Powerlessness and its effects

Columnist Peg Hanafin asks if you feel powerless over the life you live.

Do you feel powerless over the daily decisions you must make in your life? Do you feel that politicians, bankers, debt, bosses, spouses, partners or others who may have taken your power, have impacted on your life and are destructive of your inner peace? Are you living in a situation where you feel you are not in control of your life having to bow to the decisions someone else makes? Do you feel you are bereft of choices?

If you fall into any of these categories then you may feel powerless.

Feeling powerless is a very destructive and challenging way to live life. It causes pain and suffering, damages self esteem and impacts on the decisions we make. It destroys our self belief and our right to decide what we want out of life. Powerlessness escalates depression and hopelessness. People feel powerless when they do not have control over the everyday aspects and decisions they make and we see more and more of it, especially from policy makers and those who hold our finances to ransom. Just witness the recent strike by Dunnes Stores workers. They went on strike because they could not plan or control any aspect of their lives because of irregular working hours. Workers have another life outside of work, so it is essential to be able to have control over their off time.

Many people who have been affected by the recession feel powerless. Banks are taking homes from over the heads of people that they had encouraged to take out un-payable mortgages in the first instance. People with disabilities are being left without services vital to their wellbeing due to reductions in public service investment. They also feel powerless. People who are in precarious jobs feel powerless. Those in low paid jobs or on Social Welfare who see their weekly incomes eroded by more taxes and who struggle to make ends meet, feel powerless. People can also be in a relationship where they feel powerless and controlled. If you or a loved one is sick, the lack of hospital services leaves you powerless. These and many other situations are all very unhappy and distressing positions to be in and are detrimental to one’s health and happiness and are injurious to being in control of how you want to live life.

Have you given away your power to others to decide for you how you are going to live your life? Is this the reason your life is unhappy, frustrated and discontented? Are you depressed and feeling inadequate?

Decisions that are made by people in powerful or leadership positions affect the lives of ordinary people every day. They impact on how people feel and live, especially the lives of people who are not in a position to influence the changes or think they have no options. Government, bosses, even partners, can impact on your wellbeing if you have no control over decisions that affect how you want to live. We hear from people everyday about how difficult it is when they think they have lost control and have no input into decision making. Having choices always makes for happier living.

There is a massive difference between feeling powerless and actually being powerless. Remember at the end of the day the only opinion that matters is your own and the decisions you make about how you want to live your life and being free to choose, is also your own.

Becoming powerless is a gradual process and most people sleepwalk into the feeling. Becoming powerless does not happen in one single dramatic stroke, it usually happens bit by bit. When you feel you are under the control of others, at the expense of your own wellbeing, or, must bow to the opinions or decisions that others make, whether that is in the workplace or the home, that is when you have decided that you do not have control over how you live your life. You may think that by sitting quietly and doing nothing that the feeling will evaporate and that you will somehow regain control, but that will not happen. Or by just accepting your fate and allowing others to run roughshod over your needs and opinions, may also confirm that you have no options, which is rarely the case. There are always options if you have the courage to change your way of thinking and acting.

If you accept that you are powerless you reduce your self esteem and self belief and escalate the feeling that you are powerless to make any changes.

Once you start chipping away at your self- worth you are on the way to being a “victim”. If you start worrying about your position in life it makes you more vulnerable and allows powerlessness to grow even bigger. Victims become enablers, because they tolerate and accept what other people decide for them. The sense of being devoid of power makes people angry, resentful and encourages people to react in ways that disrupt normal living.

New research shows that the feeling of lack of power doesn’t just make people disgruntled and unhappy, it affects their mental health and their ability to perform everyday tasks and make good decisions. This becomes a vicious circle which adds a further burden and further proof that you are not in control. Power is not a force to get your own way. It is not about money, status, possessions or any other material goods. The world over, there are people with the trappings of wealth and status, yet they feel more powerless than the average ordinary person. This maybe because they have lost confidence and self belief in the way life is panning out for them and feeling controlled.

Powerlessness gives feelings of just “surviving”, not living, and that is an unacceptable way for anyone to live life. You need to remember there are always options. They may be difficult, but they are there.

The issue of power is within oneself and your thinking, and if you have negative thinking it sits uneasily with decision making and taking control. We are all human and we do not all mature automatically. The world is filled with people stuck in childhood or adolescence no matter what age they are. Adulthood and maturity is an achievement, one that requires and results in personal power and positive thinking. This could take decades for some but it starts with the vision of the “core self”. Who am I? What do I want? To have a core self is to be master of your own destiny, and is the exact opposite of being a “victim” who live their lives being subservient to others and having no values of their own.

The fact is we all desire more and better things for ourselves. We all strive for happiness, truth, duty, virtue, reverence, appreciation, love, respect and peace of mind. Any life filled with anger, resentments, violence, fear, intolerance, or addiction will bring powerlessness regardless as to how they live or what their position.

Empowerment is the new buzz word. It highlights the fact that everyone possesses strengths on which they can build. We all need empowerment in controlling our own personal lives, to be able to use resources and strategies to bring about self belief and strengthen our self esteem. We need to realise that when we feel powerless we must change our thinking and our perception of what we accept. Standing up and being counted for what you believe in eliminates feelings of powerlessness and gives courage and strength to have a better life. This includes making changes that will bring happiness and a feeling that we are in control and are the masters of our own destiny regardless of the decisions the powerful and those in leadership make.

Peg Hanafin, MSc.

Author of “Getting more out of life” and 'Thoughts for Your Journey.'