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  • Anwar Nasr

Do You Have Permission?

Updated: Dec 31, 2018

The permission in question is not a permission given by a person to another, or one that is granted by an organization, a government body or even society. The permission in question is a more delicate, yet complex, one. It is a starting point from which something different may unfold. It is a true, pure intention to let impulses flow freely without judgments, filters or interpretations.

Here is the tricky part, though: No one will give you such permission. It is you and only you who can grant it to yourself. 

We need to give ourselves permission to speak our minds, permission to express our feelings, permission to think differently or adopt a new perspective, permission to make mistakes, permission to explore, and the list goes on. These permissions have nothing to do with external authority, and everything to do with self-expression, growth, and fulfillment.   

What would you do to gain permission from another person? You would probably negotiate. You would explain to the other person why you need such a  permission, and how important and crucial it is for you to do the thing you are asking permission for. It is the same process to gain permission from oneself. The only difference is that here we are negotiating internally, with ourselves.

On Internal Negotiations  

Have you ever caught yourself internally negotiating with yourself? One arena where such negotiation may arise is in response to an impulse to express a personal preference or some aspect of yourself. Take, for example, this dialogue that may arise internally when one has the impulse to say "No" to an offer:

I will say no. It is ok to say no, I think!

What would the other person think if I said no?

But what about my personal plans?

If I said No, what would that say about me?

But I really need that time for myself.

I have always said yes before, what has changed?

NO, I am not that kind of person.


A familiar “yes” sneakily vibrates your vocal chords and you find yourself involuntarily committing to do something, be somewhere or be with someone, while deep inside you don't want any of this to happen. While we might be talented negotiators, odds are we are not as talented when we are negotiating with ourselves. There is more at stake when we negotiate with ourselves. Our self-image is at stake.

The high stakes of self-Image 

"Image management" is a term I am borrowing from one of my greatest teachers, David McMurray Smith. Simply put, we develop and repeat patterns and, with time, such patterns become so familiar that we identify with them and they become a set image. Our self-image. An image that we need to be able to recognize ourselves. We try to preserve that image at all times and at any cost. Negotiating with oneself represents a challenge to that image as such negotiation might lead to a new outcome that is outside one's repertoire. An outcome that does not resemble past outcomes. An outcome that is not recognized as being ours.  An outcome that may shatter one's self-image. And this is where "image management" steps in. It guards, preserves and protects that self-image. In the internal negotiation example above, “NO, I am not that kind of person “, is "image management" at work. The familiar "Yes" is the outcome that preserves the self-image, it is what the person has always said in such situations. In this example, "Image management" has managed to preserve the self-image in spite of the person internally negotiating to give themselves permission to go with their impulse, the impulse to say “No”.

In the presence of such a strong and persuasive “image management”, identifying less with our self-image becomes a milestone on the way to more self expression and fulfillment. And by that I mean relaxing a rigid image of ourselves that details what we can and can’t say, do, or express. Ultimately, one could drop the notion of a self-image and adopt a more flexible and evolving sense of self that revolves around being happy, fulfilled, and reaching one's full potential.

To identify less with our self-image, we need to deconstruct this image of ourselves. Since our self-image is a construct of our patterns, identifying our patterns seems like a good first step in this self-image deconstruction process.

Is this a pattern? Know that you have other options!

Patterns are ingrained in our subconscious. We don't question them. We identify with them. We think they are us. Patterns may sound evil but the truth is they are not. Patterns are neutral.  They are initiated as a response to an event or an encounter in the past. With time, we drop the memory of that event but the pattern prevails. Think of it this way: due to some construction work in your neighborhood, you had to change the route you take to go home and take a longer alternative route. A month later, the construction is over, but you’ve gotten into the habit of going home using the alternate route. So you end up using the longer route even though it is not serving any purpose at the moment. You might have even forgotten when or why you had chosen to take this route to go home. A pattern gets activated in response to a trigger. Triggers are also neutral. A trigger could be anything: a word, a situation, or simply the surrounding environment. A neutral event in the present becomes a trigger when the subconscious, for some reason, associates it with some other event or encounter in the past. When the subconscious gets triggered by the current event, it activates a pattern to respond to it. In this setup, you have no choice. You are not consciously responding to the current event or situation, which might be neutral. Instead, your subconscious is responding on your behalf based on a past event. It is running the whole show based on information that is irrelevant to the current event or situation. 

The first step in deconstructing your self-image is being able to recognize your patterns and when they are active. The key to doing so is presence. You need to be present in the moment to realize what is happening internally in response to the trigger/event. You need to be fully engaged in the event, while a part of you is observing you being in that event or situation. Think of this as a muscle that needs time and practice to get stronger. Start by observing one pattern at a time. Start simple. You could start by observing how you might have a tendency to click the wrong app on your phone because its icon resembles the one you initially wanted to open. 

At the beginning, you will probably realize that a pattern was active a day after it happens. As you keep practicing being present and observant, you will start to realize it sooner, say 2 hours later. Then you will reach a stage where you can realize and observe a pattern being active in real time. The ultimate stage is when you are able to realize that a pattern is about to be activated, and have the choice to either let it get activated, or choose a different response. At this stage, you will have autonomy. You will have the freedom to follow your impulses and not your patterns. You will be in a position to grant yourself permission. The permission to express yourself freely without judgments, filters or interpretations. The Permission to be you!


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