Sovereignty. Oh, it’s a tricky thing to define. Also to feel.
I’ve described it here as:
- “the spiritual quality of not giving a shit.”
- “the state of not giving a damn what people think because you are the king or queen of your life.”
- “being at home in your body and your life.”
- “knowing that you are only responsible for your stuff, not for anyone else’s.”
But it’s so much bigger than that.
Every time I think about explaining sovereignty, I want to write a children’s picture book about it.
You know, say things like:
Sovereignty is a big blue balloon!
But we need some grown-up words for this, so I’ll try to hang on to the balloon while figuring out how to talk about this.
Bits and pieces of that thing we call sovereignty.
Sovereignty is …
Feeling what you feel.
Babies are marvelously sovereign.
They don’t censor their experiences even slightly.
No shame in discomfort. No shame in delight.
No reason not to point and gasp and stare and cry and laugh. No reason not to just fall asleep in the middle of a conversation.
This doesn’t mean that filters aren’t useful. Just permission to feel whatever it is you’re feeling.
Conscious interaction with pain.
Sovereignty is the ability to say I’m sorry, without taking on someone else’s pain.
To be with the people you care about in their pain, but not be in their pain.
Securing your own oxygen mask first.
Sovereignty is respecting your capacity.
It’s knowing where your edges are.
Sovereignty is the ability to be clear, firm, loving and unapologetic about what you stand for.
It’s trusting that doing things to take care of yourself doesn’t mean that anyone else is less important.
It’s knowing that there is nothing selfish in taking care of yourself, because that’s the only way you can be present enough to help others.
No to things that need a no. Yes to things that need a yes.
Sovereignty is the thing that allows you to give a gracious, kind, loving NO to things that don’t support you.
And to things you don’t truly want to do.
It’s acknowledging the pain and loss in the saying no, and saying it anyway.
Sovereignty lets you recognize the need behind the want:
“I’m drawn to this thing because I need more comfort in my life, and yet this isn’t the best way for me to receive comfort right now. What are some other ways?”
Sovereignty gives legitimacy to having needs. And treating those needs with respect.
Knowing that everyone gets to be king or queen of their world.
That’s because sovereignty isn’t something that just applies to you. Everyone gets to say, “the world was created for me“.
The more firmly you wear your crown, the more you give permission to everyone else to wear theirs.
You respect other people’s sovereignty by respecting your own.
Knowing that it cannot be bestowed on you because it’s already yours.
You have sovereignty, even when you can’t feel it or access it.
It is always there.
No one can give it to you or take it away from you.
Not sharing your swing.
The other week I was having a sovereignty crisis, and Hiro wisely pointed out that I was letting people into my space (when I didn’t want them there and they didn’t belong there), in order to be nice.
What does that mean, nice?
It’s like I have this super cozy swing, and there’s room for exactly one person: me.
And then someone else plops down in the swing with me, even though there isn’t room. And I scootch over so they can fit, but they can’t.
Now everyone is uncomfortable.
I do this a lot. I do this because I think it’s the nice thing to do. I also do this because I forget that every single person in the world has their own swing.
I forget that the kind thing is actually to point out to them where their swing is.
Sovereignty means not having to share your swing.
The fact that a story is compelling doesn’t make it true.
Sometimes I think everyone is out to get me. They’re all trying to knock my crown off.
This is a comfortable story for me. It is not necessarily a true story, even when the pieces all seem to fit.
Sovereignty is the thing that helps you remember that your interpretation of events is part of a narrative. That the true pattern isn’t the painful experience, it’s the story that says this painful experience is the pattern.
When I stride down the corridors of the airport, wearing my (imaginary) crown and my not even slightly imaginary red sovereignty boots, I remember this.
And even if the security people are obnoxious and even if my past history gets triggered by the experience and even if I feel wobbly, I am still queen of my world.
Remembering that helps me take a different tactic. It helps me step away from the pull of what is both familiar and painful.
Knowing when to take responsibility and when not to.
Taking responsibility for your stuff.
Remembering not to take responsibility for all the things that are not yours.
Like the times when people will try to knock off your crown.
Not on purpose, usually. Though sometimes very on purpose.
Part of sovereignty is remembering that when other people throw shoes at you, it has nothing to do with you. It’s their stuff.
And part of sovereignty is remembering you have the right to call them on it.
To say hey this is unacceptable we can’t have you throwing shoes at people because that’s not how we do things around here.
I wish I could say that everything I know about sovereignty I learned in kindergarten.
But that’s not true.
It actually kind of drives me crazy that we didn’t learn this stuff in kindergarten.
That we didn’t grow up knowing that our bodies are ours, and our thoughts are ours and our internal world is sacred and no one gets to come in just because they want to.
I want more people playing with this stuff. More people actively practicing sovereignty makes my life easier. And it makes the world a better place.
Which is part of my secret mission. And all secret missions are fueled by sovereignty.
Comment zen for today …
We’re all working on our stuff. We let people have their own experience. We don’t give advice.
You’re more than welcome to share sovereignty challenges you’re working on. Or fabulous things that have happened when you were intentionally wearing your crown.
Or other things you’re wondering about and thinking about. Besos.
It’s so helpful to know that you forget too. That we all forget makes me feel more sovereign about my forgetting.
The hardest part for me is family vs business vs students vs community all having real and imagined expectations of me. And the basic things that keep me grounded and in my sovereignty are the things I sometimes resist.
Can hardly wait for kindergarten…
.-= Michelle Marlahan´s last post … Duet Debut =-.
The issue of sovereignty is coming up big-time for me as I’m planning an upcoming trip to see some family. I fear I’m going to have to sacrifice my comfort and maybe even my health (not to mention sanity) in order to make them feel NOT neglected. It’s frustrating that this is still one area where I can’t figure out my own sovereignty. It’s like my crown flies off my head when I’m visiting these family members, and it takes me several days upon leaving to find it again, usually with dings and dents in it.
I have tremendous guilt around exerting my sovereignty with these particular family members. Such guilt.
And I really don’t know what to do! Although I can’t swing the teleclass, I’m still learning a lot from what you and Hiro have shared re: being your own queen. So thanks for helping me work through some of this stuff.
I feel so strongly about this issue. I believe that sovereignty is THE central tenet I want to live by.
.-= Dawn´s last post … Novel to Me: Two Epiphanies for the Price of One =-.
I’ll also be attending kindergarten with you and I’m so very excited about it!
So often I forget these lessons and get caught up in the “shoulds” of society, instead of my innate needs.
I guess the more poeple who learn about sovereignty, the more likely it is that one day this will be taught in kindergartens, as it should.
.-= Rose´s last post … Personal Notes- Fragility&Courage =-.
I’ve been calling it “wanting people to fear me”. Sovereignty is so much better. It sounds powerful and sacred.
In my own quest for sovereignty, I’ve re-evaluated who my friends are. Some were merely acquaintances disguised as friends that were stealing my time and draining my energy. A few months back I began limiting my exposure to these people – cutting them out completely would have been impossible and a little cruel – and now I feel WONDERFUL and FREE.
I really really liked the way you articulated so many valuable and useful and wonderful bits about being, doing and sovereignty. Thank you Havi.
Sovereignty has to be one of my favorite practices of the year (and life, now that I know about it). It fits right in with my word of the year, Empowerment.
I actually just had a great crown wearing moment this weekend. It involved the monster that tells me my hypothyroidism is one of my teachers and I should just shut up and listen. To which I replied:
“My two-year old nephew is one of my teachers too and he doesn’t get to boss me around will-nilly!” That gently but firmly put the monster back in its place and made the rest of them perk their ears up.
That’s right, monsters–watch out!
.-= Christine Myers´s last post … Mad Love Monday #24 =-.
thanks for more lovely, helpful thoughts on sovereignty.
Just realized that one of the reasons I hate some of the current changes that are in my life is that I think they make me less sovereign.
Even though they don’t, they can’t.
So I’ll be sitting with that feeling as well as the reality of my sovereignty as I polish up my tiara. And remember to breathe a bit as well.
.-= mary´s last post … the sovereignty and change challenge =-.
Sovereignty, or the lack of it is a huge problem for so many people today – myself included.
I think that many of us are taught from childhood that our own needs are somehow selfish and wanton; that giving more consideration to others’ feelings, opinions, needs and wants at the expense of our own is a desirable virtue.
What’s most pernicious in this assumption is that, as you rightly point out, if we can’t help ourselves first, we’re in no position to help others – ‘secure your own oxygen mask first…’
I continue to struggle with the truth of this. Although I KNOW it to be true, I still find it hard to overcome the idea that taking care of yourself is intrinsically selfish and indulgent.
There are too many people unable to become sovereign, to take responsibility for their own lives by addressing their own wants and needs and, as a result, becoming overly-reliant on others to make them happy.
I have a sneaking suspicion this is the number one reason why modern relationships break up. People rely too much on spouses/partners/girlfriends/boyfriends to fulfil emotional needs that they should be fulfilling themselves.
Abdicating responsibility for looking after yourself to significant others is not a good idea. The truly sovereign person is not an island, but is merely capable of giving and receiving love as it is and is it should be, devoid of the cloying, choking smog of unfulfilled personal WANT and NEED.
It sounds so obvious; secure your own oxygen mask first and then you can help others.
What’s not always so obvious is that you have to ALLOW yourself to secure your own oxygen mask first.
A daily battle for me, but one I think I’m slowly winning…
Anytime I think of defining a word that has so much rolled into it, I head for my 1930 collegiate. It is a dictionary before clinical definitions took over. It has a romantic and real quality. Sovereignty still has a nebulous sense of self to it in that old dictionary.
Thanks for diving in and writing about a great peaceful state.
.-= Devin´s last post … Traveling after 40, My Birthday Blog =-.
As a mom of a kindergartener I so love this concept. We work hard to respect his sovereignty and with this reminder, we will practice it ourselves and give him space as he grows. Better to live in your sovereignty always, than have to find it again at middle age (and thanks to Hiro for giving us all that chance).
.-= Susan´s last post … When Good Enough is not Enough =-.
Thank you for sharing these thoughts, Havi. Sovereignty has become an important goal for me.
I personally find it very helpful, and highly soothing, to play with my queenhood in frequent, tiny ways, by checking in with myself on my personal preferences. I love the color blue! I am passionate about the ocean! I choose to wear a pendant on a silver chain every day! I am spending my pocket money on a beautiful journal this week! So let it be written, so let it be done! Asserting myself in little ways helps me build my courage for the bigger, more complicated issues.
.-= Kathleen Avins´s last post … The wilderness within =-.
Thank you so much, Havi, for writing such a wonderful, concise, simple description of exactly what sovereignty is. My sovereignty has been sorely tested these last few months. A bit of shoe-throwing from very short range knocked me right over. I’m picking myself up now but I need all the help I can get on this subject. I feel very strongly about teaching my three daughters how to identify their feelings and wants and to stand up for them, particularly as they are encountering teenage peer pressure. This post will help me (and my children) enormously. Good luck with the sovereignty kindergarten, it looks like great fun.
.-= Elizabeth´s last post … On the slab =-.
I am incredibly excited for finger painting wearing my crown. Even if sometimes I don’t feel like I’m really allowed one. Slowly realising that I’m allowed to do the things I like doing is wonderful – I’ve always loved taking photographs of trees, yet felt that somehow it wasn’t allowed, that I shouldn’t be doing it. And then bing! If I want to take photos of trees, I can. There’s nothing wrong with taking photographs of trees. Frabjous day.
Oh! So much goodness in this post Havi. I’ve missed you, this. The ah-ha moments, the yeses, the your in my head-ness!
As an INFJ personality type, I really find empathising but not absorbing the pain and discomfort of those I love really difficult. I’m working on this for my own well-being and sanity.
“It’s knowing that there is nothing selfish in taking care of yourself, because that’s the only way you can be present enough to help others.”
Yes yes yes. I have a tendency to put myself on the backburner while I help others detangle their problems and ‘fix’ things- this results in me feeling drained, weary.
I’ve been graciously saying no to friendships that I know aren’t enriching or right for either side.
Oh and the swing thing. That really works for me because I never shared my swing as a kid. Not in mean way. Just in a ‘I queued for 10mins and so I’m going to get my time way’.
Stories are so powerful. I’m ruminating on the it’s not the pattern, it’s the narrative perspective…
Butterfly besitos xx
.-= Nats´s last post … Exhale into the ease: When it’s easy to say YES! =-.
Havi, since you’re on email sabbatical I’m not sure how to get a message to you but thought posting here made as much sense as anything.
Thank you for letting us know about Hiro’s Sovereignty Kindergarden class. We’re only as far as week 1 and I’m already so very happy to have signed up to be part of this learning experience. Hiro’s wisdom is a differnt sort of wisdom and she asks quesitons and says things in a different way that makes me think in a different way (and I hope, to be in a different way–to be more fully Me, to rule what’s mine and let be what isn’t).
Thank you, thank you, thank you. I hope you are having a good day at Hoppy House.
Why am I having such a hard time with this idea? It is the one area I just can’t understand. It feels…selfish. Let me be clear…I’m talking about ME. If feels selfish to me. I can’t imagine not wanting to take on someone else’s pain. To share it with them. To empathize. Isn’t that what friends do? If my children are in pain my heart aches. How can it not? If someone needs something from me and I love them It makes me happy to help them or give to them. And I just can’t see myself in a crown (or caring if it gets knocked off!)
Why would I ever want to not help or care for others or be available?
What am I not understanding about sovereignty. Because I KNOW there is something I’m missing…
@Ella – Okay. Let me see.
It sounds like you’re feeling … anxious and uncomfortable (?) when you think sovereignty implies not being able to be truly present with other people in their time of pain.
A deeper explanation, if it helps:
Of course we want to help and care for others and be available for them. As much as we can.
True empathy is being with someone while they are in pain, identifying with the fact that their pain is similar to your pain, allowing them to have their pain and be where they are … all while allowing yourself to have your pain and be where you are.
What it is is not: taking on their pain.
Because when we take on their pain for them, we diminish their power and ours.
When we go directly into someone else’s pain, it’s not helpful for them or for us. Their pain isn’t for us. It’s for them to process. We can hold their hands while that happens, and be filled with love and understanding, but going into the pain with them doesn’t help.
And if we are going to meet them where they are with love and compassion, we need to be grounded and safe in ourselves. That’s where sovereignty comes in.
When I stand in my sovereignty, I can:
a) see someone’s pain,
b) know what pain is like and know how much hard is in there
c) remember how that person has the right as a sovereign being to their pain, their perceptions and their experience,
d) meet this person with love
I can do that *because* I’m not going inside of their pain and disconnection. I’m responding from wholeness, with love.
We can’t help others and we can’t identify with them and empathize with them when we are disconnected from ourselves. And going INTO someone’s pain instead of sitting with them and giving them room to be witnessed in their pain and having compassion for their pain disconnects us. It takes us into our own pain, instead of our ability to empathize.
So if anything, it’s actually not being sovereign that ends up being selfish.
Obviously, if you don’t like the metaphor of the crown, of course you can create your own. Either way, the concept of taking care of ourselves and our relationship to our stuff is big .
Similarly, the example of “put on your own oxygen mask first” is a bit of a cliche, but it’s valid. Not doing it is dangerous.
If we respond to someone while not in sovereignty, we tend to want to fix things.
On the other hand, when we stand in sovereignty, it’s much easier to be present:
Oh. It feels so painful for this person right now. So much vulnerability and discomfort. I know those feelings. If she feels vulnerable or uncomfortable, how can I let her have her experience and make a safe space for her to feel what she’s feeling, and then to offer comfort and reassurance from love?
The difference between an empathic response from fullness and sovereignty as opposed to responding from being so much in someone’s pain that you are not fully yourself, is both subtle and enormous at the same time.
A starting point, I hope. As always, use what’s helpful, drop the rest.
All of this is so real and so needed for me right now. Thank you.
I remember this concept of sovereignty really making sense to me in a new way at a new job. As a professional who visits people in their homes, I was shadowing my preceptor (someone I was learning the job from) in a house with a domestically violent situation. The perpatrator had not come home yet, but the client was concerned he would and that he would be very violent. I, of course was like, omg omg omg omg, you’re freaked out, I’m freaked out, lets all freak out because this situation is NOT okay! My preceptor remained calm the whole time, developed a small action and follow up plan with the client, and the preceptor and I left. I couldn’t believe how calm she was. Later, when reflecting on this, my supervisor clarified for me… she asked me what would have happened if my preceptor had joined the mother in a stressed out/panicked state (which I thought would have been the empathic and sensitive response). We came to the conclusion that the chaos would have increased and a solution wouldn’t have developed. But because my preceptor could separate someone else’s suffering from her own, she was able to be of use to the other person. That was a huge lesson that I continue to return to. I find this to be true even when someone’s suffering is not putting them at risk for harm. On the opposite end of the spectrum, a person dear to me has a habit of taking on what she perceives to be my suffering and then I end up caring for her stressed response. Thanks for the post on sovereignty. I loved your blog in 2009-2012 and I love returning to it now!