One of the alarming trends of our time is that more and more people feel powerless. Whether it is the growing gap between rich and poor, the disturbing political climate, the perils for our environment or the increase in gun violence – the world appears like a train-wreck waiting to happen and all we seem to be able to do is to stand by and watch. Add to it the multiple daily struggles on a personal level, such as a demanding job, a stressful relationship, unpaid student loans and the social-media-driven fear of missing out, and it is no wonder that a rising number of men and women feel so overwhelmed with life, that all they want to do is to check out by taking drugs, alcohol or medication.
The problem with feeling powerless is not only that it smothers our innate desire and potential to change and improve ourselves and the situations we are in. The biggest problem with powerlessness is, that it is often an illusion. Don’t get me wrong, I have the deepest compassion for anybody, who feels like a victim of his or her circumstances. Anyone, who got abused, taken advantage of or mistreated in any form, deserves kindness and support. However, as one of my clients, who was raped and molested as a child once said: ‘We can’t control everything that happens to us. But this is only the beginning. What we do from that point on, is ultimately our responsibility.’:
What can we do to overcome the at times paralyzing sense of powerlessness, so that we are able to face our challenges from a place of courage and optimism? Here are three ways to become more self-empowered:
- Understand your power. Some people describe personal power as the ability to change the direction of our lives. Others believe that this power allows us to influence and direct those around us. From my perspective self-empowerment goes far beyond forcing our will on our reality. I consider personal power as an energy, which is based on the harmonious alignment of mind, body, and spirit and leads to a sound mixture of confidence, competence and compassion for others and oneself. You know that you are in touch with your personal power, when you feel safe and secure within yourself and take responsibility for your life. When you trust that you have the wisdom and capabilities to learn and grow from anything life brings you. And personal power means that you allow yourself to discover and express your true, authentic self while being appreciative, patient and compassionate to all beings in your life – including yourself.
- Notice how you lose your power. If you would feel chronically exhausted or broke, you would probably wonder, “Where does my energy or money go?” Even though it may feel so, usually we don’t get robbed of our power, we give it away. Why would we do that? To quote Alice Walker, the author of The Color Purple: ‘The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any’. Some of the signs that you are unconsciously giving your power away are:
- You let others make decisions because you don’t trust yourself.
- You make yourself silent and invisible to not get judged.
- You try to fit in and give in to what others want from you because don’t like conflict.
- You tell yourself that you have to hold onto an unfulfilling job or a dysfunctional relationship because you don’t believe you can have something better.
- You deal with disappointments by putting yourself down and questioning your abilities.
- You focus more on what is not working in your life and the “what if’s” of the future, than spending time to appreciate and embrace all your blessings.
- You feel disgusted and discouraged by politicians and choose to no longer care – or vote.
- You make excuses for those who put you down or treat you as their punching ball.
- You complain about your challenges, but tell yourself there is nothing you can do to change them.
- You get angry and resentful when things are not going your way.
Of course, this list can go on and on. In general, you could say, you know that you have given your power away when your reaction to people or circumstances consume your thoughts, emotions, and energy and you, therefore, feel trapped and out of center.
- Learn to let go. As I mentioned before, being powerless is often an illusion. Let’s say you didn’t get the promotion you hoped for or your date didn’t call you to meet up again. Of course, you could argue that you are truly powerless here because somebody else chose to not give your career a lift or to not get to know you better. You’re right, you don’t have the power to control others. But, your real power lies in choosing to either let your mind latch on to these situations and continuously wonder “why?,” “what did I do wrong?” and “What if I will never..?” – or to let go. Letting go doesn’t mean rolling over and giving up. It just means that you decide to accept the situations as they are without letting yourself be defined by them.
One effective way to let go is to turn your focus inwards, to breathe for a couple of minutes slow and deep into your heart and then to remind yourself…
- A) that whatever happened doesn’t say anything about your intrinsic worthiness,
- B) that you have the innate potential to learn and grow from any situation,
- C) that you are grateful for situations like this because they make your determination to learn to love and accept yourself unconditionally even stronger.