Powerlessness And How It Can Help You

Most of us hate feeling powerless and indeed, it is not very good for us especially for extended periods of time. It can lead to depression, anxiety, outbursts of anger, alienation from others, physical symptoms and, in it’s trauma form, it can lead to the symptoms of Post traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD (e.g. nightmares, flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, and loss of concentration or memory to name a few)

Sometimes powerlessness comes from circumstances we have little or no control over. Other times it comes from the consequences of our actions. The latter can be even more frustrating because we may say, “I could have done something different”. We ruminate and replay the situation over and over. This can be helpful if we can process it into lessons learned, insight, awareness about others, or ourselves and character growth.

It is interesting to note that sometimes powerlessness can be very powerful. When Jesus surrenders to the cross, His powerlessness redeems the whole world. This is illustrated, again, in the fictional Star Wars movie were Obe Wan allows himself to be slain by Darth Vader only to come back as a ghost to aid Luke in fighting the Empire. The Apostle Paul talks about his powerlessness with an affliction he has and how it helps him grow and be empowered. Joseph’s powerlessness in the Old Testament is the seed for his rise to power in the house of Pharaoh. Despite his brother’s plot against him, he is faithful and God sends him before his family to redeem them in their day of need. After they realize that the brother they sold into slavery is now in power over them, the brothers hear him say “You meant it for evil but God meant it for good”

Dealing with powerlessness is a tricky matter sometimes.

First we must realize that powerlessness in not necessarily, hopelessness.
Powerlessness may just mean you are not in control right now.

Second, it is important to admit our powerlessness to God and others.
This gets us out of the way sometimes and allows God to work in areas where we do not have the ability or opportunity to change things. Telling others about our powerlessness can be a request to help with need and, as a part of that, a place to get emotional support through listening, different perspective, advice, shared troubles/grief and accountability to change course as well as giving us structure.

Third, deal with powerlessness by processing it.
Write down what you are feeling and thinking, what you believe about yourself, the situation, what you may have done that contributed to the situation, what others may have contributed to the situation and what is purely circumstantial. Try to avoid “All or Nothing” thinking. The “All Is Lost” mentality is not very helpful. Slowing things down and evaluating the situation is usually better in the short and long run. Nehemiah puts this into action when he feels powerless at first to deal with greedy nobles who are loan sharking their fellow Hebrews right back into slavery. He slows down his anger and brings the nobles to task.

Fourth, after the initial shock wears off, try seeing where the processing leads you.
What does it tell you about the situation, yourself, others involved, your motives, your priorities, lessons learned, and how you can grow from it.

Over all powerlessness is not something to be desired but it is, essentially, unavoidable in life. How we deal with it and use it to grow and move closer to God and others is the key.

Fear Happens!

Fear is a basic human emotion. According to Wikipedia, fear is an emotional response to threats and danger. It is a basic survival mechanism occurring in response to a specific stimulus, such as pain or the threat of pain.

In general fear falls into two categories: the threat of pain or death, and the threat of social rejection or isolation.

Psychologists have suggested that fear is one of the basic or innate emotions, along with joy, sadness, and anger.

Distrust can be explained as a feeling of mild fear or caution and may occur as a feeling of warning towards someone or something that is questionable or unknown.

Terror is an acute and pronounced form of fear. It is an overwhelming sense of immediate personal danger. It can be caused by perceiving the object of a phobia or trauma, which is common in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Terror may overwhelm a person to the point of making irrational choices and displaying atypical behavior.

Paranoia is a term used to describe a fear that is irrational. It is experienced as longstanding feelings and perceptions of being persecuted. Paranoia is an extreme emotional state combined with thoughts, or possibly delusions that one is in danger. As a result people might change from normal behavior to extreme or maladaptive ways.

In a 2005 Gallup poll a national sample of adolescents between the ages of 13 and 15 were asked what they feared the most. The question was open ended and participants were able to say whatever they wanted. The most frequently cited fear was terrorism.

The top ten fears were, in order:

  1. terrorist attacks
  2. spiders
  3. death
  4. being a failure
  5. war
  6. heights
  7. criminal or gang violence
  8. being alone
  9. the future
  10. nuclear war.

That was before the economic stress we have experienced in the past few years, so I imagine that would be one of the answers if the poll were taken today.

Fear is different than the related emotional state of anxiety, which typically occurs without any perceived external threat.

When we are afraid we often want to escape and avoid, whereas when we are anxious we tend to perceive the threats as uncontrollable or unavoidable.

Some of us are more aware of our fears than others, for various reasons. Many of us have been taught to ignore our feelings all in the name of being good managers of our emotions! We are admired when we can pretend we aren’t afraid!

When we try to ignore or repress fear our bodies and our emotions still keep score! We develop many physical as well as psychological symptoms and diseases because we ignore or mismanage our fears and anxieties.

Fear can be described by different terms varying from mild caution to extreme phobia and paranoia. Fear is related to a number of additional cognitive and emotional states including worry, terror, horror, panic, and dread.

As an individual emotional state, fear can also affect the unconscious mind, where it can become manifested in the form of nightmares or night terrors.

Fear may also be experienced within a larger group or social network. In this way, personal fears that are compounded by social influence may become mass hysteria.

In faith communities we are often admonished that we are experiencing fear because we do not have enough faith.

In faith communities we are often admonished that we are experiencing fear because we do not have enough faith. I suggest that it is much more compassionate to respond to someone who is struggling with fear by first listening to what they are saying for quite awhile, tenderly helping them explore the details of the fear so we will have a better understanding of the situation.

God’s ultimate plan is for each of us to recognize our need for Him and we also need a supportive network of other people that will help carry us through difficult times. A scriptural model for this is the man who was lowered through the roof to where Jesus was teaching so that he could be healed. (Luke 5:17-20) His dedicated friends tirelessly supported him physically (and I’m sure emotionally) in order to get him help.

1 John 4:18 tells us that …”perfect love drives out fear….”

We might be more in line with God’s plan by becoming a ‘perfect lover’ to someone: simply hearing them share their fears without trying to fix them or giving them scriptures or lists of things to do to cover or smother their fears. When we as caregivers jump too soon to a solution we are not communicating love! So 1 Corinthians 13:1 might classify us as a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. We would do well to follow the formula in James 1:19 and “…speak little and listen much…..”

If you are affected by fears or anxiety negatively impacting your life or your relationships, we will listen. We have many caring therapists who can assist you in finding the best treatment for your situation.