Note: the following information was gathered from personal experience, reflection, and work with my own feelings. Take it as you will.
Definition of Powerlessness
A feeling of not being able to do anything where one wants to do something. Feeling as though one is unable to come up with a good way of responding to a situation. All choices one can come up with at such a time seem like they aren’t good necessarily good ones.
Probable Symptoms of Powerlessness:
- Despair, feeling things are hopeless
- Denial of how bad things really are
- Frustration towards the way things are
- Behaving in ways you don’t really feel good about, but go towards anyway because nothing else seems better
- Trying desperately to stay positive while feel like your control escapes you
- A fatalistic attitude towards life – things happen to you, rather than exercising your own power to choose
- Negativity and depression
- Feeling stuck
- Getting angry at the world, complaining about things that, if those were different, would give you outcomes you want or think you should have or be getting
- Not feeling in control of your own life, yourself, or your choices
- Feeling negative towards the fact of your own ability to choose, and like that makes little difference for what you want
- Feeling separate from what you want or from the path you could go on to get to what you want
- Feeling like you can’t, or that things are impossible
- Trying to rely on fate for obtaining positive outcomes in your reality, rather than utilizing your power of choice
- A sense of emptiness
- Feeling pushed or pressured internally to do what you might think you “should” do
- Desires that feel selfish, or negative towards a lack of getting what you want (an “attacking” vibe)
What seems to cause Powerlessness
Powerlessness seems to be caused primarily by an inability to choose in a way we’re happy with. Mainly this can occur when we’re in situations we don’t like. We may focus on the facts of the situation, hoping for those to change, when really, our only power is how we choose to approach and respond to situations.
A complete feeling of powerlessness can be like a more severe form of indecision. With indecision, we may be trying to figure things out actively, but just find ourselves stuck. At deeper levels of feeling powerless, we may still want to decide on some matter, but may have forgotten it even mattered to us, and made leaving it alone a part of life.
On a micro level, a feeling of powerless can relate to when neither an action nor a lack of that action seems to bring about good results. Your options seem only like ones you don’t want to take, for varying reasons. The way to what you want seems blocked, and doing something about it doesn’t seem like a good idea either.
When no good option seems to be in front of you, you have options of how you can respond – many options. The essential part of this process seems to be trying to create a choice good enough for yourself that you almost realize that it’s the one you want to go with, at which point the feeling abates and you can move forward. And one way to understand the direction you do want to go in, is to understand first why you don’t want to go in the directions you’re juggling in your mind.
This examination process doesn’t really matter though if you’re not looking at choices and decisions to begin with. Sometimes you just feel disempowered without exactly knowing why.
For powerlessness, one approach can be to look at something you want, and to try and figure out a way to get there that feels right to you. Yes, maybe there are deeper things you want, or maybe you’re indecisive about what you want, but you can bring those feelings into the process. After all, the point is to go for what you really want, so debating with yourself about what you really want can help bring you to a place of understanding.
Once you have a direction you want to go in, that’s when you can start to decide how you want to get there. But of course, you may not want to go anywhere. You may come up with ideas about what you should want, directions you should go in, that really you don’t find appealing. Looking at what you do find appealing, you can examine negatives you’re experiencing towards that direction, such as the idea that you should go do something else. What we like to do can get stopped up by considerations such as: “it’s not practical”, “it’s not achievable”, “it’s a stupid idea”, “it’s not what any normal person would do”, etc. We can examine the truth of our own claims, however. Maybe we don’t want to be practical or normal, maybe it is achievable, even if it might take a long time to get there. And maybe our idea isn’t stupid, just something we could refine a little, in order to improve upon it.
The whole idea of examining decisions is to find the choice one does want to make, or the choices one would find most good. Once you have that, you can go forward in that area, unless of course there’s another hesitation, which essentially is a stipulation and further problem you’re having with your own intended choices.
What is Power
This said, what is power? If we can feel powerless, we can feel powerful, too – or perhaps empowered. How do we get there, and what is power?
Power and choice, to me, seem to go hand in hand. We’re always making choices, even while feeling disempowered, but to like what we’re choosing, that seems to be what brings a sense of power. In a sense, when we feel powerful, we’re utilizing our power in a way we feel good about or are at peace with, rather than in a way we don’t like. We can change the way we choose, and this can influence our reality.
Now, power is often misconstrued as a sense of being able to control events, people, and circumstances. And to an extent, people who feel empowered may be able to have a great deal of influence over the conditions that they care about in their lives. That doesn’t mean that they have any control over those conditions. We only control our responses to things, and empowerment is more about continuing to try and create a reality where the choices we make are ones we feel are good, that we like. In essence, then, this might mean that, when we start not liking circumstances, rather than trying to change the circumstances, we might look at our choices, the way we’re already influencing things and if we want to change anything about our choices. After all, some ways we could go about trying to change circumstances might not be ways we’d feel good about, even if we were successful.
Denial, and Discerning Our Feelings
We can also fool ourselves into thinking we feel good about our choices when we don’t or are conflicted, and while we might think we’ve taken care of things – are we happy? Are we deeply contented? This isn’t necessarily about getting paranoid – we can also fool ourselves into thinking we don’t feel good about our choices. Remaining powerful, then, seems to have more to do with staying connected to one’s own feelings, such as with regards to circumstances and choices.
Panic, Powerlessness, and Despair
One dangerous situation that can arise is when we’re in a panic about a situation we feel powerless about. This can lead to despair, because there’s no way out, while we’re intensely seeking one.
It works this way because in powerlessness, neither the choice nor the opposite of a given choice seem good, and if all choices in a given situation feel bad, and on top of this, we panic about making a bad choice, we’re going to feel there’s no way out.
Instead, we can consciously relax, and look for the reasons we’re coming up with to panic, so we have power over them, and thus, allow ourselves a better opportunity to feel relaxed within our decision-making process, in which no clear way has yet arisen. Doing so can reduce anxiety, and ultimately help us to avoid despair.
The Good in Feeling Powerless
All the above said, feeling powerless is not necessarily an evil thing, nor a mark of failure. It’s something that can occur, and working through feelings of powerlessness, and the difficulties one has with their choices, can lift one’s sense of power, even as that empowerment may not be permanent, or may be reduced later by further considerations. The feeling of powerlessness can guide you towards disengagement and reflection – you might find, through this process, that you find fundamentally different directions you want to take in life. In essence, feeling powerless doesn’t mean you “are” powerless, but rather it can mean you are at a place where you aren’t sure how you want to use your power, or don’t like the options in front of you.
Process for working through Powerlessness
If you feel powerless, you can try employing the following technique to help you work through the feeling, and to get to choices you’d like to make:
Note: if at any time during this exercise you feel like just rambling on about the problem and you start working through it, or if you want to express any other feeling that comes up, then going with that may help more than sticking to this guide. However, if you get stuck, you can go back to these steps.
- What would you like to change about your circumstances, if you could? Write down a list, and try not to restrict yourself at all.
- Why can’t you? Write out a response, either just in general, or in response to specific items that you most want to change. Express your sense of powerlessness, speak from your feelings, where you can.
- Look back over your answers to step two and see if you can find any falsehoods or limited ways of thinking. Try to admit the truth of your uncertainty. Sometimes, you may be viewing things accurately, but other times you may be skipping over crucial elements that you’re unsure of. Edit things or rewrite them to make room for the truth.
- Going back to your list, why do you want to change these things? Again, write them specific, or as a general answer to your longing to create changes.
- What choices could you make? At this point, write down practical steps that you could take that perhaps make things better. Try your best to put forth ideas that are as good as you can make them.
- Are there problems with these choices? If, to you, there are, write these out. Otherwise, you might know what you want to do, in which case, you’re done with the exercise, at least in those areas where you know the choices you want to make.
- Given these new problems, go back to step 5, and look for new choices you could make, given these problems. Again, try to make these choices as good as you can, in light of these new complexities. Keep going in this loop until you reach step 6 and feel good about the choices you came up with, and know what you want to do. (see note below if you get stuck here)
Note: it may be that you end up in a cycle, where a side of you stubbornly cannot see any way of solving a situation besides one that you cannot choose, such as bringing a dead loved one back to life, or going back in time to change something. Engaging with this part directly, connecting with them, may do far more for helping them to see what they want to do to feel better, than by trying to create a detached, mechanical solution. Helping a side of you get something it wants isn’t necessarily as cut and dry as finding a way to give it to them. Sometimes, it may take understanding their feelings, or giving them a space to share their concerns or feelings of despair or hopelessness.
Also, you don’t have to solve all of these sorts of dilemmas in one go. It can help, too, to incrementally bring awareness to a situation, taking your time, giving yourself time to reflect on your reality from multiple angles and approaches, which you might miss while actively walking yourself through a technique.
Probable Benefits of working through Powerlessness
- Knowing what you want to do
- Feeling empowered
- Feeling more at peace with life
- Knowing what was stopping you
- Feeling better about your own decisions, actions, and choices
- Enjoying life more
- Less negativity
- Not having to force yourself to do things as much
Articles related to Powerlessness
Negativity – Negativity and powerlessness, in some sense, seem to go hand-in-hand. Feeling powerless can make it really easy to just give up on making good choices, and lead you towards wanting reality to change for you.
Anxiety – Anxious, urgent feelings can prompt us to take actions that we’re not really happy with, which may lead us towards making choices without feeling empowered.
Fear – Fear can sabotage our efforts to know our own feelings, what we really want. Like anxiety, it can speak with a voice that tells us what we “need” to do, while not helping us to question our own perceptions. It can lead us to run away from things that may not even be real.
Impatience – If we get impatient with the process of finding the choices we want to make, we can end up making choices that are sort of good, but we might just “hope” are “good enough”. We may want to escape the feeling of powerlessness without giving us much time to feel and understand it and what it involves.
Inner Conflicts: A Potential Cause of Depression – this article deals with the mechanics of what is essentially a power-deprived state, wherein one can get depressed, reckless, or just feel stuck, internally.