The humble pronoun: “I” “he” “she” ”it”” we” “you” “they” “us”. What difference does a little tiny pronoun really make? I believe that the smallest of all, the simple, “I,” stands the mightiest of them all. There is a special power in the “I” position. (It is the only one that is always capitalized…)
Here is a thought experiment:
Imagine saying the first statement or question to someone you are close to, and then modifying it to the second question or statement:
Let’s go to the mall this afternoon.
I’d like to go to the mall with you this afternoon.
Do you think it’s cold in here?
I’m cold. I can get a sweater or turn the heat on. Which would you prefer?
Do you want Chinese for dinner?
I’d like Chinese for dinner.
They say global warming is a big problem.
I did some reading and learned about the problems caused by global warming.
We had a nice vacation.
I had a nice vacation and my husband told me he did, too.
We have to visit my family this weekend.
I’m going to visit my family this weekend and I’d like you to come with me.
You need to talk to her about that.
Once when something like that happened to me, I decided to talk to the person about it.
My friends all agree with me.
This is how I think about what happened.
We shouldn’t do that.
I’m not going to do that.
Did you notice a difference when you used the “I” statements?
According to Murray Bowen:
The “I position” defines principle and action in the terms of, “This is what I think, or believe” and, “This is what I will do or will not do,” without impinging one’s own values or beliefs on others. It is the “responsible I” which assumes responsibility for one’s own happiness and comfort, and it avoids thinking that tends to blame and hold others responsible for one’s own unhappiness or failures. Bowen, M., FTCP P. 495
I have heard clients say that it feels selfish to use the “I position”. Others report that it doesn’t make a difference to them. My personal effort to use the “I position,” and awareness of what’s happening when I fail to, has resulted in some interesting observations:
- I am gaining more clarity on what I am willing to declare as a personal belief or opinion. (When asked about my political affiliation I used to say, “We’re Democrats.” I found that it was more challenging to say, “I’m a Democrat.” I was leaning on my family to reinforce my position, rather than standing on my own two feet.)
- I am more likely to take responsibility for what I want rather than trying to manipulate a situation or convince others to take responsibility for me.
- I have a growing awareness of the differences between myself and others, and am more respectful of those differences.
- I get a better reaction from others when I speak for myself because they don’t feel pressured or bullied by “you” statements.
- When I “triangle” others in to bolster my position by saying things like “everyone says” or, “my friends said the same thing,” or “so and so agrees with me,” it has the (intentional or unintentional) effect of putting the other person in the outside position or pushing him/her to feel ganged up on.
- The more anxious I am, the more I fall back on blaming “you” statements or mushy “we” statements.
When others use “you” or “we” statements referring to or about me, at times I feel discounted, misunderstood, left out, less than, or pressured to go along. At other times, in other contexts, a “we” statement can feel seductively good, like I’ve been accepted by the cool group or person. Either way is an indicator of my level of emotional dependence or fusion.
For those who think that “we” statements are a better way to convey a united front and evidence of caring about the feelings of the other part of the “we”, I disagree. Saying “you” and “I” or “he/she” and “I” does a fine job of conveying connection, while simultaneously preserving the individuality of each party. No one gets subsumed by an “I” statement the way they can be by the “we”. Dubious? Try it for a week and let me know what you discover. (Try it with toddlers and teens and I think you’ll really see the difference!)
When I use my “I statements,” I let others know what I think, where I stand, and what I plan to do. I am speaking and acting for myself, behaving responsibly and maturely. It’s both a respectful and empowering posture to take.
That’s “I” Power.