When You Feel Powerless

Powerless. Helpless. Stuck. These are some of the very worst, most unpleasant ways to feel.

Too often people experiencing these emotions are hesitant to get counseling, or even talk with friends, because they feel it will “do nothing.” This is based on the belief that the event or circumstance needs to change in order to feel better. The thought at the core of hopelessness is: The thing that’s already done must be different or else I will never feel better.

This is not true. Getting unstuck is about navigating your responses and feelings more effectively- not changing external events.

I’m not saying it’s easy, but I think it’s essential to our well-being to cultivate healthier ways to react when these gut-wrenching feelings strike.

The following are some of my thoughts, that are on the surface quite simple, but take an incredible commitment to follow over time.

Be Real About What You Can and Can’t Control

Vulnerability to powerlessness starts when we do not appropriately assess the level of control and responsibility we have with regards to a life event.

The only thing you control is your choices. That’s a lot…but it rules out a lot too. I find people get stuck a lot assigning themselves control where they do not have it. What another person chooses is outside your control. Natural disasters are beyond your control.

There are many tricky spots where maybe you have SOME control. Perhaps you were fired or went bankrupt. Some part may have been your own and some may be complicated factors, like the economy.

There are some situation where you did indeed have a lot of control and messed up. That’s important to know too.

If you aren’t clear on what you can and cannot control- you will NOT be on the right track. Things are unlikely to get better and you are set up to repeat what’s not working for you.

Invest in What You Can Control

The way to best cope with powerlessness is to find some small way to take action within your control. If you have some or most of the control over what went wrong in life, the next step is to figure out what you need to do differently and then commit to doing it. That’s the healthiest course of action.

Stop Investing In What You Can’t Control

The next thing to do is to try very hard not to invest time or energy into things we cannot control. Stop trying to will something to change that is outside of your control. You are railing against something that will not budge. Remember to redirect yourself to what you can do.

Complaining, begging, pleading, ruminating, and ranting, CAN, if done repeatedly, be signs you are banging your head against a very hard wall.

If you are dealing with something fully outside of your control, then you need to be more creative. This is probably one of the hardest situations in which to cope, and it probably takes some time to figure out what can be done. Usually it is committing to something that helps to battle the unfairness or pain involved in a life event which is outside of your control.

It takes a tremendous amount of bravery and resolve to find a place of action when you have been dealt a situation you cannot control.

Grieve What You Cannot Control

Anytime there is a loss- even the loss of a choice, or the loss of innocence, or the loss of a sense of security- there is grief. It’s the natural process that helps us let go of something that’s changed or gone completely. Grieving is the path to truly letting go of what we cannot undo. Simply put, it’s feeling every emotion that comes through, getting support and love as we go.

Pushing away grief will invite unhelpful patterns. Learn about grief, share your grief, feel your grief. Again, it’s not at all easy or pleasant, but an absolutely necessary part of health.

Recognize That Everything Changes

Another sticking point is believing that our situation and our feelings are the new forever reality of our lives. It’s not true. Everything changes and evolves with time. Finding hope in the fact that things change in ways we cannot know, but always do, is the healthiest perspective to hold onto. Find people and stories that show you this truth.

Start with something small today. Can you let go of something outside your control? Can you commit to taking action on something you do control?


    • Hannah

      Thanks for reading, Justine!

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