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Relationships of Possession


How many times in a day do you use the word “my” to describe a particular relationship you have with someone in your life? For example, you might say “my husband,” “my child,” “my friend,” or “my parents.” While the possessive pronoun “my” helps to explain certain relationships, it can actually create problems in our minds when we begin to believe that people actually “belong” to us.

I have heard spiritual teachers discuss the concept that we really don’t own our possessions in this life. We can’t take them with us when we go. Certainly, we can collect “things” that have value, either financial or sentimental, throughout our lives. Some treasured belongings we may have for a very long time. Other possibilities are that our possessions become lost to us due to a disaster, such as a fire or flood. Sometimes our things are taken from us when someone steals from us. Sometimes we give away valuable possessions because it helps another and makes us feel good in the process. Occasionally things are simply lost or even broken.

The idea is to understand that our possessions are not really ours to keep forever. We become the object’s guardian while it is in our possession until such time as it is passed on to someone else. This can be a very healthy way to view our relationship to the things in our lives. It helps us recognize our responsibility to take good care of the things we possess, as well as understand the transient nature of possessions. Nothing is forever. This way if you lose something or have it taken from you, you can recover quickly by reminding yourself that ownership was merely transferred to someone else for the time being.

I’m suggesting it would be most helpful to begin to think of the loved ones in our lives the same way. The people we have come to think of as “ours” are merely on loan to us for a particular time. We have our parents for a time, our children, our friends and our significant others.

Can you begin to think of these people as gifts in your life, instead of yours to own? If we let go of the false belief that people “belong” to us, then we can be much more forgiving and accepting when they move away from us for whatever reason.

Your parents will die. It is part of the life cycle. If you are invested in holding them close always and in thinking of them as yours to keep, then you might become angry and feel betrayed when it is their time to go. However, if you think of them as life teachers whose job is done, then it can be easier for you to allow them to transition without a sense of panic on your part.

If and when “your” children make decisions that go against what you believe they should do, then you will become angry and hurt that they were not more considerate of your feelings. Instead, if you think of them as mysterious, wonderful children who were given to you for a time to pass on your knowledge and experience to, then when they begin to make independent decisions, you can view that behavior with pride, as opposed to a sense of loss.

When “my” son joined the army and went to Iraq, I could have chosen to guilt him into not doing it so I wouldn’t have to worry. I certainly didn’t want him doing anything dangerous. After all, I had spent his whole entire life trying to protect him and here he was making decisions that put himself in harm’s way! How dare he! It was only when I came to the understanding that this young man really didn’t belong to me. He was his own person, with his own purpose, and his own independent will. Once I embraced that idea, I could let go of my possessiveness and encourage him to be all that he wants to be.

Now for the hard part. I had a person write to me today from myspace—someone I had not spoken with before. He told me his story. He had been married once and was deeply in love. His wife wanted a divorce so he gave it to her but he still loved his wife. Then, he met another woman who really loved him. They were talking about getting married but he realized he still loved his wife so he tried to reconcile with her. She wanted nothing to do with that so he married this second woman. They had a happy marriage for about 12 years but then divorced. He then met a third woman and they fell in love. They had a great relationship for about a year and then she decided she needed to go her own way. He was lamenting the fact that he was unable to find lasting love with one woman. Now, admittedly, I haven’t heard his whole story but what I heard was that he had at least three meaningful loving relationships in his lifetime which is way more than many of us get.

The problem comes when we decide we own another person and have not only the right, but obligation, to bind them to us, even when the person we love wants to go. I certainly believe in trying to work out your differences in your relationships and I’m not advocating just giving up without trying. But, what I am saying is that we don’t get to hold a person in a relationship against his or her will. Graciously allow your loved one to go, realizing he or she was never “yours” in the first place.

We do not own people. Instead, thank him or her for freely sharing your life for the time he or she did. Be grateful for the opportunities, not resentful it has ended. When one relationship closes, it is time for introspection and preparation for the next person who graces you with his or her presence.

kim olver is a life coach and public speaker who has a graduate degree in counseling, is a national certified counselor and a licensed professional counselor in two states. she has spent her entire life helping people get along better with the important people in their lives. kim works with couples, parents and children, and individuals seeking to improve their lives. for more information about relationships go to the relationship center.

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Listed: March 14, 2009 12:08 am