This post features a question that’s been asked of me lately, by Sarah, who very kindly gave me permission to share it with you:

What can you do when you get into a situation — particularly in a relationship — in which you have set a precedent of disrespecting your sovereignty (for example, doing favors for someone when you really don’t have the capacity)? How can you re-assert your sovereignty when you suddenly realize that you’ve been neglecting it?

I ask because I’ve been in situations like this, and tried to re-assert my sovereignty, and it has backfired. Usually the other person reacts as if I’ve thrown a shoe at them, no matter how careful I am in communicating. How can we do this in such a way that supports both our sovereignty and the other person’s?

Sarah, thanks for the great question.

When you change — when you take responsibility for recognizing your own capacity, honoring it, and acting accordingly — the relationship between you and your friend changes as well.

Change may bring up ancient fears for your friend: Fear of being abandoned, of not being taken care of, of having to take responsibility for himself, or for having to change what may have been a comfortable dynamic for her.

So the first thing to recognize is that your friend’s reaction is not about you. It’s a response to her own fears, emotions, thoughts and beliefs. And it may come from a much younger self, rather than from her wholeness.

Begin by using the practices you’ve learned in Rule Your World. Ground, center, become present, notice your feelings and thoughts without clinging to them or pushing them away. Give yourself time and space to discern what’s true for you. Then, meet this situation and everyone involved — yourself, the person you’re relating to, and the relationship between you — with a receptive heart, a discerning mind, without judgment or sentimentality.

See your friend for all of who she is, beyond her reaction to the change in your relationship. Notice what arises in you, in reaction to her reactions. Don’t take either set of reactions personally.

If you find yourself feeling defensive, or trying to explain or justify your actions, step back, check in with yourself to see what you’re feeling and what you need, and take care of your needs first.

Once you’ve taken care of yourself, you can talk with your friend about the changes you’re making, about the ways in which you’re trying to be more honest about your capacity. You can tell them how you feel about the process–the hard and the good around it. And you can ask for what you need from them, without being attached to whether or not you’ll get those needs met by them.

You might say something like:

I know in the past when you’ve called me because you’re feeling alone and unappreciated and want to talk, I’ve set aside whatever I was doing to talk with you.

What I realize now is that I haven’t always been honest with myself, at those times. I haven’t paid attention to what I need, and I haven’t been honest with you about what I can offer.

So there have been times when I really didn’t want to talk to anyone, or I was in the middle of a project of my own, but I didn’t say so. I’m sorry about that.

I’m working on taking responsibility for myself — checking in to see how I’m feeling and what I need. So when I do say Yes, it’s because I’m really able to be present for our conversation. And when I say No or Not Now, it’s not because I don’t care about you, but because I am unable to give you what you need in that moment.

This means that when you call me, I may not be available to talk right then. I care about you, and I will be there for you in whatever ways I can. My commitment is to be honest with myself and with you. I’ll tell you if I’m not available to talk with you when you call. If I know when I’ll be available, I’ll tell you that too.

And since I’m practicing asking for what I need, I’m going to ask you now if you would like to tell me how you feel about this change in our relationship.

Try it. See what happens when you shift the terms of your relationship so it’s more in alignment with your own truth.

Some of your friendships may naturally fade away. Others will become energized and stronger because you’re standing in your sovereignty, and respecting your friend’s sovereignty too.

Honesty is a good basis for real friendship.

How about you? I’d love to hear your insights and comments, as well as your questions about Sovereignty.