“It’s Not My Fault” – Recognizing a Powerless Mindset

Danny Silk

If you are around children any amount of time, you’ll probably hear a familiar phrase during disagreements: “It’s not my fault.” From a very early age, we naturally learn to shift blame from ourselves to other people. If our parents and other influential people don’t teach us to be powerful and responsible for our choices, we will carry this powerless, responsibility-shifting behavior into adulthood. If your parents taught you to be responsible for your choices, then you should go home and thank them. It’s a rare gift.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of powerless adults running around out there. As much as they would like to be able to say they have learned to be powerful people, this is often not the case. They have simply disguised their powerlessness in other ways.

So how do we recognize a powerless mindset in ourselves and others? Here are 6 classic behaviors and experiences rooted in powerless thinking:

1. Powerless language

The first thing that reveals a powerless mindset is powerless language. Frequent use of 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 work. 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 a promise.

2. Fear-driven manipulation and control in relationships

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 to 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.

3. Belief that relationships are about receiving rather than giving

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. A powerless person will consume whatever another person will offer up.

4. Blame

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 own 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.

5. Anxiety-driven environments

Powerless people create an anxiety-driven environment wherever they go. At best, these environments have a thin veneer of safety and calm, which uncover 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. Then they have a choice. Will they stay in the anxiety and submit to the control of the powerless people, or go looking for a different environment?

6. Walls instead of healthy boundaries

Those who choose to stay in and attempt to survive in anxiety-filled environments usually develop a shield they believe is safe and impenetrable. The problem with this is what they think is shielding them from “scary” people is also preventing them from developing intimate connections with safe people. Their self-protection is not helping them become powerful; it is only keeping them from facing their fear of relationship. Often times, this self-protection shows up as a negative reaction to anything that feels or looks like confrontation, vulnerability, or intimacy. As a result, relationships are filled with anxiety. No one experiences the love, intimacy, vulnerability, or truth they need. Though some might call this having healthy boundaries, in actuality it is a wall preventing intimacy in relationships, and is an expression of powerlessness.

Breaking the cycle of a powerless mindset starts with the ability to see it, then taking action to change it. Repentance means to change the way you think. In order to repent from a life of powerlessness, you will need to identify the lies you believe and the influence those lies have in your life. Often lies become deeply rooted in a person’s core, requiring consistent work to dig them out and replace them with the truth.

Wherever you are at on the journey of becoming a powerful person, whether you have experienced  success or temporary disappointment, set your sights on the goal–to offer your whole heart to create strong, lasting relationships. There is no greater joy than the fruit of a life lived with power, responsibility, and freedom.




PS) Are you looking for more tools to help build and maintain healthy relationships? We offer a wide variety of free resources, including a podcast. You can access that here.

PSS) Have you identified some areas in your life that might require a shift from a powerless to a powerful mindset? Check out Relational Intelligence: 8 Traits of Powerful People.

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  1. this is great Danny, thank you, continue please to dig further into that idea of becoming powerfull, it helps a lot!
    Nathalie from France (we met once in weaverville)

  2. This is so good! I am a special education teacher who works with troubled boys at a treatment facility where most of my boy are diagnosed as emotionally disturbed and this describes my boys perfectly! I have noticed that fear is the driving force behind most of their behavior and they are very manipulative for the most part. Never realized that the fear would cause them to be manipulative. Thanks for this article. I really helps me understand my boys better!

  3. "Jedi" Danny, me and my wife are so thankful for the fruit of your life. A million thanks for the price you’ve paid to be such a well of life to many! Thank you!

  4. Thank you for encouraging and enpowering us to see the choices God gives us and to act out of honor and care. I am in a relationship with someone who is growing out of powerlessness, and sometimes the intimacy together is hard to maintain. Choices made out of fear and low self esteem, or alternatively, a high and mighty attitude disturb our peace and joy together. While I can continue to pursue peace and connection, I can only invite my partner to take responsibility for her choices and actions. Sometimes the hurt and unresolved situations cost us dearly in loss of peace and intimacy together. While I remain hopeful and persist in Christ to connect in loving ways, I realize that I can not build peace and intimacy between us on my own. I need my place of rest and strength in the Lord’s love to encourage and help me to endure and not get my care and love tripped up in the sometimes drama and trauma of our connection. Thank you for your perspectives and hard won wisdom.

  5. Thank you, Danny, for such great insights. I’m done with this in me and in my family…we are going to live powerful in Jesus’ name. Amen!! KYLO

  6. Thank you. This describes my wife of almost 20 years. She has been in this situation as long as I can remember (known her since 14 now 45). I would love to know how she got like that but most importantly how to get her out? Various talks always end up in shouting and then nothing and even a complete blank after asking her to read this article. She has little joy and "has" to clean to ocd levels, is never to blame for the anxiety ridden stresses that are wracking her body and causing her to persue various diets including gluten free despite not being allergic. She causes her own pain and uses it to isolate herself from family…. What can I do to help her( and the family) ?

  7. Re: Simon. I have something very similar going on. I have read KYLO and other resources and tried to apply them as much as possible, which for me has been helpful. But for our marriage, most of what I have tried to apply such as drawing a boundary even with kind words that I will not have a disrespectful and escalating conversation but will be happy to revisit later, has been rejected by her. I am pursuing inner healing tools on my own but they have been condemned by her. I feel I can continue to go against her unreasonable rejection like this and truly continue to get free or concede to her control and die an emotional and relational death. I choose to continue to pursue healthy freedom, but communicate it and live it out with KYLO type respect. Danby, any thoughts here? Thank you for these resources! Simon, praying for you.

  8. How do we maintain connection when trust is no longer in the relationship. I am a very high disc S, and C. I love connection, but I know I have stopped connecting with a church leader, because of integrity and trust problems. I’m required to "do connection" , but not sure what this looks like without trust.

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