Growing Up – Step #2 Autonomy

“I just can’t make up my mind!” Ever hear that or say it yourself? How about, “I decide, and then spend the next day fighting with myself and asking if I made the right decision.” Do you feel that you cannot make a rather important decision without asking a bunch of people what their opinion is?

The second step in the process of maturity should be developed between 18 months and 3 years of age. That step was termed by Dr. John Bowlby as AUTONOMY. Simple decisions like walking to the other side of a room to get a toy that’s there, or whether or not to eat the food on one’s plate or go hungry are simple decisions of a toddler.  But what is autonomy as an adult?

According to the English dictionary, Autonomy is:

Self-government, existence as independent moral agent.  The philosophy is independence and the capacity to make moral decisions and act on them.

One of the most important decisions one makes in life, is whether or not to believe in the existence of God, and if we decide that God exists, we then determine what our relationship is to him/her and what it is that God wants of me.The amazing thing is that many individuals make the decision about their own spirituality based on the way they were raised.  People tend to remain in the denomination in which they were raised, unless they have some internal resentment to that denomination or to their parents who raised them in it.  It is a mature adult who studies and researches for themselves and decides based on their research results, rather than past resentments.

I remember as a child when I was trying to make decisions.  Children with parents who tend to be controlling usually just go along with parental wishes. On the other hand, some children choose opposite their parents just to be different and display their resistance to parental authority, without doing their own research. I was the type who preferred peace and harmony at any price, and the price I often made was based on keeping harmony at home. I longed for my parent’s approval, and discovered the best way to get it was to let them make my decisions for me. I even did that until I was about 36 years of age, when one day I was in a store choosing a new dress for some occasion.  There, looking at the dresses on the rack, I noted that my tendency was to pick a dress that I knew my Mother would approve of, rather than one I really liked.It was then that I realized it was time for me to grow up emotionally!

What was the most difficult decision you ever made?  Was it about a life partner?  Did you choose based on all the sweet words and gifts he brought you?  Was it because she gave in to everything you wanted and you knew you could control her?  Was the decision based on what you could get (selfishly) or what you could give (altruistically)? What about your decision to choose a career?  Did you choose based on how much money you could get or was it based on what service you could give?  Did you decide because you knew you could climb a corporate ladder or was your choice based on your known abilities that would guarantee your success in being a blessing to others?

Notice something, would you?  It would be more difficult to climb the second step of maturity (autonomy) unless you had accomplished the first step – Trust for yourself and others.  So now, go back and ask yourself if you can trust yourself, if you could trust your parents and have you been able to trust others.  If so, it’d be so much easier for you to develop autonomy – the ability to make whole and healthy decisions that would benefit yourself and others.

You see, the point of Spirituality is to develop Altruism – an attitude or way of behaving marked by unselfish concern for the welfare of others, and the belief that acting for the benefit of others is right and good.  Basically that means that you take yourself out of the center of the universe and place God there.  The trust you develop is for God and others.  The autonomy you develop, based on trust, is that you make decisions based on the greatest good for the cause of God and for others.  This does not mean that you ignore your own needs, but that decisions are less self-centered and more other-centered.

So think about it this week – how easy is it for you to make decisions.  How do you do it?  Do you seek counsel from someone you trust and admire – perhaps someone you consider to be wise?  Do you just make them based on what YOU want?  Do you consider how your choices will affect others?  Do you ask God what HE would have you to do? Do you count on counsel from God’s word, the Bible?

Ask yourself after reading this article, if you believe you are able to make healthy decisions that will benefit others in your circle of family and friends, or the community as a whole. Ask yourself what early life experiences have assisted you in your decision-making ability.  As you look in the mirror at yourself, ask yourself what you need to let go of so that your decisions can be beneficial to yourself and to others in your circle.

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