What to Do When We Feel Powerless?

A friend recently told me how she felt helpless in her present situation.  I began to think of the times in my own life when I felt powerless. When I hear of school shootings or tragedies in the world, or the times my boss had a differing view than I did about how to solve a problem and I was told what to do next, or the moment I learned I had cancer.

These are all moments that can make us feel utterly helpless in the world. But why?

So what is power?  In its most simple form, power is defined as the “ability to get what we want”.  Powerless then, is the lack of ability to get what we want.

While reflecting on my friend’s situation and my own experiences of power and powerlessness, I shared the following sentiment with her:

“You are not helpless."

My invitation to you is to first give gratitude for what is.  There is something that changes in our physiology when we give thanks, can put down and relax the energy it takes to resist, even if only for a few moments.  Where do you feel this resistance in your body?

Notice when you want to 'go in your head' and dream about what may or may not be in the future, what was in the past or how you wish you had done something different. Then, gently and with kindness bring yourself back to now.  

There are miracles happening today in your life.  My hope for you is that you see them. The way I have found to do this is to take time and be still, gently keep returning to this moment. Notice not only the beauty around me, but also notice when I am in my head analyzing, in my heart feeling, or my gut instinctual space and sensing.  Notice without judgment.

Utilize all three of your centers of intelligence.  There is great power in connection and when we connect our 'internal committee' (head heart gut), we can experience more creativity and see things we might not have seen before.  This gives greater opportunity for new options to emerge.

The feeling of powerlessness comes when we habitually revert back to over-using one of our centers of intelligence underutilizing the other two.  For instance, staying in our heads and analyzing while resisting what our feeling center is trying to convey or not listening to the intelligence of our gut, results in only using a third of our internal power.  Call upon all three to work together.”

Scholars such as Kenneth Boulding have done research identifying the types of power that exist, and define power as the “ability to change the future”. Boulding says that power takes three forms: threat, exchange and love.

The Three Types of Power

"Power over" is the ability to dominate another person or group--as in "I have power over him.” Power-over usually comes from force and threat.

"Power to" is the ability to do something on one’s own--it refers to one’s abilities. Sources of this kind of power are intellect, resources, knowledge, stamina, etc. These resources give some people the power to accomplish things that others cannot.

"Power with" is similar to "power to" in that it reflects ability, but "power with" is the ability to work with others to get something done by cooperation. This is the power of consensus--the power of people working together to solve a common problem.

In my last blog post on 9 Lessons I learned from My Experience with Cancer I wrote,

There is great power in connection. Power is more effective when two or more come together. Something magical happens that doesn’t seem possible with just one.  We have come to make power mean something very different. We use it in a way that means more about having control over others or over situations instead of “power with."

One of my favorite examples of power comes from a cartoon I used to watch as a child, The Super Friends. The Wonder Twins were a brother-sister duo and could become something that seemed impossible when they touched their fists and connected to one another.  They would hit fists and say, “Wonder Twin Powers Activate!” They would follow with “Form of….” an ice crystal or an animal that would inevitably get them out of the sticky situation they were in and move towards saving the world. There is power when we connect.  Imagine what might be possible and how we could change the world by coming together and bumping fists.”

I believe one of our greatest opportunities for transformation comes from owning our power. By utilizing and connecting the powers of our mind, heart and gut we can increase our creativity and new options emerge.

The next time you are feeling powerless, try on the “power with” model. By first experiencing the power of connection in our internal world we can bring this practice to our outer world and change the future.