Unless you have been living in a cave for the last two months, you will know that today is the day that people in the UK go to the polls to decide on the future of our relationship with Europe. Don’t worry this is not going to be a political piece about the pros and cons of our place in the world, but rather on one of the main driving forces and motives for people to vote in this particular referendum, namely the belief that they no longer feel in control of their world and a growing feeling of powerlessness.
Whoever you are, throughout your life you will be driven consciously and subconsciously to satisfy a need for feeling in control and it is this need that will often be a dominant driving force as to how you think, feel and how you behave. When you remove an individuals ability to experience any form of power or the belief that they have a choice, they will feel a loss of control and soon become detached, stressed or occasionally feel depressed.
Ultimately, when working with people who are suffering from acute anxiety, stress or depression, a consistent theme that runs through each of their unique situations and experiences is that they feel less in control, have less choice and have no, or considerably diminished power. It is important to consider too, that a significant or disproportionate imbalance between power and choice can also have negative repercussions. For instance, someone with authority or in a position of power may feel that it comes at the compromise of choice or flexibility, conversely someone may express the problems of having too many options, or spoilt for choice and therefore end up almost unable to be proactive or decisive in situations.
Regardless of the driving fundamentals of a feeling of powerlessness, just the thought of it can and generally will, generate strong negative feelings (conversely think of times when you have experienced moments of feeling in control, and a healthy balance of choice and power and remember or even better, feel how good you felt then!).
Ask someone who has experienced the negative feeling of having no control and they will tell you how quickly, if left unchecked and without the simple knowledge or tools to control it, it can spread into other areas and distort and undermine existing belief systems.
All in all, feeling powerless is pretty crap.
The good news is that there are a number of ways, many of them extremely simple, that you can reverse and eradicate that negative feeling and belief that you are not in control.
The very first thing to do is accept that you are not powerless. Sound simple? It is, but it is very important, whether you are working on your own issues or working with a therapist or coach, that you are at the very least open to the possibility.
The fact is and the first thing anyone who feels this way should be open to considering is this;
We DO have a choice on what we focus on
We DO have a choice on the meaning we attach to anything
Attitude is so often the only thing that separates two individuals from reacting to an identical situation in completely opposite ways. Sure, emotions and learned behaviours may hold sway on an initial response, but it is then that you become open to the possibility that, as you begin to feel negative, from hereon in you can initiate your own choice of response. You can choose to focus on something else. You can choose to look for a positive. You can choose to explore the meaning of a given situation and so on and so forth.
There are other things we can do too. We can do something to satisfy the need of power by being proactive, setting an easily accomplished goal, which once achieved will motivate you to accomplish more. We can choose to be more assertive, maybe accepting that invitation to go for a drink or dinner even when you don’t feel like it, or saying NO to people and situations that would have just normally exacerbated the feelings of powerlessness or are a drain on your energy.
Another thing you can do is shift your physiology during moments of negativity. Go for a walk, go to the gym, go for a swim or sign up to a yoga class. Even standing up and assuming a more dynamic or empowering position will lift how you feel to a certain degree. There are plenty of studies out there focusing on the just how beneficial any physical activity can be for your state of mind and your neurology. I have no qualms in telling you that in many situations, a regular exercise routine will prove as beneficial as a programme of therapy or coaching in number of situations.
Write a list of all of the alternative positive outcomes, scenarios or choices relating to a particular situation, relationship or event that is causing your feelings of despondency. You may surprise yourself when you reveal new possibilities open to you that you may not have considered, or even simply surprise yourself that you are capable of doing the exercise altogether. Both will be positive.
These are just a few simple strategies that a person can use to start on the road of developing more personal control. There are many more. The next step is often where people fall down so it’s helpful when working by yourself or with a coach, to lay down the ground rules. Those ground rules are simple. Commit to taking determined action to repeat any new, positive, empowering behaviours until they become habitual. We get good at something through commitment and repetition and where you have learned to feel powerless, you then need to unlearn it by learning to feel in control. But thats fine, because we are psychological drawn to obtain the resourceful state of having control and once we begin to programme ourselves to feel that way, through commitment, we will readily accept the new learned behaviour in place of the new.
This is an approach, along with identifying and working with, a persons personal needs and individual drivers, that I use very effectively with clients. In many situations and as an adjunct to therapy – implementing small plans to build an individuals belief in always having a choice, will mean unlike other approaches, not only will issues never reoccur, but the client will progressively feel more in control.
One of the choices and strategies open to everyone, is to look for inspiration in others. Before doing this I would strongly advise that you commit to not judging yourself harshly before doing so. The reason is and as a reminder of having a choice to focus and find meaning in something, you do not want it to be about you, but rather to focus on the positive meaning, message or lesson the inspirational person is giving you. In other words, don’t choose Mother Theresa to highlight how selfish you can be sometimes, but rather choose her as inspiration and a guide to how you can be more selfless. This is very important to understand as people can get this wrong.
As a therapist and as someone who suffered from feelings of having no choice myself at one point in my life, one of the people I drew inspiration from was and still is, Viktor Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist and neurologist who had survived the holocaust. Frankl’s work on discovering meaning to our existence and his book – Man’s Search For Meaning (which I have read on more than one occasion and would recommend that everyone do so) have influenced and inspired countless people around the world.
His message is as relevant now as it was then and if you are feeling powerless – don’t judge yourself but use his words to motivate and inspire you too, knowing that, as humans our greatest gift is always having a choice.
“We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.
And there were always choices to make. Every day, every hour, offered the opportunity to make a decision, a decision which determined whether you would or would not submit to those powers which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom; which determined whether or not you would become the plaything of circumstance, renouncing freedom and dignity to become molded into the form of the typical inmate.
Seen from this point of view, the mental reactions of the inmates of a concentration camp must seem more to us than the mere expression of certain physical and sociological conditions. Even though conditions such as lack of sleep, insufficient food and various mental stresses may suggest that the inmates were bound to react in certain ways, in the final analysis it becomes clear that the sort of person the prisoner became was the result of an inner decision, and not the result of camp influences alone. Fundamentally, therefore, any man can, even under such circumstances, decide what shall become of him – mentally and spiritually. He may retain his human dignity even in a concentration camp.”
For more information on how I can help you overcome feelings of powerlessness, stress, depression, anxiety and many other negative and unwanted emotions, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org Call 0800 7734183 or look up further information on the below links.