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.

Brené Brown: Why Your Critics Aren’t The Ones Who Count

In her 99U talk—Why Your Critics Aren’t the Ones Who Count—Dr. Brené Brown gets personal and shares how she struggled in the wake of her success as she dealt with various, personal attacks wielded by critics in the public arena. Similar to how most of us would respond, Brené was devastated by the undeservedly negative criticism, yet it was precisely at this darkest time when she stumbled upon the following quote that radically changed her thinking and, as a result, changed her life. In her video Brené reveals what she ultimately learned about herself as well as life lessons—guidance that may be of benefit to us all.

THE MAN IN THE ARENA
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

~Excerpt from the Theodore Roosevelt’s speech “Citizenship in a Republic” delivered at the Sorbonne in Paris, France on April 23, 1910.~

Brené’s Final Thoughts:  

  1. It’s not about winning or losing. It’s about showing up and being seen.
  2. If you’re going to show up and be seen, you will be criticized. That is the guarantee and the only certainty you have. So, you have to decide at that moment if courage is a value that you hold because criticism is a natural consequence.
  3. Brene’s philosophy about criticism—To the critics: If you’re not putting yourself on the line and just talking about how I could do it better, I’m in no way interested in your feedback. PERIOD.

It’s so scary to show up, it feels dangerous to be seen. It’s terrifying, but it is not as scary, dangerous, or terrifying as getting to the end of our lives and thinking: What if I would have shown up…What would have been different?

Building (and rebuilding) Balance

Balance in our lives is NOT a destination, meaning that once we arrive, we are done.  It is not a static goal we achieve and then maintain forever.

I like to call it “building” balance; as opposed to “achieving” balance—because like building a house, it is a work in progress, it requires maintenance, and occasionally needs reworking.   So how do we “build” this elusive thing called balance?

1)     Stay Present.  Live in the moment instead of fretting about yesterday or worrying  about tomorrow.  If you feel angry about something—feel the anger and work through it.  When you feel joyful about something, embrace the joy fully.

2)  Stop the “Spinning”.  Learn to recognize an manage your internal conflicts. (Anything that disturbs your inner peace, such as unnecessary guilt, excessive worry, unhealthy people pleasing, etc).  Be honest about who you really are and don’t be afraid to stray from the norm.  Live life according to your core beliefs.

3)  Simplify Your Life.  The more “stuff” we have and the more activities we have to manage, makes it more difficult to find just the right balance.  Learn to set appropriate and healthy boundaries for yourself.  This means allowing yourself to say “no” when necessary without feeling guilty!

4)  Know What You Want.  Take time to know WHO you are first.  Figure out what you value, by examining each aspect of your “self.”  Make active choices that lead you toward balance.  If your choices don’t line up with who you are and what you value, then you are not holding fast to your own integrity and your life will feel out of balance.

5)  Nurture Your Spirit and Embrace Love.  We all have a spiritual element to our being and with that comes an innate need to love and be loved.  With all the ups and downs in life, love is the gift that balances it all and brings us back toward a more peaceful state.  Exercise your faith.  Enjoy nature.  Keep your soul filled with positive and inspiring activities.  Be brave enough to let go of activities and relationships that squelch your spirit and prevent you from being your authentic self.  It is then we will be able to give generously of ourselves.

Balance is a fluid state that changes from day to day.  Just like the ocean tide moves in and out, look at whether your life is moving away from or toward balance.

Assess it over a period of time—one or two stressful days here and there does not mean your life is out of balance.  BUT, if chaos is the norm for you, try some of these ideas!

Hopefully, it will be a good “jumpstart” toward building better balance in your life.

Six things all children need

When I was in school, I had many professors teach about Abraham Maslow. He had a huge impact on psychology and many of his theories and studies have become the foundation for much of the work that we do with clients. One of his theories on motivation stated that we, as humans, are motivated not just by rewards or unconscious desires. He stated that we are motivated to achieve certain needs. What came of this idea was dubbed the hierarchy of needs. It’s basically a food group triangle but instead of grains, vegetables, and fruits, we have biological/physiological needs, safety needs, and love/belongingness needs among others. This makes a lot of sense to me seeing as how it would be difficult for a person to achieve intimacy with a friend or loved one if that same person is hungry (actually hungry- not skipped lunch hungry) or hadn’t slept in 2 weeks. Children operate much in the same way I think. The only difference is, children require care; they don’t come out of the womb ready to survive and take on the world all by themselves. After the bottom tier of the needs hierarchy is “achieved” (being fed, clothed, and kept warm), the 6 things that all children need sort of get all mashed together into one, large tier until they grow up.

The first thing all children need is acceptance. Acceptance by parents is the basis for forming a positive relationship from which they are able to learn to like and accept themselves. You can show acceptance through simple gestures that may seem mundane but often have a significant impact on children. For example, separate the deed from the doer. Looks like this: instead of “you are a bad kid”, go for “you made a bad decision”. See the difference?

Next may seem a bit obvious- Attention and love. Attention, along with acceptance, is what a child needs to feel loved, and is what is important for developing rapport with your children and positive feelings about self. As most of you parents may know, children WILL get attention- whether good or bad, they’ll get it. Their style of seeking attention and learning what gets them that attention will become a part of their self-image. Spend time with your child. It’s about quality, not quantity. Try this: ignore the unwanted behavior and praise, praise, praise the wanted behavior. I know, I know- you can’t ignore a kid taking a Sharpie to the wall. But take time to notice the little things your child does. Think about it. Nobody really pays a whole lot of attention to the child who’s sitting quietly, playing nicely, or uses good manners. It’s the kid who’s rowdy, out of control, or talks back who gets the attention. Tell your kid how awesome it is when they say “thank you” or “yes ma’am/yes sir”!

Next is security and safety. Yes, this is on Maslow’s original hierarchy of needs, but it looks a bit different with children. Assuming that the child already has “safety”- as in a roof over their head, no tigers chasing them, and not living in the streets of a post-apocalyptic city- boundaries and clear expectations are what we’re talking about here. Children need to know where you draw the line. Now, it is completely developmentally appropriate for children to push those boundaries- it’s what they are supposed to do! But parents, it is SO important for you to stand firm. The second that you allow a behavior that was once against the rules, your child now knows that you can be pushed past that old boundary. And trust me, it’ll only get worse from there. If your child doesn’t know where a boundary is, then there’s really no point of it being set. Make your expectations clear and consistent!

The forth thing all children need is understanding. Communicate. Listen. Get on their level and demonstrate interest and mutual respect- this encourages each of you to express your feelings and opinions openly and without fear of rejection. This includes problem-solving with your child. If your child comes home from school sad and looking dejected, your first instinct might be to call the mother of whomever did this and chew her out. But sometimes all kids need is your presence. Sit down next to your child and let them know simply that you care- “Oh man Sarah that must’ve really hurt your feelings. I’m so sorry honey.” You may sit in silence for the next 30 minutes but YOU ARE PRESENT. And that’s what is important.

Next is discipline. Create structure in your home by determining appropriate expectations. Much of what goes into discipline aligns with providing safety and security. Make sure the punishment fits the crime and stay consistent; not only with the punishments, but also between parents. Easiest and most common way to manipulate parents? Figure out which one will let you get away with the most and only ever ask that parent for permission. Your children can put a wedge between you and your spouse very quickly- unwittingly, of course.

Finally, children need values. Values are one of those subjects that are not easily taught in a lecture type setting. Can you imagine sitting your child down with a Power Point behind you and saying “Today I am going to teach you about kindness.” No! Values are best taught through what we call experiential learning. Your children watch what you do. So next time you’ve dragged little Billy to the dry cleaners with you and they have lost all of your clothes, try your hardest not to snap completely. Instead, opt for calm, cool communication to resolve the matter- your little Billy will learn that biting the dry cleaner’s head off in a fit of rage doesn’t get your clothes back. But being polite and respectful might get you a refund and payment for the amount of what your clothing costs. When it comes to teaching our children values, actions often speak louder than words.

Identifying Passions, Behaviors, Motivations and Interests

The holiday season is typically NOT a time where we allow ourselves the “space” to sit back and think. Why do we do the things we do?  What makes my child behave that way? What motivates my colleague? What interests me enough to pursue it as a hobby, college major, or job. NOPE. It’s the time where we push all  of these questions to the back burner of our minds and think, “I’ll deal with that when I have time.”  Newsflash: two weeks off from school, a couple days away from work, and a more flexible schedule (that is, when you’re not traveling!) is exactly the time to consider these things.  This year, I’m offering some office hours for feedback sessions during the weeks of Christmas and New Year’s  to accommodate people who’d like to come in to receive their feedback while they’re away from work or school.

It may seem like a daunting task to approach questions like those above.  Five years ago, I was faced with some tough questions regarding myself: where to work, who to marry, and how to interact with my family.  Then the Birkman…

Oh, the Birkman (short for Birkman Method assessment).  It’s a  298 question (250 true-false, 48 multi-choice) that you take online whenever you’d like (home, office, vacation, etc) and should take about 30 minutes to complete. The results available immediately after completion and are then sent to me for report preparation. The questionnaire is translated into over 20 languages and, yes, we offer Skype sessions for feedback. There are dozens of report formats for individuals, pairs, and groups. These options make the Birkman a great tool for exploring a college major, switching careers, pre-marital or marital counseling, family counseling, and “figuring out” what makes your relationship with your teenager or spouse thrive or plumit.

What I once thought was just a couple of pieces of paper telling me more about my personality has turned out to be so much more.  I’ve utilized my own results to land a stable career at Heritage Behavioral Health Consultants, marry a man who I can communicate and be vulnerable with, and connect with my sister in a way I never thought possible. If you’re willing to make the time to invest in this tool, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. Call us today (713-365-9015) to receive a quote for your assessment and schedule a feedback session. Spots for the holiday weeks are limited.

The “Yes, please” marriage

Back in college I overheard a friend say, “Can you pass me that?” to her new boyfriend. His response changed my life for the better. He told my friend that his parents had a wonderfully loving and respectful relationship until the day his father died. His mother and father always said “please” and “thank you,” even for the little things. His parents knew that their efforts were not taken for granted – they knew that they were a team working together – and this was the foundation for solving disagreements in a loving marriage. My friend’s boyfriend then said that he would always say please and thank you to the woman he chose to date and ultimately marry. Then, he asked my friend if she was willing to do the same for him? She said yes.

I was raised to say please, thank you, and all the other polite southern niceties. But this was a whole different way of thinking about it! I was completely taken aback by the concept of moving “please” and “thank you” from a polite custom to a demonstration of true appreciation. I thought about how we are so good at being polite with our acquaintances and co-workers, but often forget about the people we choose to have in our lives – our close friends and family, significant others, or spouses. At that moment, I decided that I would incorporate this into all of my relationships. I decided that I would be mindful of expressing my appreciation each and every day to the most important people in my life.

I added this into my life and got wonderfully positive results – demonstrating appreciation is contagious! People love to hear that you appreciate their efforts and often respond by passing it on to others. Years later, I began dating my husband, and I know that my marriage is considerably stronger because I overheard this conversation.

Note to the friends I overheard: Thank you for affecting my life and marriage in such a positive way. I appreciate you and your friendship. I hope y’all have a wonderful 16th wedding anniversary!

The Freedom of Authentic Living

There is SO much freedom in living authentically.  What does it mean to live authentically, you may ask?  Being real with yourself is hard, but necessary if you are going to live authentically.  We have to be honest with ourselves first; and then with others, as appropriate.  Living from the core of who you are requires spending some time with yourself to really KNOW who you are and what makes you tick.  These ten guidelines will help you begin your journey toward experiencing the FREEDOM that comes with living a more authentic life.

Know your purpose.   Do you sometimes feel like you are wandering rather aimlessly through life, wondering at times what your purpose is—hoping that you’ll be lucky enough to stumble upon happiness, health and prosperity?  Identify your life purpose or mission statement, and you’ll have your own unique compass that will lead you to your true north every time.   For example, “I believe I was created according to a Divine design, with a combination of strengths and quirks, to accomplish something for the greater good.”

Know your values.  
What do you value most?  Make a list of your top 5 values.  Some examples are security, freedom, family, spiritual development, or learning.  As you set your goals for the next phase of your life—check your goals against your values. If the goal doesn’t align with any of your top five values, you may want to reconsider or revise it.

Acknowledge your needs. 
 Unmet needs can keep you from living authentically.  Take care of yourself.  Choose not to cling to people, projects, or things that are holding you back or causing you to lose your balance.

Be aware of your self-talk.
  Are you blocking your potential?  Check out your first thoughts when you wake in the morning.  Are they supportive, encouraging or positive? Listen to the chatter that goes on in your mind.  Pay attention to the negative messages and turn them into positive statements.

Live your passions. 
 Honor those things that make your heart sing.  Whatever it is, do more of it.

Live from the inside out.  Tap into your inner awareness by regularly reflecting in silence.  Breathe deeply to quiet your distracted mind.  Meditate or pray. Try to manage your life from the inside out, focusing on “clean living” and nurturing the relationships that are closest to you first.

Honor your strengths. 
 What are your positive traits?  What special talents do you have?  List three—if you get stuck, ask those closest to you to help identify them.  Are you imaginative, witty, good with your hands?  Find ways to express your authentic self through your strengths.

Take time to play. 
 Give yourself time to recharge doing things you love to do or by just doing nothing.

Count your blessings.   Write down everything you are thankful for, keep your list in a journal or post it where you can see it for a little more inspiration.  Don’t edit the list!!  Include EVERYTHING you can think of, both big and small.

Prioritize relationships.  When you are true to who you are, living your purpose and giving of your talents to the world around you, you give back in service what you came to share with others—your spirit—the very core of who you are.

Beauty, Brains, and Cash… We Want MORE!

Is it better to have more or less?  This is the newest marketing ploy presented by AT&T.  The commercials take place in elementary school classrooms.  In one particular scene the adult asks the question, “Who thinks more is better than less?”  The young girl finishes her answer with, “We want more, we want more, like, you really like it, you want more.”  It’s not complicated, says AT&T, “more is better.”

Though this is a brilliant marketing tool and the commercials are adorable, I have to disagree.  These marketers are capitalizing on the fact that the desire for MORE is the very thing that drives our society.  However, it is also the very thing that often leaves us unfulfilled, unhappy, and wondering what happened to the enjoyable life we used to know.  I would have to argue that more is NOT always better.

Here’s the tricky part.  More usually feels better in the moment.  It feels good and provides instant gratification but it doesn’t always last.  You know the saying, “I’ll feel better when…”  We’ve all said it.  This is how marketers keep us coming back for the next gadget or the newest upgrade and why most Americans spend life hopping on and off the hamster wheel, running at a very fast pace, looking for more.  We want more money, more technological devices, more clothes, more success, more dates, a bigger house, a fancier car, to lose more weight, and the list goes on and on, and we are never content.

However, what these marketing ploys and our society in general seem to be missing is that, at our core, human beings are relational people.  We were created to relate, connect, and love one another.  In the quest for more, the things that each individual person values the most get pushed aside.  Leaving us with a society in which external feedback is the source of esteem.  We look for affirmation from others, job promotions, more Facebook friends, or comments about how smart or impressive our kids are to fill our sense of self.  The hamster wheel does not allow time for a meaningful conversation with a friend or a quiet read on a beautiful day.

Sadly, our children are being born in to a society in which the idea that “more is better” is a way of life.  They won’t even have the understanding that at one point there was a society in which wanting more was not the norm.  What are we to do, you ask?   As parents and leaders of the younger generation, we have the opportunity to make a change and it starts by transforming our perspective and our behavior.  It starts when we get off of the hamster wheel ourselves and let them follow our lead.  Here’s an idea of a place to start:

  • Get to know yourself again.  The part of you that doesn’t need goggles and rain gear to protect you from all the debris that flies your way as you continuously spin through life.   I bet that person remembers the very values that were pushed aside when society told you to jump on this wheel and leave everything behind.
  • Identify the values you discover in this process.  Write them down.  Own them.
  • Create goals that will allow you to honor these valuesPick a value that ranks at the top of your list.  Identify a plan to honor that value and follow through.  Example:  I value the opportunity to be creative. To honor this value, I will dedicate a 2- hour period every Thursday morning to work on the poetry I love to write.

As you begin to live more congruently with your value system, your esteem will naturally build and you will find you have everything you need within yourself.  You won’t need more in order to be fulfilled.