Developing Autonomy

What is Autonomy?

Autonomy is a person’s ability to think, feel, and act on their own. This process begins in earnest when we hit adolescence, and learn how to be functioning members of society.

While a lot of people use Autonomy and Independence interchangeably, they are subtly different.

Independence usually refers to your ability to act on your own, while autonomy takes into account your capacity for thinking, feeling, and making moral decisions that are based on your own initiative, rather than “going with the flow” of your peers.

3 Types of Autonomy

  1. Emotional

  2. Behavioral

  3. Value


Emotional Autonomy consists of our emotions, our personal feelings, and how we interact with the people around us.

Emotional Autonomy requires a freedom from emotional coercion from those in our lives.  It is born from a person’s ability to look inside for solutions to problems, and trust their own thoughts and feelings.

Behavioral Autonomy increases in adolescence as we begin to take on more responsibility and freedom in our actions. It is the ability to make our own decisions, and then follow through with acting on our choices.

A part of cultivating behavioral autonomy is realizing that everyone has their own reasons for doing something, and their advice for what you should do it often influenced by their own biases.

Value Autonomy consists of having your own beliefs and attitudes about things like morality, politics, and other areas of abstract reasoning.

You have to understand why you believe the things you believe, and have your own reasons for believing them. This way you come to your own conclusions about questions of morality and what you should do in general and specific cases.



Sometimes, there folks in your life that want the best for you, but are invested in how things have always been. Seeing you changing and working on yourself might be threatening to the status quo.

What can you do to respect your relationships with those close to you while you are on your journey of cultivating personal autonomy?


  • Set clear expectations: If you expect for your friends and family to respect your decisions, and not belittle your progress, then make sure they understand that you will not tolerate speech and behavior that ridicules your attempts to work on yourself.

  • Communicate openly: Let the people in your life know you’re coming from, and what you’re working towards. Be honest about where you are and what you’re looking for.

  • Stay calm: Change can be scary. Change can be threatening. The best thing you can do for yourself, and those in your life, is to maintain your calm when things get heated.

  • Involve Loved Ones: Include them in your process of self-empowerment. Let them know what you’re working on, and why. By allowing them the opportunity to give you support, you are also showing them respect by asking their opinion and giving them more information to work with. Remember, change can be scary, so the better informed they are, the less likely the chance for drama to ensue.


Developing Autonomy

  • Be warm and loving. With yourself, and others. It’s a learning process. You might make mistakes along the way, so treat yourself fairly with a sense of compassion and understanding. Don’t be too hard on yourself.

  • Ask for responsibility. If, at your job, you feel like you don’t have a lot of control over your situation, ask for responsibility. If you want more control over your path, you have to be willing to accept the responsibility for the consequences for your actions.

  • Look for chances to understand your value structure. Play “what if” games to explore the topography of your decision making. Only when you fully understand your values, can you make educated decisions.

  • Get involved. Participate in social activities, and find groups that are in line with your goals. Maybe it’s a speaking group, a professional luncheon, or knitter’s group. Find people who understand and support your goals.

So get out there, take responsibility, and go create the future you envision for yourself. When you’re doing what you want to do, you’ll find a whole bunch of energy just waiting to help you achieve your goals.

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