The Trap of Powerlessness

My mind is racing. I can’t focus on anything. I’m exhausted. I can’t handle what I have on my plate right now. I can’t even start or finish anything. My relationships are being affected. I’m anxious about everything. I cry. I’m not myself anymore. I need help.

Maybe you can relate to these thoughts. If you have ever experienced this type of despair, feeling as if your life and emotions are out of your control, you know how powerless it makes you feel. Persistent stress can lead to this sense of powerlessness. All you want to do is avoid the tasks before you because of the fear you will fail or become overwhelmed in the process.

What could you do if you feel powerless?

Powerlessness is a belief that you do not have the authority to act or that you lack power to change. When you have a stressful work environment, family situation or health problem, it’s normal to feel and believe that you do not have the power to act. You may not have control over your work situation, family issues or health problems. That reality can be very overwhelming. That is why the first step towards regaining a sense of power is to accept the things you cannot control and the negative feelings that come with that reality.

Easier said than done. To feel powerless or out of control can be very difficult to accept. But start there and do not allow your thoughts to lead you to shame. When you recognize the things you cannot control, you may feel a sense of shame because of the expectation that you “should” be able to handle everything that comes your way. A person with a perfectionistic view of themselves and the world may struggle with this step. But allow yourself to sit with the thought that there are things you cannot control and refrain from any attempt to get away from it. Mindfulness meditation is a great practice to help get into this mindset (refer to my previous post, The Beauty of Mindfulness). Observe the thoughts that arise and write them down. This step can be very powerful if you have never acknowledged your limitations.

The next step is to observe the feeling of powerlessness as a feeling that you are experiencing. Powerlessness is not who you are, rather it’s how you feel. When you view your feelings as something you are experiencing, you are able to defuse from that emotion. But if you are fused to powerlessness, you will see your life from that perspective. This fusing can lead to lower confidence in your ability to cope with stressors you may face in the future. This step helps you answer the question: how true is your powerlessness? Are you really devoid of any power to act? Allow the reality of your limitations to fuel you to be proactive with what you can control – yourself!

Start by assessing what is important in your life. What have you avoided that is actually important to you? What do you value most? Family? Spirituality? Health? Career? Relationships?

Now explore how you can live out these values to feel more like yourself again. Make small goals and follow the SMART goals model. Specific-Measurable-Attainable-Realistic-Time bound. Don’t set yourself up for failure by setting vague or unrealistic goals. How would you know you accomplished the goal? Examples of SMART goals are:

  • Call a friend to get coffee this week.
  • Go to church.
  • Pray for 5 minutes.
  • Make a list of things you’re grateful for.
  • Sit in silence for 5 minutes.
  • Practice Mindfulness for 5 minutes.
  • Read one chapter of an enjoyable book.
  • Disconnect from your phone for 1 hour.
  • Go to the doctor.
  • Go for a 30-minute walk once a week.

Try to accomplish one item from your goal list each week. As you live out your values, you will feel like you regained the power you believed you lost. If you can’t even get out of bed to begin regaining your strength and power, then seek support from friends or family. Pick up the phone and ask for help or schedule an appointment with a therapist. Don’t dwell on the things that are out of your control. The way to get out of a powerless mindset is to make small, healthy choices towards a healthier more fulfilling life, despite your circumstances.

Are You Wasting Your Emotional Energy?

So I’m going to talk about famous people for a bit.  Just bear with me.

As I was watching the news on Tuesday morning, a story about the rivalry between Kanye West and Taylor Swift (both current pop/R&B icons) was brought to my attention.  The segment focused on a speech given at the Grammy Award Ceremony by T. Swift.  A portion of the speech is below.

“There are going to be people along the way who will try to undercut your success, or take credit for your accomplishments or your fame, but if you just focus on the work and you don’t let those people sidetrack you…”

Evidently, Swift was responding to a lyric in one of West’s new songs where he supposedly tried to take credit for her success.  I understand that she is standing up for herself, and encouraging young women to persevere.  However, both of these celebrities continue to hold power over one another by constantly talking about each other publicly.  The news anchors reminded me that this all started back in 2009!  That’s 7 years ago people!

SERIOUSLY!?   How often do we waist emotional energy focusing on grudges or past hurts?  Holding grudges will steel your joy and, frankly, it’s a terrible waste of emotional energy– energy that we could be using to grow, discover, process, relate, connect, and practice vulnerability.  Yes, working through horrendous hurts and pain takes time and work.  Some of my clients have experienced things that make me weep if I dwell on them and these experiences will never disappear.  Experiences change people.  But, if we are able to spend the time and do the work (hard work) of confronting our pasts honestly, then we are able to experience a new sense of freedom and peace that is life-giving.  We are able to focus on what we desire to focus on- healthy relationships; and stop focusing, all the time, on those who have injured us.

If you are allowing a past experience to rule your mind and heart, reach out and seek help. This takes an extreme amount of courage, but sometimes (a lot of times) we need a professional to walk alongside us and teach us how to move forward in a healthy way.  Whether it’s sexual, physical, verbal, or emotional abuse, trauma, or relationship issues, something that happened as a child, or 3 years ago, don’t waste any more precious time.  Make an appointment with a counselor today.

Bullying: Who is at risk?

Due to the frequency of bullying incidents, a number of risk factors have been identified among those who fall prey to this type of aggression. While the presence of these characteristics does not automatically predict who will be bullied, they are factors to be mindful of and should be addressed when observed.

Those who are at risk:

  • Are perceived as different from their peers, such as being overweight or underweight, wearing glasses or different clothing, being new to a school, or being unable to afford what is considered “cool”
  • Are cautious, sensitive, insecure personality, low self-esteem
  • Are perceived as weak or unable to defend themselves
  • Are depressed or anxious
  • Are less popular than others and have few friends/lack close friends
  • Do not get along well with others, seen as annoying or provoking, or antagonize others for attention
  • Have overprotective or restrictive parents (possibly)
  • Have difficulty asserting themselves

In addition to risk factors for victims there are also identifiable risk factors for the aggressor.

Those who are more likely to bully others:

  • Are aggressive or easily frustrated
  • impulsive, hot headed, dominant personality lacking empathy
  • Have less parental involvement
  • Think badly of others
  • Have difficulty following/conforming to rules
  • View violence in a positive way
  • Have friends who bully others
  • Have a gradual decrease in interest in school or achievement

Lastly, bullies often experience power and aggression from those close to them, and learn to use this type of maladaptive behavior to control others. They may have:

  • Parents who show power and aggression by yelling, hitting or rejecting a member(s) of the family
  • Parents who show power and aggression with each other
  • Siblings who may bully the child at home
  • Teachers or coaches who show power and aggression by yelling, excluding, etc.

CONSIDER

If you or someone you know has experienced bullying or if you are currently being bullied, talk with someone you trust and ask for help. There is no shame in asking for help, and you should continue to ask until you get the help you need. By opening up to someone you trust, you avoid the isolation that comes with being unsure, and you create the opportunity to receive guidance from those who can ultimately help.

Sources:

Risk factors: http://www.stopbullying.gov/at-risk/factors/index.html

What are the risk factors? http://www.erasebullying.ca/bullying/bullying-risks.php

Safe community, safe schools fact sheet: An overview of bullying: http://www.colorado.edu/cspv/publications/factsheets/safeschools/FS-SC07.pdf

Stay tuned for… Vital Statistics about Bullying

Bullying: An Introduction

Is it my imagination or does it seem like there is a surge in reported incidents of bullying? I was led to this question because the topic of bullying appears to be frequently covered by the news media and reports can range from children bullying out on the playground to teens and young adults engaging in targeted harassment carried out online. In fact, a quick Google search for 2015 news articles related to bullying among children, adolescents, and teenagers netted several thousand results. Additionally, my brief search returned another somber finding: a recent meta-study now indicates a connection between bullying and suicide. As I began reviewing page after page of results, questions began flooding my mind: Who is this happening to? What are the warning signs? Where does bullying mostly take place? Why is this still happening, and how can we prevent it?

Bullying pic

“Will I ever be… (accepted, liked, left alone)?”

I’m sure the same questions race through the minds of others after reading a news article or watching a TV report about the latest bullying incident. In an instant the desire to protect our loved ones wells up in us and simultaneously we feel compassion and want to help end these tragedies. Yet, we are all so busy and life seems to have a way of redirecting our thoughts back to our most immediate and pressing needs. Also, based on the number of Internet search results alone, it would take tons of time to sort through and dissect all of the information that is available and, understandably so, most of us are currently too tapped out for that kind of time commitment.

Thus, it is my goal to provide you with helpful facts you can quickly read and readily use. Since this topic has many pathways of information, I will try to pair it down to what is most relevant and will include links in case you want to read further.

Therefore, to begin we must understand what bullying is and be able to distinctly identify the nature of the behavior.

Definition:  Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.

In order to be considered bullying, the behavior must be aggressive and include:

+ An Imbalance of Power: Individuals who bully use their power—such as physical strength, access to embarrassing information, or popularity—to control or harm others. Power imbalances can change over time and in different situations, even if they involve the same people.

+ Repetition: Bullying behaviors happen more than once or have the potential to happen more than once.

Bullying includes actions such as:

+ Making threats

+ Spreading rumors

+ Attacking someone physically or verbally

+ Excluding someone from a group on purpose

CONSIDER

If any of the information above is resonating with you because it seems a friend or family member is experiencing some of the same behaviors, talk with someone you trust and ask for help. Sometimes we don’t have it in our ability to fix the situation for one reason or another or, perhaps, we may be unsure that bullying is actually taking place. Either way, by opening up to someone we know, we can avoid the isolation that comes from being unsure. Moreover, creating a dialogue also creates awareness and provides the opportunity to receive guidance from individuals and resources that can ultimately help.

Source: “What is Bullying?” http://www.stopbullying.gov/what-is-bullying/definition/index.html

Stay tuned for… Types of Bullying