Possessive Adjectives and Pronouns: We are possessed

Possessive adjectives and pronouns

People are disturbed not by things, but by the view they take of them.” -Epictetus

How often do you use either a possessive adjective or pronoun in your daily communication at home or at work? Does their pervasive use bring about happiness by showing true possession of something or someone? Or do they harbor seeds of unhappiness and disappointment by having us irrationally believe that we possessive objects or people when we, in fact, do not?

Material possessions

We commonly use possessive adjectives and pronouns to show ownership of things. “This is my car.” Is it? You pay for it, you insure it and drive it, but is it really yours? What if it is stolen. Whose is it now? More importantly, how does your perceived possession help you deal with the loss? “I can’t believe my car was stolen! Who would steal my car?” This an extreme example but even a scratch on your car can trigger strong emotions due to your perceived possession.

Think of all the hurt and conflict that results from things done to people’s perceived possessions. Possessions end up possessing us. At any time, any object you possess can be damaged, destroyed, or lost.  Your belief about the possession ails you, not what happens to it. The stolen car itself does not cause your grief, rather it is your perception of the car you once used! Having less possessive attachment to an object results in a less reactive manner when something goes awry. Your happiness also benefits when objects and seen for what they truly are.

Personal relationships

We often use possessive adjectives and pronouns to show possession in relationships. “This is my son.” “My spouse is waiting for me.” Showing possession in relationships is equally misleading. You cannot possess a person. Rationally we know this, however, deceptive possessive language clouds our ability to make this distinction clear. “There is no way my son would ever steal, but some other thirteen-year-old would!” My spouse would never leave me!”

In both cases, the idea of possession blurs the ability to see the son or spouse as individuals. The misconception of possessiveness in relationships leads to hurt and pain when expectations in the relationship are not satisfied. Parents, partners, and coworkers personalize behaviors that belong to the other person when they fail to see the child, partner, or colleague as a person who also exists outside of the relationship.

What do we really possess?

Feelings and thoughts may not always be in our immediate control, but we are always responsible for our words and actions. Use possessive adjectives and pronouns when talking about your verbal and physical actions.  No one can make you say anything or behave in a certain way. All that we utter and do are truly all that we possess.

Everything else we claim to possess is just an illusion. Using possessive adjectives and pronouns in any other context can easily mislead someone into believing he or she actually possesses an object or person. Believing these untruths can bring more unhappiness to a person when suddenly there is something wrong with the object or person or if the object or person is no longer with you.

The solution

Be mindful when using possessive adjectives and pronouns and find other ways to express yourself when describing objects or people in your life. For example, instead of saying, “This is Anne, she is my wife” say, “This is Anne, we are  married/partners/a couple.” If someone asks, “Can I borrow your car?” answer with, “Yes, you can use the car.” and not “Yes, you can use my car.”

Happiness is not about the objects and people you believe are in your possession. Happiness is about how you treat them with your words and actions. It is about taking ownership and being mindful when you speak and act. No one can take that away from you—unlike your car—nor can you blame others. The world would benefit tremendously if we all spent more time and energy taking responsibility for our words and behaviors instead of trying to possess objects and people that truly do not belong to us or anyone.

The benefit

Managing family, relationships, and work is about how well you interact with others respond to life events. Understanding and accepting what is in your control—namely your thoughts, words, and behaviors—is paramount in improving your ability to cope. Knowing that you only have control over your response empowers you to focus your energy on that.

Minimize the use of possessive adjectives and pronouns to describe objects and people. Focus and internalize the use of possessive adjectives and pronouns when referring to your thoughts and feelings, and most importantly to your words and behaviors. Doing so will improve to your well-being. Family, friends, colleagues, as well as strangers, will benefit from your efforts as well!

About the author
Jean-Pierre is a Process Facilitator and Human Systems Specialist. He accompanies organizations in fully integrating their human resource potential by facilitating processes that foster authenticity, intention, and collective wisdom. Jean-Pierre has dedicated 18 years of work to youth and families in both the United States and Austria. He is the author of “What You Can Learn from Your Teenager: Lessons in Parenting and Personal Growth.”
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