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Autonomy: The power of choice

Updated on October 24, 2015

We have the freedom to choose how to live life. When we make our own choices, we are demonstrating autonomy, which is important in maintaining social health.

We are powerful! Unfortunately, we don't always feel that way. Have you ever noticed that when you are around certain people, you feel like you have less control over your decisions? On the other hand, some people are great at giving others a sense of empowerment. What makes these people so different?

Do you think you ever take away your own sense of autonomy? If so, how? Is this apparent when making decisions in your romantic relationships?

Autonomy is a person’s ability to draw on internal resources which are independent from familial and societal influences (Hales, 2013, p. 34). People with a high level of autonomy are true to themselves; they make their own decisions by weighing the pros and cons of the choice based on their personal values (Hales, 2013, p. 34). Autonomous people do seek the opinions of others, however, they do not allow their decisions to be dictated by other people (Hales, 2013, p. 34). Autonomous people have an internal locus of control while people with a low level of autonomy have an external locus of control (Hales, 2013, p. 34). A person’s level of autonomy can be influenced by the people around them, their expected role, and their environment.

I personally have noticed that I experience different levels of autonomy based on who I am with, the role I am fulfilling, and the environment I am in. When I am at work, I am an after school counselor and I am around elementary aged children; I am expected to be in control of the children in my group, and I am in a friendly environment where I am comfortable. At work I have a high level of autonomy because I am around children who rely on me to be in charge; I have to be able to make decisions without allowing others to influence me, and the environment I am in is supportive which makes me feel empowered. When I leave work, my sense of autonomy decreases as the people I am around, the role I have, and my environment changes. When I am at home I am around two very autonomous personalities, my role transitions from leader to follower, and my environment goes from one that is supportive of my leadership to one that would involve conflict if I maintained a high level of autonomy. In a sense, when I return home, I remove my own sense of autonomy by allowing my own decisions to be influenced so as to avoid conflict. I have specifically, noticed that when I am around my father I feel as if I have less control over my decisions, yet when I am at work and around the children in my group I feel a sense of empowerment. The main difference between these two is that my father has a very autonomous personality that overshadows me while at work it is expected that I am fulfill a leadership role and have full control over my own decisions. Romance can also affect a person’s level of autonomy; however I have not been in a romantic relationship so I have yet to experience this affect.

A person’s level of autonomy can be influenced by the people around them, their expected role, and their environment. People can often influence a person’s level of autonomy through providing a sense of empowerment or a feeling of being unable to control one’s decisions. A romantic relationship would entail different degrees of lost or gained autonomy based on the personalities of the people participating in the relationship (Collins, 2013). The role a person is expected to fulfill can cause them to feel more or less autonomous; a person in a leadership role will experience a higher level of autonomy than a person in an assistant position. The environment the person is in influences their level of autonomy based on the nature of the environment and the level of conflict in the environment.


Collins, G. (2013, November 25). The Inevitable Reduction in Personal Autonomy Caused by Relationships of Romantic Love. Retrieved October 10, 2015, from

Hales, D. (2013). Invitation to Health: Live It Now (16th ed.). Cengage Learning.


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