How can I increase my sense of autonomy while living with parents?
December 15, 2017 7:10 AM   Subscribe

I'm 26. I've never left home and I might not be able to for a while. What are some things I can do to feel more independent?

I'm looking for small things I can do to feel like more of an "adult": capable of making my own decisions, allowed to have feelings & opinions, enjoy activities, make goals, take up space, be responsible/reliable etc. Preferably things that my parents won't be able to notice (e.g. learning something online), or that won't bother them (e.g. keeping the house really clean).

I seldom leave the house or speak to anyone outside of family because of anxiety/selective mutism. So no friends or social connections in over a decade, unfortunately. I am in therapy but it might be a while before I can talk to anyone new or find work and move out. I'm a woman, if that's relevant. Any suggestions/criticisms about this post or my situation are welcome because my judgement is probably pretty warped and I'd like an outside perspective.
posted by anonymous to Grab Bag (15 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
What about simple things like taking a walk around your neighborhood a few times a day? It seems like you’re dealing with a lot and putting some pressure on yourself. Start small.
posted by decathecting at 7:15 AM on December 15, 2017 [5 favorites]

How about working out? Taking charge of your body can give you a real sense of mastery and confidence. DAREBEE has all kinds of free plans, no equipment needed, and here are cool guides for mobility, stretching and The Scientific 7-Minute Workout. Good luck!
posted by fritillary at 7:24 AM on December 15, 2017 [12 favorites]

Learning to cook is a great one, if you don't know how already. Starting with breakfast or lunch, and cleaning up afterwards.
posted by xo at 7:31 AM on December 15, 2017 [8 favorites]

First I would like to congratulate you for your bravery to exposing yourself here.
No wonder that you would like to feel more "adult" and take responsibility for yourself, given the fact that you live with your parents and have no friends.

It's really hard to give you any suggestions as I don't know your family dynamics and what other challenges you are currently facing.The way you wrote this post gave me a hint that your parents treat you as a child (i might be wrong) and that you don't want to upset them. Did I sense it correctly?
What was said above I'll try to guide you to find your own answers because I'm 100% sure that you know what to do.

What is that you really want from your life?
What is the first small step you can do right now in order to start making your own decisions?
What or who doesn't allow you to have an opinion or feeling? You can express your feelings and opinions by journaling, for a start.
What would be the best thing that can happen if you express your feelings and opinions?
What would be the worst thing that can happen if you express your feelings and opinions?
How worthy do you feel?
How much do you love yourself?
What are your daily thoughts? How positive are they? What thoughts will support you?
Do you repeat affirmations?

Some training, meditations that helped me are the following.
Insight Timer app - mediation app where you can find hundreds of meditations.

I hope this helps.
Wish you all the best.
posted by Romana S at 7:36 AM on December 15, 2017 [6 favorites]

Routines are very powerful. Look at your current daily routine (you have one whether you know it or not) and consider how you can build and adjust it create the life you want. If you want to be fit, your routine includes working out. If you want to be a botanist, it probably includes reading on botany and looking at plants, maybe sketching them. You get the idea.

Look at aspects of your life where you can take on just a little extra responsibility - which will vary depending on your situation and family dynamics. My mom would have been furious if I'd decided to start making all the dinners, but Monday night meatloaf, or keeping the house stocked with fresh home-made bread, would have been okay. Doing your own laundry if you don't already. The last time I shared a living space I got into the habit of never leaving my stuff out of place in the common areas, and that was good. Look at where you are now and pick one small thing to take on, do it for a month or so, and then add on another thing.

Take an online class or pick a subject and decide to throw some time and energy into learning about it. Knowledge in general can be a confidence builder and knowledge on specific issues (personal finance, auto repair, etc) provides a huge boost in decision-making ability. If you *know* you've got the facts on x and y and are certain x is the right choice, it's easier to make the call and if necessary take a stand.

Learn/enhance a skill - bike repair, sewing, bread-baking, wood-work, coding, playing guitar, foreign language ... I'm just throwing out some random ideas. There are tons of possibilities, tons of books and online tutorials. I've found that some of my hobbies trigger my anxiety in a way that I find helpful. I'm able to recognize that I'm not moving ahead with project B because I'm afraid of messing it up or not sure what to do next, and remind myself that the stakes are pretty low, and push myself to do it anyway. I'm not getting a grade or a promotion based on my cross-stitch outcomes.

Journaling can make a space to acknowledge your thoughts and opinions to yourself or work them out when you're uncertain. Choosing to share your thoughts is optional. Tell yourself the truth whether you tell anyone else or not.
posted by bunderful at 8:07 AM on December 15, 2017 [9 favorites]

Why not learn to program? It's fun and engrossing, and there are thousands of free on-line resources. Creating something that really works can be a real high. It might also make you more employable when you decide you're ready to get out on your own. Good "starter" languages are JavaScript, Python or Ruby. JavaScript has the advantage that you already have everything you need in your browser.
posted by ubiquity at 8:10 AM on December 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

Can you go to the library? I have social anxiety, and the library is one of the safest spaces for me. Talking is optional if you just go read a magazine. And books are a haven. I spend way too much time online and the news really increases anxiety, but fiction is my favorite escape. A good subsequent is for books that might help you feel less anxious. There are gobs of learning opportunities online, including free. The feeling of accomplishment from learning is fantastic. If you can find a forum on reddit that feels right for you, participate, up to and including becoming a moderator. Reddit's subreddits vary wildly in how safe they are and how much they are moderated, but remember that you can always ditch a userid and start fresh. Are there things you can do at home? Can you learn to paint a room? it's not really hard but it's a skill, and a marketable skill. Same with lawn maintenance, pet care, and house cleaning. People will pay for custom knitting, and that can be done by mail/ online.

You have made a step, just by posting here. It might seem small, but you did it, and you can keep making small steps. it's good to notice even tiny successes and reward yourself, even in small ways. I hope that you are getting disability pay. You should qualify, in the US, at least. Getting sunshine and any exercise really helps, if you can manage it. I endorse the cooking recommendation, especially vegetables and healthy foods. Nutrition helps so, so much. Sending an internet hug and wishing you well.
posted by theora55 at 8:13 AM on December 15, 2017 [6 favorites]

You don't say what your financial situation is, whether you have an income of your own or an allowance of some sort. These resources are good for learning any number of things. They do cost money:

You can also find free tutorials on youtube for doing just about anything you can think of, from cooking to crafts to repairing a toilet.

Other things you might do, if you are not doing them yourself now:

Basic adult tasks: Are you doing basic things for yourself, such as using an alarm to wake yourself up in the morning, managing your own medications, making your own breakfast, doing your laundry?

Personal space: cleaning and organizing your room; arranging the furniture to suit yourself; decorating your space in a way that pleases you. For that last one, has your room's decor changed much since you were a teenager? Maybe consider changing your decor to something a little more sophisticated.

Finances: do you have a budget? You could make a personal budget for whatever money is yours to manage, and include savings goals. Which could be to save a nest egg, or to save for something you want.

Appearance: have you made any changes to your appearance recently? You could get a more sophisticated hairstyle, learn to apply makeup (or different ways to apply it... plenty of youtube tutorials on this!), develop more of a personal style (which can be understated if you are not trying to attract attention.)

Pets: do you have a pet, or is there a family pet? You could take on some of its care, such as walking a dog, cleaning the cat box, brushing their fur, etc.

It's hard to come up with specifics without knowing what you already do, and why you are concerned with making your parents uncomfortable. Hopefully the above ideas are helpful.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 8:35 AM on December 15, 2017 [4 favorites]

Echoing everyone that this post is a great start, and go you for getting out there.

In my view, adults do three things:

1. Take responsibility for themselves and their surroundings. You are already doing that in this post by laying out your goals and seeking means to get to them. If you are not already contributing to your household by doing chores without being asked then that's a great start. I would suggest that small home repairs or "unusual" chores like cleaning out filters, gutters, windows, etc. would be one way to up your game. Learning to use a caulking gun or replace a washer or a tap or fixing squeaky hinges can be really useful and empowering.

2. Contribute meaningfully. Note that this is not about a dollar amount or being the queen volunteer at some busy community centre. But I would pick something that you care about and see if you can make it better, whether that's online advocacy for a cause or online tutoring, peer support, or something within your family and community. One thing that might be a huge stretch to set up but might be rewarding would be something like walking dogs at your local animal shelter or feral cat care.

3. Foster growth. I'd encourage you definitely to start some kind of online course or certificate program. But also I agree with journaling, creating vision boards for what you want, what you fear, that kind of thing. When I was in peak therapy I remember spending a day at a local vintage clothing sale, not talking to anyone or buying anything but really, really exploring what I liked there...which fabrics, colours, textures, silhouettes appealed to me. I was about your age and married but my whole life had very much centred around survival and scarcity thinking, planning which clothes I absolutely needed that would not get me bullied, and it was one amazing day of just learning present and experience life rather than plotting my way through. Maybe look for some chances to do that.

Also, I cannot make a pie crust for the life of me. Anyone who can master that one thing is a rock star in my world. What kind of thing in your world is equivalent? (Learning to make my own bread was huge for me.)

As a very out of the box intuitive idea, I also wonder if a hobby like photography might help. It's silent and personal and about viewpoint and might be an interesting match for you.

You are doing great, keep going.
posted by warriorqueen at 8:44 AM on December 15, 2017 [10 favorites]

It is great that you posted this. Congratulations. I encourage you to express yourself in any way that you can. If you have your own space, e.g. bedroom, work to have it reflect the person you are now. Gradually remove things that no longer apply to you. Every decision you make confirms that you are an adult creating your own space.

I would look for building your own group of people, bit by bit. Every adult needs support! An online or snail mail pen pal. You can me-mail me if you like. If you do fiber crafts Ravelry is a wonderful community. There are lots of forums for more than the crafts. People talk about current events, their own lives, their pets, fun things.

I would work on defining my preferences and letting them be known a little at a time. Decide you want to use the green coffee cup instead of your usual blue one. Then decide to switch again. You can do as you please. Sometimes your family will be surprised and possibly object but they will eventually get used to you doing the things you like.

Give yourself credit for all that you do, every decision you make. Give yourself an internal high-five or mentally do a happy dance to re-inforce the good feelings that come from making your own way.
posted by goodsearch at 9:03 AM on December 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

Would your parents be happy with you pitching in more to food prep? When I moved back in with my parents for a few months at about 25, being in charge of some meals helped me feel like I wasn't totally without responsibilities and control (and I also got to eat food I liked).

Perhaps you could pick a night of the week and make that your night to prepare supper. It's your meal so you get to decide what to cook, you are responsible for having it on the table at a time that works for the household, and perhaps your parents can do the "helper" meal tasks that more often are done by the child (e.g. setting the table, etc). This is a regular responsibility, good practice for when you move out and will need to take care of your own meals all the time, and also gives you some autonomy.
posted by snorkmaiden at 9:03 AM on December 15, 2017

> You don't say what your financial situation is, whether you have an income of your own or an allowance of some sort. These resources are good for learning any number of things. They do cost money:

If you have a library card, some or all of these may be offered free via your public library system's online portal. If you don't have a library card, acquiring one can be a first step. In some places, you can apply online, and then you go in to pick up the actual card.
posted by rtha at 9:30 AM on December 15, 2017 [3 favorites]

I was in a similar place when I was your age. One thing that helped me was going to a coffee shop everyday to read a book.
posted by Chenko at 2:15 PM on December 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

Hey! I have anxiety too and I really understand your need to find autonomy. For me, making friends with one person was pretty huge in feeling more independent. Feel free to message me (or probably any other mefite) if you ever just want to chat.
posted by Marinara at 7:26 PM on December 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

OK, this may seem a little . . . not quite what you're expecting, but if you have access to a computer, consider signing up for Second Life. This is a virtual reality world and in my 9 years there I've learned a lot about people and human relationships (and myself!) there. I've also learned an awful lot about music because there are a lot of clubs there where people go to listen to the music. You can chat with others or not as you like, but you can certainly watch and listen (depending on where you go people are more or less chatty).

I've had friends on there that are closer than the ones in the physical world.

It's not a perfect world, but it does give you the ability to interact with people on your own terms; if you get bored or anxious you just log off and walk away.
posted by purplesludge at 2:37 PM on December 19, 2017

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