In order to be able to make and keep the commitments involved with enduring, intimate relationships, you need to be a certain kind of person. You need to be a powerful person.
Powerful people take responsibility for their lives and choices. Powerful people choose who they want to be with, what they are going to pursue in life, and how they are going to go after it.
Unfortunately, most of us did not grow up to be powerful people. If you were blessed to have parents who taught you to be responsible for your choices, then you should go home and thank them. It’s a rare gift!
Most people don’t know that they can be powerful, or even that they ought to be. They are trained from a young age that someone else is responsible for their decisions, and all they have to do is comply and obey. This sets them up to struggle in multiple aspects of life, particularly with building healthy relationships.
For those of us committed to becoming powerful people, our first step must be identifying where we haven’t been powerful. So, here are four easy ways to spot powerlessness...
1) Powerless Language reveals a powerless mindset.
Frequent use of the phrases “I can’t” and “I have to” is a hallmark of a powerless person. “I can’t do that. It’s too hard. I have to clean the kitchen. I have to go to school. I have to spend time with so-and-so.” All of these statements say, “I feel powerless to take responsibility for my actions, so I will say that someone or something else is making me do it.”
Powerless people also throw in “I’ll try” to absolve them if they do not come through on a commitment or promise. Just imagine standing in front of the preacher on your wedding day and saying, “I’ll try.” This language is rooted in powerlessness, in the belief that you don’t have power to manage yourself.
2) Powerless people approach relationships as consumers.
They are always looking for other people who have resources of love, happiness, joy, and comfort to offer in a relationship to share with them, because they don’t have any. They subconsciously think, You look so happy. I need some of that happy in my life. We should get together so I can consume all of your happy. A powerless person will consume whatever another person will offer up until the life of a once-happy, radiant flower has been mown to dirt. If you don’t believe me, talk to anyone who has been in relationship with a powerless person. They will suck you dry—if you let them.
I have a friend who is married to a man with a debilitating victim mentality. She could never do enough and constantly struggled to live up to his impossible expectations. They recently separated because he refuses to take responsibility for his unhappiness. Since she has been on her own, she’s like a flower getting sunshine for the first time. She’s sleeping, losing weight, wearing makeup, and doing her hair. Her happiness is no longer being consumed by a powerless person.
3) Powerless people often blame the messes they make on other people.
The reason their life, marriage, child, finances, job, or whatever is the way it is has nothing to do with their choices. Someone else—their parents, their spouse, their teachers, society—created the life they’re living. They don’t have the power to create their own lives.
4) The defining, driving force of a powerless person is anxiety.
Life is scary when you are powerless, when you live in a world where you believe most things and most people are more powerful than you. It’s scary to feel your life is out of your control.
Powerless people have a deep need to suppress and assuage their abiding fear—fear of loss, pain, death, abandonment, and more. But because they do not have the power deal with their fear, their only hope is to persuade other people to do it for them. They need other people to share their power with them, because they don’t have any of their own. They need other people to protect them, make them happy, and take responsibility for their lives. And the only way they believe they can get people to do this is to try to control and manipulate them. Control can look aggressive like a T-Rex or passive like a lamb, but in either case, the root problem is the same—fear.
Powerless people create an anxiety-driven environment wherever they go. At best, these environments have a thin veneer of safety and calm, which cover underlying currents of control and intimidation. Those who enter their atmosphere quickly learn to shape up and go with the program—until it dawns on them that they will never be safe to “just be themselves” around that person or group.
If any of these feel like a mirror to your own life, welcome to the human race!
Now that we’ve identified the powerlessness in our lives, let’s replace these patterns and mentalities with powerful ones. On the next blog, we’ll discuss step two!
PS) If you enjoyed this blog, I think you would love Communication Hacks, a resource I’ve made available for free. In it, we discuss the communication habits of powerful people. If interested, download here.
PPS) As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts below!