The importance of agency 

 September 18, 2018

Have you ever given much thought to the decisions you make every day? Who decided that you would pursue that career option? Take that particular job over another? Sign your kids up for soccer but not basketball?

We have tremendous ability to make decisions – to take the countless pieces of information that are available, weigh them over, narrow them down, and finally arrive at a conclusion as to which is the best decision. There is power in deciding what we want for ourselves and then taking action upon that choice.


Agency is the ability to choose for ourselves, to act as we choose, and to live independently of the desires or wishes of another. Agency is a principle of freedom (“free agency”) and of power. In fact, the definition of agent is “one that acts or has the power to act.”

Why is agency important?

Agency is deeply tied into our self-worth, freedom, and individual power. Every time you make a choice for yourself, you exercise your agency, which strengthens your self-worth and personal power, and increases your confidence. This means that the next time you’re faced with a choice, it will be easier for you to act according to your own desires and not someone else’s.

Right now, you might be thinking…..ok Jen, I get it, make my own decisions. What’s the big deal? Stick with me and let’s see how this plays out in your life.

How you limit your agency

Lack of awareness of your options limits your agency

The biggest way that we limit our ability to choose is through lack of awareness. If you don’t know that another option exists, how can you make a choice between two or more things?

If all you see is chocolate cake on the dessert menu, your choice is Yes or No. If you see chocolate cake, cherry pie, and peanut butter cookies, now your options are greater. First you have to decide if you want dessert to begin with. Then you have to choose among the three options.

It’s a simple example, but the stakes get much bigger when it comes to other decisions.

You’ve just been diagnosed with cancer. If the only option you know of is chemotherapy, you have to choose, Yes or No. But what if you had an awareness of other options, like Gerson therapy, or energy healing, or meditation? And in this case, it’s important to know the survival rates, financial investments, and side effects of the various options as well.

The more information you have, the greater your awareness, and the better and more expansive is your ability to truly make the best choice.

We limit ourselves, too, by being ignorant, closed-minded and prideful. When we think that we already know the answers and don’t need to study something out, we’ve effectively removed other options. Now we have a reduced ability to choose.

Sometimes we reduce our agency because of fear. We make a choice based on fear instead of faith. It’s cancer? Quick, sign me up for chemo. Chemo may be the best choice. But we need to come to our choice based on faith, not fear.

Lack of awareness of yourself limits your agency

We also limit our ability to choose when we don’t realize how things affect us.

Let’s go back to the simple dessert example. If you know that you have a severe dairy allergy, you’d be wise to skip all three of these desserts. But if you didn’t know you had this allergy, you’d eat the chocolate cake (yes, for you bakers, assuming it’s made with milk and butter!) and go home with an upset stomach and diarrhea and wonder why.

But let’s expand this to other things that impact us in potentially greater ways.

Think about the music you listen to, the movies you watch, the places you go. How do they make you feel? If certain music makes you feel angry or sad or just weird, and you have that awareness, than you can choose to avoid it and listen to something else.

Addiction severely limits your agency

Addiction of any sort – drugs, alcohol, sex, work, exercise, food – all severely limit our agency.

If you’re addicted to something, you’ve given up your ability to choose whether you will partake of it or not (with the exception of a change in awareness or some other intervention). When the urge strikes to smoke or drink, you do so, without making the decision to do so. You’ve become dependent on whatever the addiction is, which eventually affects all other areas of your life.

Let’s say you’re addicted to cigarettes. Now the choice isn’t just, should I smoke, Yes or No? The choice becomes centered on the addiction. Where can I get more? When can I have another one? Where do I get the money for them?

Can you see how other aspects of your life become controlled by the one choice to smoke? Some choices actually limit our agency further, instead of expanding it.

How you limit other's agency

Normally, we think about how other’s behavior affects us. But this is an important area to consider how our choices impact others.

The biggest way that we limit the agency of others is by making decisions for them.

I’m not referring to the casual, “where do you want to go for dinner?” choices. I’m talking about adult relationships that are manipulative and controlling, either subtly or overtly. Abusive relationships are an example of outright control. Telling someone that they can’t spend money, or go someplace, or be with friends, takes away their agency.

When we make decisions for others, we completely take away their ability to choose.

A more subtle way we limit the agency of others is when we make decisions for our children that they are capable of making for themselves.

Yes, it’s faster and easier to simply pick out their clothes, sign them up for a particular sport you think they’ll enjoy, or just clean their room for them.  But each time we do this for our children, we actually hinder them. We take away opportunities for them to practice making decisions and experience consequences.

When your teen is faced with a decision to drink or not at a friend’s house, don’t you want them to have the self-confidence and power to say No? That confidence and power comes from practice, from exercising the ability to choose for themselves.

Exercising Agency Gives Us Power

Each time we choose for ourselves, we exercise our personal power. Every time we say Yes when we really want to say No, we lose power. We also lose self-worth and confidence in our ability to make the choice that is right for us the next time.

Here’s where awareness comes in again. Do you have an awareness of what you want in life? Of what you want to accomplish and achieve? Of what makes you feel good and happy and fulfilled?

If you know the answers to these questions, then you’ll make choices in alignment with what you want. As a consequence, you’ll feel better, be happier, have more power, and more energy.

Agency is directly tied to control. People who experience a lot of fear, or who are manipulative, take away the agency of others so they can feel in control. When we exercise our agency, we gain control of our world by creating what we want for ourselves.

What do you want your life to look like? Use the gift of agency and make daily choices that move you closer to a life of happiness and fulfillment!  

Develop personal agency

  • Make decisions for yourself. Counsel with others as needed, but take responsibility for your decisions. Exercise your agency!
  • Using the gift of agency wisely will bring you greater feelings of self-worth, confidence, and personal power.
  • Allow others to make their own decisions, and help you children develop their agency by giving them choices.

When is it easiest to exercise your agency? When is it most difficult? Let me know in the comments!

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About the author

Jen Bessire, PhD, is a Christian medium, author, and healer. After 23 years as a physical therapist, God called her to her current path in 2014. She delights in helping others come unto Christ, heal generational trauma, and create a life of freedom. God is calling you - are you listening?

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