In the current times, government control is at an all-time high.
And it’s politicians who set the rules. They decide who gets to leave their house. They stipulate how many people can meet each other, and what shops and services can open. These people choose who needs to wear masks, how much distance we have to keep from each other and what fines people face if they don’t obey.
This increasing shift of power towards the state, whether justified or not, shows us far we have drifted away from values like personal responsibility, autonomy and empowerment.
We are now living in a world where we need to trust governments to make the right choices for us, rather than choosing what type of life we want to live and how we interact with our community.
Instead of exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet and reducing stress in our day-to-day life, we take prescription medicine from doctors without considering its side effects. We support a government that closes gyms and swimming pools even though we know that diabetes and obesity are risk factors for respiratory viruses.
And mind you, this is not a critique of our governments.
We see this shift of responsibility wherever we look. From the people who choose a job to please their parents to those who buy a large house to impress their friends or take out a loan to pay an expensive restaurant bill on their date.
And if we’re really honest with ourselves … we can see that the same applies to us. We do things not because we like them, but because we want to look good and meet the expectations of the people around us.
The reactions and emotions we anticipate from friends, parents, relatives and mentors can influence our life choices and steer us in a direction we don’t want to go. Away from the topics we care about.
And the way in which the media and governments are responding to this crisis only serves show us how far removed we are from our own power.
So, for everyone who despairs when governments encroach upon our fundamental rights and fear-mongering media institutions tell us what to think, this article can help you release that feeling of powerlessness and regain some form of control and happiness over your life.
Heal experiences of powerlessness
Constantly changing rules and policies might make you feel like there’s nothing you can do to change a bad situation.
But we have more power and more options than we think.
Suppose you are feeling desperate because your boss fired you and you think you’ll never get a job in your industry. You could broaden your horizons and look for new opportunities to offer value to the community.
Or if you are disheartened because online university isn’t living up to your expectations, you could start a cool project on the side or defer a year to do something else.
The key to overcome that feeling of powerless is to take action and find new ways to change your life.
Of course, you will not be able to change everything.
You can’t expect to overturn a lockdown in your country in a matter of days – but you can go to protests, move to a different country or find new ways to benefit from the public policy.
And if you still feel hopeless, and think that things won’t change anyway, it might be easier to transform your thoughts and heal negative emotions.
Therefore, we’ll dive into three ways you can overcome those feelings of powerlessness.
1. Look on the bright side of life
It’s easy to feel like the whole world is against you, when things don’t go your way. Maybe you’ve lost your job and don’t know how you’ll pay your rent next month, you find out that you’ve been diagnosed with an uncurable disease, or you get unjustly accused of committing a crime and are taken into custody.
But no matter how dire or painful these experiences feel:
‘There’s a silver lining to every cloud that sails about the heavens, if we could only see it’ – Katy Macane, 1840
It’s about finding that silver lining and being grateful for the lessons you can learn about yourself.
For example, in this heartfelt letter, a prisoner describes how even though he would love to go back to the real world instead of remaining behind bars, he is thankful for the time he has been given to re-evaluate his life, overcome his righteousness, and help other people going forward.
Similarly, every crisis you face in your life is an opportunity to develop and grow. Here are a few questions to help you look on the bright side of life and transform negative life events:
- What can I learn from this experience?
- How did I create this experience for myself? Which of my action or thoughts contributed to this experience?
- What can I do to make the most of the current situation?
- What can I do to improve this situation for myself?
2. Acknowledge your subjective judgement
You can also stop feeling powerless by letting go and acknowledging that you ultimately, we as human beings, can’t judge whether an experience in our lives is positive or negative.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we tend to look at the world only from our own perspective – and sometimes the experiences that make us feel hopeless and depressed are another person’s greatest joy.
For example, if you were living without a roof over your head and always concerned when you would get your next meal, you would probably envy the dishes and bath provided to a federal prisoner.
And even if you are miles into debt, have lost everything or struggling with a terminal illness, you will also find someone who is more miserable and more challenged than you.
The second thing to keep in mind is that we never know what good might come out of a difficult situation. For example, one of my relatives was deeply frustrated that she fired from her job, but her rejection ultimately motivated her to start her own successful business.
Often, it’s tough experiences like this that can steer us in a much better direction that we originally had in mind. Without the termination notice, my relative would have probably remained in the same job for the next 5-10 years, but this experience was like a life test that challenged her to look for new opportunities and change the way she thought about her own capabilities.
Similarly, this week I was frustrated about the new coronavirus rules which banned launching fireworks in my area. I was shattered, and close to tears, because watching an array of colours burst into the sky at midnight has always been one of the highlights of the year. And for the politicians to take this opportunity from me seemed devastating.
But then I considered how much better off my dog would be – she is incredibly scared of loud noises. I also thought about how we are helping the environment, and how much of a relief this must be for the emergency departments on New Year’s Eve.
So, I while I enjoy watching fireworks, I had to acknowledge that launching rockets into the sky is not even aligned with my values around animal welfare and environmental protection. A painful lesson, but definitely a lesson learnt!
Now it’s up to you. How could you transform your thoughts to look at a past event from another angle?
3. Practise forgiveness
The third tip I can recommend is to forgive yourself (and everyone involved) for getting yourself into situations in which you feel powerless. Instead, you can develop new ideas to help you feel more empowered.
For example, if you lost your job in a lay-off, you can sit around and whine for months that can’t find new work, you can blame your boss for sacking you, or you can brush off failure and get back into the job-hunting game.
Whether you allow yourself to remain caught up anger and disappointment or whether you get back on your feet to make change happen has a tremendous effect on how you feel and your life as a whole. In fact, it’s the difference between people who spend their entire lives washing dishes and scrubbing floors versus those who succeed against all odds, whether that be in poverty, amidst sexual abuse or even through childhood neglect.
To become part of this second group of people, it is important to practice forgiveness and take responsibility for everything in your life.
I would recommend creating a list of all the people you want to forgive, all the people you want to ask for forgiveness and all the things you want to forgive yourself for. Then, you can perform a small forgiveness ritual in which you let go of past (or present) experiences.
Here are some forgiveness phrases to get you started:
- I forgive …. for doing … to me.
- I ask for forgiveness for ….(something you’ve done).
- I forgive myself for ….
For very hard-to-forgive or painful experience, you might have to repeat these phrases several times. This can help you forgive multiple dimensions of a certain experience.
For example, if you were bullied in school for being too fat, this is what a sequence of forgiveness could look like:
“I forgive [name] for bullying me. I forgive her for insulting me, for calling me names. For saying mean things about my parents, my body and the way I look.
I ask for forgiveness for not intervening when I saw other kids being bullied. For the times when I ridiculed or embarrassed others and made them feel bad about themselves.
I forgive myself for failing to take better care of my body. For lacking the confidence to stand up to the bullies and defend myself. I forgive myself for engaging in self-harm as a result of the bullying. For being scared to go to school every day. And I forgive myself for hiding from the bullies.
I forgive myself and all involved people, and I am grateful I could forgive. I am grateful I’ve been forgiven. Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
If, after applying this framework, you still feel powerless and have a hard time forgiving, check out my free guide on ‘How to forgive people and start letting go’.
In this guide you’ll learn why blaming others can make you feel miserable. You’ll also discover how to use the ‘Reverse Perspectives Technique’ to start feeling grateful for the past and present.