Imagine being able to live a life that is not clouded by repetitive bouts of anxiety – a life in which you respond to challenges, rather than automatically reacting. Imagine being able to retain a sense of perspective, rather than feeling overwhelmed every time you run into a difficult situation or person. Think about how freeing it would be not to crumble in the face of criticism, taking it all personally and reacting defensively. And, even if you are doing some or all of these things only some of the time, wouldn’t any degree of improvement be liberating?
My answer would be a resounding yes… because I actually lived in an incredibly disempowering way, until I began to recognise how just much of an unhelpful role I was playing in my own life! I still don’t have it all under control but it is a darn sight better than it was, and still a work in progress. And I have been inspired to write this blog by all of those I have worked with who are almost drowning in their own lives, struggling with feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, underlying frustration and even sadness… who find themselves reacting to life, time after time, too overwhelmed to instead take a breath… and respond.
Consistent feelings of powerlessness can cause us to feel miserable, anxious, and even depressed. And our powerlessness can begin in childhood, or develop over time, as a result of certain experiences – especially those that tend to become repeated patterns in our life. And when we are closely associating with others who also habitually feel disempowered and dissatisfied with their existence, it is easy for it to become a terrible ‘norm’. On the other hand, when we associate with those who appear to handle life with natural ease, it can compound our feelings of powerlessness, making us feel worse… and often a little bitter! Oh, that old, destructive powerlessness – what a cruel, double-edged sword!
So, what can we do to help ourselves to live a more power-filled life? Well, first of all, we have to be willing to be genuinely, seriously honest with ourselves, from our very core. No more half-measures, and no more, “yes but’s”! They are amongst the most annoying words ever to crawl from a human being’s mouth, and they smack of resistance! We’ve all done it, let’s face it – even the most aware of us! I have definitely done it, and I cringe whenever I slip into defensive mode, because I do know better! In my experience that phrase is usually uttered by someone who is not open to listening, or giving consideration to a piece of advice, or seeing things from a different perspective. And it is usually about self-protection or validation. You may say, “well, that’s a bit harsh, Leanne! It’s only a couple of words…”, and I would say, “yes – and when put together, they lead us to the dark side!”
I can’t, because…
The second thing we need to do is to quit making excuses. And yes, I can hear you yawning, thinking, “not that old ‘excuse’ crap again… come up with something we haven’t heard before!” Well, I can’t discuss ways of decreasing powerlessness without talking about excuse-making: it is one of the biggest personal-power vampires, and probably equal to yes-but. And even though we’ve all done it, some people are so accomplished at excuse-making that if it became an Olympic sport they’d quickly become gold medallists!
So, what are some of the excuses I myself have used?
“I don’t have time.” This has on occasions been true; sometimes it hasn’t been, and what I should have said is, “I am disorganised” or, “I didn’t want to do it” or, “I forgot” or, “I couldn’t be bothered”.
“I haven’t lost any weight because I have been under pressure… and anyway, it is so much harder to do so now that I am a bit older.” The truth is, I am consistently eating more than I need, and I know that for sure. It is lack of commitment that is keeping the fat on. I have lost weight in the past, and kept it off for years… and with the right attitude and approach I can do the same again.
“I can’t do this or that because I don’t have enough money.” Sometimes this has been true, but not always. Sometimes it is not money, but effort, that is required. And the way in which I have handled my finances has, on occasion, been questionable: could I have done without this or that, in order for me to have or do the other? Yes – many times.
“I am sick and tired of having to rush around at the last moment! My life is exhausting!” Some days are naturally more chaotic than others, but often, I have either mismanaged my time or have tried to squeeze in something extra that just won’t fit!
“I am struggling for money but I can’t increase my prices because I will lose business, and some people won’t be able to afford my services.” The truth is, it was fear that was keeping me stuck on that particular treadmill, and an underlying belief that I wasn’t good enough. And of course, there are lots of services out there that I myself can’t afford – that is just how life goes! Happily, I eventually managed to free myself from that fear, and I increased my prices (more than once, over a period of time), without losing quality customers.
“I am late (again), because… I got stuck behind an old fart driving at 20 miles per hour; I have too much to do and not enough time to do it in; I had to go and do A, B, and C for this or that person; I forgot I had to stop off along the way at the shop/petrol station/cash point…” Sometimes these have been true, but, let’s face it, if I had set off a little earlier I would still have been able to arrive on time, regardless of the above circumstances!
“I can’t start fitness classes until I lose some weight.” Luckily, my daughters shamed me out of this one! I am so pleased that I took up kickboxing just over a year ago because I am definitely much fitter than I was… though still not as slim as I would ideally like to be! And for that, I have no excuse…
These are all fairly mild but perfect examples of the type of everyday excuses most of us use (though I have probably done myself no favours by admitting to them!). However, team them up with a few ‘yes buts’, and you can clearly see how much they disempower us.
Sadly, excuses are not always as silly and seemingly harmless as the examples I have given above; sometimes they are downright destructive. I remember a young, newly qualified hairdresser, telling me that the reason she wasn’t working was that there “aren’t any jobs around.” I asked her how many she had applied for, the answer to which was, “a couple”, and so I enquired as to how this made her so certain that there were no hairdressing positions available anywhere within reachable distance of her home. “Because, a woman I know, who runs a hairdressing salon, told me,”she replied, as if that left absolutely no room for argument! Oh, okay – if she said it, then it must be true!
And I have been told several times, by young women, that they had planned to go to college but couldn’t, because they “fell pregnant”. So, no woman ever, continued with her education, or worked, whilst carrying a baby?
And one of the most gob-smacking excuses I have ever heard came from a woman my family and I used to live next-door to, many years ago, on a less than desirable housing estate (a huge understatement!). We were there for less than 12 months, and couldn’t wait to leave – as long as we actually had tyres left on the car that hadn’t been slashed! The people next-door didn’t want us to leave, fearing who might move in next… but, as the lady of the house explained, “We’d love to move out ourselves, but we can’t – we’ve just decorated the lounge!”
It’s YOUR fault…!
Where excuse-making really becomes insidious is when it is combined with blame… the most disempowering emotional behaviour we can indulge in, or subject others to.
We’ve all been unfairly blamed, right? Of course we have. But have we ever unfairly blamed others? The most likely answer is, “yes”, if we are being honest! However, some people have an immediate answer for everything, a ‘reason’ for this, that, and the other… and it is always someone else’s fault. One of the silliest things I can remember being blamed for was from my ex-husband who, one day, announced that he was going to apply to join the police force, and I said, “well, okay… but I am not sure you would actually enjoy it”, and that was all. He didn’t complete any forms, or follow the idea up, and yet a couple of years later he bitterly informed me that I had ‘prevented him from joining the police force’. And I think he really believed it, too.
So, what are the most common forms of blame? Grown-up children can blame their parents; parents can blame their children; ex’s can blame each other; the rejected one can blame the rejector; those who are struggling and skint can blame those who are better off; society can blame politics and religion… and on and on.
The trouble with blame is that we sometimes believe that we are entitled to it… and we might even be right. But, how can blame possibly help us (to quote Dr Phil: ‘how’s that working for ya’)? The most bitter, unhappy people I come across are always the most determined blamers. The fact is, the two go hand in hand: bitterness and blame. So, can combining yes-but with excuse-making and blame lead us to be more powerful? Well, yes, actually, it can… in the worst possible way! There is no way to compromise or reason with an accomplished blamer, and dealing with a yes-butting excuse-maker is exhausting and joyless – and we are unlikely to win. It is not the kind of power we want, or can grow through, as it belongs to the loveless and dark world of hopelessness, inertia, lack of positive ambition and dead energy… not the place to aspire to be!
Powerful thinking versus powerless thinking!
The fact is, it is impossible to think and feel in a more powerful way if we are consistently indulging in yes-buts, excuse making, and/or blame… and the best way to avoid allowing this stuff to become habitual is to learn how to respond, rather than react! If we are able to stop before we blow-up, sound off, or immediately go to our default setting, (taking a deep breath or two!), we can be in a position to decide how we are going to proceed… which means we will be responding, rather than reacting. This is good for improved mental and emotional power, and is much more likely to lead to a more productive outcome. Okay, it won’t always be easy, but if we are willing to keep practising we will eventually succeed more times than we fail. And over time it will become more natural to us to respond rather than react… which in turn will work wonders for our anxiety levels and our self-esteem!
Personal power comes from personal responsibility!
We can’t expect to have any sense of personal power if we consistently blame others for our problems and unhappiness… even if they were guilty! We are screwing up our own future every time we excuse ourselves by blaming someone else for the way our life is now. Blaming is a neat but destructive way of avoiding personal responsibility, and puts us in victim mode. The truth is, it is possible to be a victim without being a victim, if you see what I mean! I have witnessed innocent individuals being miserably crushed by bitter blamers, and families torn apart because one or more of them can’t let go of the past. I have seen relationships destroyed, and mental and physical health seriously eroded. And the only possible outcome to blaming is… more blame!
Stay present, and keep a sense of perspective!
So, how do we train ourselves to consistently feel more powerful in our own lives?
By staying present as often as possible!
By being consciously aware of what is going on in our own mind more often than we aren’t!
By retaining a sense of perspective!
By reminding ourselves that our job is to take care of our own crap before trying to change someone else’s!
By accepting that, just because someone else did something to us that was neglectful, selfish, cruel or abusive, they don’t have any control over how we use our own mind, what we choose to think, and how we decide to behave – in the here-and-NOW!
By taking into account all of the good stuff we have going on, and being appreciative of every little positive step that is made by ourselves, and/or those connected to us.
By having interesting dreams and ambitions for a future we are now in the process of creating!
Be patient… change takes time and effort.
If you feel that some or all of what I have said today resonates with you, and you decide that you would really like to address a few things, then take the first step… but be patient. The roots of old beliefs and habits can run deeply, and our mind is conditioned to run and re-run the familiar programmes… so expect some degree of internal resistance – and don’t give up!
I changed my own attachment to a certain set of painful thoughts and feelings by determinedly interrupting the pattern, over and over again. Every time my mind re-played that darned unhappy movie, I deliberately distracted myself (often by singing one particular song, either in my head or out loud, dependent upon where I was!) – and it worked, over time! If I had to do it 100 times a day I did, because I honestly couldn’t bear to end up living with bitterness and feelings of powerlessness. And it is something I am still consciously aware of right now, and every day of my life; I don’t want anyone or anything else having negative, destructive control over how I think and feel, and how I approach my life. Is it easy? No, not all of the time. Do I always succeed? No, I don’t. However, I am definitely in a much better head-space than I used to be, and I find that dramas settle down much more quickly than they used to… and that a certain type of person is less present in my life than in the past. Upsets and injustices will still occur every now and then for all of us, because this is life on planet Earth; however, they will no longer have the insidious control they once had – if we grab those reins and take back the power!