Alice Walker said, “The most common way people give up their power is by believing they don’t have any.”
We can all get caught up in worrying about what is beyond our control – people and external events happening around us.
This is not only stressful, but it takes a lot of our energy.
But how do we end up giving up our power?
When we can’t control
When we can’t control people and circumstances that we want to control, it creates a problem for the brain which is always trying to make predictions and guide us.
How can the brain do its job when we can’t control people and circumstances that affect us?
We might respond one of a couple ways:
(1) we trick ourselves into thinking we have control by trying to predict all that could happen and how we might control that; or
(2) we resign ourselves to having no control or choice.
In the first response, we are grasping for control that we don’t have, and that can be exhausting. In the second, we can become a powerless victim.
Self-perception and power
While it’s absolutely true that much in life is beyond our personal control, we must not confuse that to mean that we are powerless.
If we believe we are powerless, then our self-perception supports an unintentional or unconscious reaction to circumstances rather than a mindful response.
In this way, our self-perception affects our capacity for choice and change.
If we believe we have no choice or power in a situation, then we are likely to give up, or be a passive observer or victim. We give away our agency, our power to choose our response.
But as Viktor Frankl, Holocaust survivor and author of Man’s Search for Meaning said, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
In other words, we always have choice in how we respond.
Dr. Frankl described in his book some prisoners in the concentration camps who, despite having no control over any of their external circumstances, would choose to share their bread with other prisoners. He noted that these prisoners tended to survive over those that had given up.
Self-perception and well-being
Research shows that having control, or believing we have control, positively affects our physical and mental health. And the more control we believe we have, the better. One study showed people with cancer who have a greater perception of control survive longer.
Another study from the 1970s showed that elderly people in a nursing home who were told to take responsibility for themselves and choose how to spend their time were happier than those who had everything taken care of for them. In fact, 18 months later, the residents who had greater agency and choice continued to be more engaged and healthier than those who were passive residents.
Don’t give up your power
Where have you been giving up your power? Maybe you’ve been believing you can’t change; or you’ve been passively reacting rather than choosing how you respond to a person or situation.
The good news is that you can take back your power by recognizing that you always had it. Because, as Dr. Frankl said, that freedom to choose your response can never be taken away.
What will you do with that freedom and power?
“Whatever you think you can, or think you can’t – you’re right.” – Henry Ford
Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash