A Coaching Power Tool Created by Vera Ilnyckyj
(Personal & Business Coaching, CANADA)
Feeling powerless is a state of stockiness. When a person feels powerless, they are often frustrated, ambivalent or have just plain given up. This may lead to the person losing hope, falling into depression, or becoming angry. These emotions often stem from a person feeling that they have no choice in a situation, no choice in their way of being, no choice in their state of life.
Hopelessness, anger and frustration – all these are negative emotions that essentially suck a person into mental “mud”, where they feel stuck and unable to move forward. It may feel as though they’ve stepped into a swamp, unable to move their feet forward, unable to free themselves, and therefore just standing in the same spot feeling despair.
Feelings of powerlessness can arise for a variety of reasons:
- Being on autopilot. Often, we get into a habit just letting things happen to us without being consciously aware or present of what is occurring. We simply let things happen to us. When “good” things happen, then it’s easier to just accept them. However what happens when something “bad” or uncomfortable happens? Because we’re so used to accepting things into our life, because we’re so used to a state of not being present, we don’t know what to do when we don’t like the situation we’re in. Hence, powerlessness occurs because we haven’t trained ourselves to be aware and know that we can alter our perception of our circumstances to better suit us.
- Listening to the voices of others. Sometimes we allow other people’s opinions, thoughts and ideas to be louder than our own. In today’s world of non-stop social media, fear-based news coverage and so many conflicting opinions when we google an issue, our minds can get cluttered and overpowered by other voices. We can get confused, led down rabbit holes or lose clarity about what is actually important to us. Instead of making up our own minds, we listen to others and this can lead to feelings of not being in control. Although asking for other’s support, doing research and being open to options is healthy and important, sometimes too much of this leads to “paralysis by analysis”, leaving us feeling stuck and powerless about which choice is actually best for us.
- Insecurity or lack of confidence. When we’re not clear about who we are, what we stand for and what is important to us, our inner strength can get depleted. Inner strength is what drives our choices to be in alignment with our values. When inner strength is weak or missing, we more easily succumb to life just happening to us rather than feeling in control, having choices or altering our circumstances.
- High stress or trauma. Sometimes a situation in a person’s life is so overwhelming or traumatic that they can’t even imagine having choice over anything. An example would be experiencing the death of a loved one, or a terrible accident. In these types of circumstances other emotions take over, such as grief, pain or anger. It may take time to unravel these overpowering emotions, however it is true that even in terrible circumstances, choice is still available to us.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the definition of powerless is “without power, strength, or ability; wholly unable to act, influence, etc.; helpless, impotent.” Any experience of powerlessness requires a lack of power, lack of strength and lack of effectiveness. It also very often means a lack of faith. What does this mean? When a person loses faith in being able to choose, they lose power. Powerlessness means believing that you’ve lost control, rather than having faith that you can control your choices.
The opposite of powerlessness is not strength. The opposite of powerlessness is choice.
Choice means having options. Options imply that there is a decision that needs to be made about something, and that is the really powerful thing about choice – you get to decide! Having the ability to decide and the power to make a choice creates autonomy and control over any given situation or feeling.
Many people however, especially when they are in a place that feels hopeless, feel that there is no choice. How many times have you heard yourself or someone you know say, “I have no choice.” But what if you knew there was a choice? And that there always is a choice, no matter what. Would that make things feel different? Would that make you think differently about the situation you’re in or the emotions you’re feeling? The great news is that there is always a choice and there are always ways to re-frame our thinking around lack of choice.
Everything we say or do in life is a choice. So when we feel that there is no choice, we are actually choosing to think this way. Focusing on negative emotions, making statements of hopelessness or feeling sorry for ourselves is the lazy way out. Sometimes it’s easier to just give in, give up and throw our hands up in despair. But think about it – doing these things is a decision; it’s a choice. And if so, it means that the opposite is also true. It means that we can choose another way of thinking. It means we can decide to think in a more positive, more abundant and more forward-moving way. How powerful is that?
You can’t control everything, but you CAN control your response, your reaction and your emotions.
Feelings of powerlessness come about for a variety of reasons. Re-framing this negative feeling is empowering and creates choice, so that we can move forward in a positive and life affirming way.
Turn off the autopilot. Choose to be mindful and in the present moment. This is difficult of course. Our minds drift, our thoughts take over, we start daydreaming. These things aren’t necessarily bad for us and sometimes can be productive.
But when autopilot causes us to just accept things into our life without thinking, this can lead to feelings of powerlessness and that life is just happening to us. But we can choose to be active participants in our life. We can choose to fully immerse ourselves in moments, in conversations and in our experiences. Activities such as meditation, journaling, breathing exercises and active listening can help us become more present.
Start small. Perhaps choose to consciously say to yourself before each conversation “I am going to stay present in this conversation and not think about anything else.” Or before you start a task at work decide that you’re going to do it for a given period of time and turn everything else off; just focus on the task.
The bottom line is that we can choose to be on autopilot, or we can choose to take control of our present moment and really enjoy the outcome.
Make a habit of choosing positivity. What we say to ourselves sets the foundation for how we view the world, how we respond to others and how we react to our circumstances. We can wake up each morning and just go about our day on autopilot, or we can decide to choose positivity.
Louise Hay has a powerful affirmation around the power of choice:
I choose to feel good about myself each day. Every morning I remind myself that I can make the choice to feel good.
She goes on to say that this is a habit that needs to be cultivated. Creating habits take self-control and discipline and we can choose to create any habit we wish. The first step is to decide (choose) that we want to live in a more positive frame of mind. Then we need to create action steps towards solidifying our decision.
Affirmations are great initial steps to making our intentions come to life. To create a habit, you may wish to write down your goal and post it somewhere you can see it everyday (a sticky on your computer, the background on your smart phone, a note posted to your bathroom mirror).
Using the buddy system is also a great idea. Commit to “reporting back” on a daily basis to a supportive friend. Journal, meditate or take five minutes to yourself each morning to focus on your intention and action steps. Celebrate your achievements.
Choose to live your life in an affirming, positive and forward-moving way!