
Being a good agent of yourself is daunting. But you can make it easier by adopting a mindset that explores the motivation of other people. You may end up realizing that they were not driven by malice or trying to influence your actions. Sometimes, it could be a subconscious or a spontaneous action as people try to control their environment. Hence, when you allow them to influence your behaviour you would be responding to fear and forfeiting your liberty of self-agency which is manifested when you try to control things or people that you shouldn’t.
Trying to control or pacify situations is the fiber that holds abusive relationships together. When you fall prey to the motivation of fear, you end up losing your personal agency.
The abuser goes further and absconds his duty of responsibility and ownership of actions and conditions you to be their agent. With time, you will be powerless as the partner will be influencing and determining all your thoughts, actions, and feelings. In the abuser’s mind, they will be having the impression that you are responsible for their actions. But in reality, they are the ones in control since you don’t have the space and freedom to express or actualize your aspirations. Therefore, the relationship will be susceptible to the abuser’s unstable moods and fantasies. The happy moments will be short-lived, and the abuse will continue. The pattern will define the relationship, and this is the reason why toxic relationships oscillate from low moments to high moments.
On the victim’s part, the continuous control inculcates a sense of codependency and low self-worth. The person may feel that they are obliged to act in a way that fulfills the abuser's needs. Over time, the victim may lose their boundaries as all their actions, opinions, thoughts, and perceptions will be geared toward achieving the will and desires of their abuser.
Eventually, the victim may be unable to leave since the success of the relationship will be an indicator of their ability to fulfill the needs of the abuser which they have been told repeatedly that they are not competent and able to achieve. The quest to prove oneself will create an entanglement situation. Appeasement may yield short-lived results in pacifying a narcists in their moment of lunacy and a victim may end up believing that they are failures.
Exploring the sense of agency for a victim is particularly daunting since the victim’s attempt to pacify, fix, or correct their alleged misdeeds may bear a temporary reprieve. This may create an illusion that the victim is in control. The effect is that the person may try harder in modifying their actions to suit the abuser which may result in a further loss of sense of agency. On the other hand, the abuser may also be vindicated in their blame game by illustrating to the victim that it is their actions that indeed led them to act the way they did. The abuser will therefore continue being irresponsible as the victim continues putting more effort into being the agent of the abuser. The result is a trap that can lead to a toxic addiction where the abuser exerts more influence on the victim whose sole purpose is to seek validation.
If you are in such a codependent dynamic, you have a chance of redeeming yourself and regaining your sense of agency. The primary consideration that you should have is to adopt a new mindset as follows: -
You cannot control other people.
Other people cannot control you.
Adopting this mindset is not easy since controlling other people brings a sense of security to your life. It is a coping mechanism that allows you to be less anxious. When you try to focus on your life, you may end up experiencing fear or shame because you have been conditioned by your abuser to think that you should play to the gallery. However, once you get the revelation that you should not take the blame when other people fail to own up to their actions, you will be able to shun the shame and fear. This will enable you to be kind and compassionate to yourself and gracefully overcome any guilt or regrets that an abuser instills in you.
The paradigm shift establishes an internal strong boundary which is a pillar of the sense of agency. Once you have your boundaries defined, the urge to control others will decrease and you will stop having the impression that other people control you. You will consequently act in your best self-interest which will empower you to break the bonds of an emotional trap that hooks you into an abusive relationship.
To embrace the new mindset, you need to adopt three characteristics: -
When codependency is prolonged, the brain is conditioned to take ownership for the actions, thoughts, and reactions of the other person, and breaking this cycle is not easy. Further, the victim can seek validation from the abuser which results in a severe cognitive dissonance that needs a lot of time and effort to be reversed.
From the victim’s standpoint, the person thinks that they are responsible for the other person and the other person may propagate the narrative that the victim is indeed responsible. In return, the victim may also depend on the other person, and this may create toxic codependency that is hard to break.
Embracing the three rules enlighten you to be conscious of your triggers, your choices, and your ability to construe your feelings. Consequently, you will cease attempting to transform the abuser and instead focus on exploring your beliefs, thoughts, and feelings and curating them to maximize your happiness.
When you explore your inner self, you will ultimately be able to establish what you have internalized from your interaction with the abuser. This will empower you to avoid reacting in a way that exacerbates your misery which will diminish the influence of the abuser in your life.
How do you explore your inner self? Self-talk is an ideal starting point as it directs you to introspect, contemplate and weigh the merits of your choices. The technique also streamlines your thoughts and enables you to only prioritize emotions, decisions, and thoughts that are good for you.
Afterward, you should put your thoughts to the test by comparing them to reality. This will enable you to only observe and witness occurrences in your life without reacting to them in a way that is detrimental to your wellbeing. This technique of regaining your sense of agency helps you to alleviate the hurtfulness and avoid allowing the abuser to actualize their narcissistic goals.
To have a strong sense of agency you must have authority and power over your feelings. After identifying the abuse in your life and breaking the toxic relationship, it is normal to seek healing. A common mistake that people make is to seek closure by demanding the abuser to own up to their mistakes, show remorse and apologize. However, by tying the fate of your healing to the abuser, you will be relinquishing your sense of agency by allowing the other person to influence your feelings and emotions. This can result in disappointments that inhibit the healing process since words may never be enough to take the pain away. However, when you own your feelings, you can come up with an innate strategy for treating the trauma and moving on with your life.
Nevertheless, we cannot overlook the fact that a significant component of our feelings consists of a mental narrative that attempts to make sense of the abuse. This magnifies the abuse and intensifies the pain which increases the yearning for the kind of closure where the victim must own up to their actions. However, exploring the incidents strategically enables us to reconstruct the narrative and test it against reality in a critical and honest way.
For instance, consider that someone has hurt you. The consequent thoughts, reactions, and emotions will create the following narrative as your mind attempts to process the event.
Thoughts after being hurt: -
They hurt me from appointing of hate.
I must have done something to deserve it.
They are evil and malicious for hurting me.
Why did they not hurt someone else?
Bad people get hurt.
If I had done things differently, I wouldn’t have been the victim.
Emotions that your thoughts evoke after being hurt: -
The narrative that the brain creates after an action leads to an emotional reaction which is often inconsistent with the abuse. This notion begets the common phrase where people are told “don’t take it personally” which breaks the formation of a narrative that goes far beyond the action.
Deconstructing the narratives that thoughts and emotions create can give you the power to overcome emotional reactions and avoid allowing your actions to be determined by other people.
When you control your thoughts and their emotions you can avoid internalizing the actions of others to an extent that you allow other people to control your actions. Instead, you can be influenced to strive for betterment by observing the events fortifying your boundaries to be strong enough to withstand traumas.
Not reacting to other people’s actions does not mean that you should excuse their abuse. It implies that you should break the spiralling effect that builds when reactions follow the wrong pattern. For instance, when you respond to pain, the other person may be hurt by your response and will hurt you further, you will then respond in kind and the cycle will spiral out of control. Without knowing, you will be readily taking the responsibility for the other person’s actions by emotionally reacting. This is not what a sense of agency is about since your reactions will be dependent on what the other person does.
Narratives are also built by triggers. You, therefore, need to effectively explore your triggers to control the emotions that your thoughts evoke.
Exercise for exploring your triggers: -
How do I feel?
What are my current needs?
Why am I bothered?
What narrative has my mind created?
The activity will help you to establish why you need to heal from some traumas.
Mood journaling after an emotional check-up can result in some revelations that you may not like about yourself. You should not attempt to modify the results and instead accept the outcomes of the exercise. When you acknowledge your situation, you can respond to the triggers and unlearn some perceptions that make an emotional wreck.
Think of a situation where you body slams someone who has bumped into you. You may feel that the action is justified and there is no other option to pursue to seek justice. However, the narrative that you built after the incident resulted in your reaction and the outcome could have been different had you perceived the situation differently.
To make you relate, visualize yourself insulting five random people on the street. One may walk away, the other may hit you, another may report you to the police, the fourth person may insult you back, and the fifth person may try to kill you.
The first person has strong boundaries and will not process the situation since it is not important to them. They will brush you off as mentally disturbed.
The second person will take it personally and the emotions will result in violence.
The third person will take it personally and seek justice by subjecting you to the law.
The fourth person may feel threatened, and they will insult you back to protect their self-image.
The last person may perceive you as a real danger and opt to eliminate the danger altogether.
This is an indicator that the consequent feeling rather than the action of insulting determines the reaction. Therefore, when you understand your triggers, you will be able to align your feelings with your virtues and principles and be able to control your actions. The power of choice after rationally weighing your options will incorporate in you an ideal sense of agency.
Embracing the fact that we should be responsible for our actions only enables us to explore our choices whenever we are faced with a situation where we need to decide what we need to be accountable for. Sometimes, the thought that someone else is to blame for our actions can seem logical but the bottom line remains that we should own our actions.
A sense of ownership especially after a traumatic experience is not easy to achieve especially after mental conditioning. But we can learn to explore our choices and live fulfilling lives.