A generalized perception of feeling powerless can have an adverse impact on your self-esteem, well-being and behavior in everyday life. Being in control of your life and, to a certain extent your environment, is a fundamental human need. When that control is taken away from you, you feel a sense of powerlessness.
No rational individual expects to have absolute power. Even CEOs and business owners do not have total control. But, while you may be feeling powerless in one area of your life, you have power in other areas. A study done by Professor Pamela K. Smith of the University of California San Diego found that feelings of power or its contrasting powerlessness are based on situational experiences rather than a person’s demographics, except for age. Not all situations that lead to powerlessness are bad, however. Read on and find out.
The Good Side of Feeling Powerless
When the doctor gives you a diagnosis of a significant illness and a poor prognosis, when there’s a recession and you’re afraid for the stability of your job, or when the president you strongly detested gets elected – you feel powerless. But good things can come out of it.
You get rid of your sense of entitlement and self-importance.
As you realize that your control and field of influence is limited, you see your own smallness with respect to the world. You view other people in a new light and begin to appreciate and find joy in seemingly trivial matters, like a smile or the beauty of nature.
You develop compassion, kindness and generosity.
Your powerlessness builds empathy and kindness for others. You feel a kinship with the elderly and with people of lower social and financial standing because of your experience of loss of power.
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You learn to be humble, patient and accepting.
Being in a situation over which you have no control forces you to develop patience and accept your situation. The realization that there is something bigger than yourself is also a humbling experience.
You are motivated to be creative, find solutions or instigate changes.
Stricken with an illness, you shift to a healthy lifestyle. You change your toxic diet. You start an exercise regimen and you make enough time to sleep. Or, fearing a loss of employment, you become creative by learning new skills and putting up a small business.
The Adverse Effects of Feeling Powerless
Situations that bring about powerlessness are in relationships – that of parent and child, of couples, of boss and subordinate, or among co-employees – where you feel you have no control over some or most aspects of your life and this makes you miserable.
You feel unhappy, inclined to self-pity and self-loathing.
Your mood as a result of feeling powerless is despondent. You see yourself as a mechanical object that is not free and whose behavior is controlled by external forces. You drown in self-pity, seeing yourself as a victim, then self-loathing for allowing this state of things to happen. Eventually, the prolonged state of powerlessness leads to depression.
Your stress level is high.
At work, when your boss has unreasonable demands for deadlines, and you submit a substandard report. Or you have a domineering father who decides your college course and you are powerless to oppose him since he controls the finances. Or an abusive partner who takes away your freedom of choice in most aspects of your life. The helplessness you feel when in these or similar circumstances causes chronic stress.
You become mentally exhausted.
Compared to people with normal and high powers, you are more prone to mental exhaustion or burnout. One cause of burnout, also known as fatigue or exhaustion, is the continuing stress that having no control produces. When you’re feeling powerless in your everyday life, at work or at home, you lose the motivation to go on and mental fatigue sets in.
How to Deal with Powerlessness
Stop being over-selfless.
When selflessness is overdone, you are giving away your power to other people. You let them decide on matters to make them happy. You don’t voice out an opinion because you want people to like you. You offer to do everything to make a good impression.
These actions take away your worthiness. Your friends, partner, and co-workers will see you as inferior. In effect, you are encouraging your own powerlessness.
Assert your rights.
Recognize that you are entitled to the basic rights to be treated with respect, to be informed of matters that affect you, and the right to speak freely. Speak up when these rights are denied to you. When people know that you are willing to stand up for your rights, they will not be too quick to take away your power and control your life.