First, let’s talk about what I mean by “power.” Some people may see the word and imagine an egomaniac, a dictator who tries to control what others think and do. But I don’t use the term “power” to describe how we treat others; instead, it’s how we compose ourselves.
Having power means you are in the driver’s seat when it comes to your role in relationships. It’s taking responsibility for how you feel and, more important, how you react. When you have power, you don’t try to control other people, only your reactions to them.
But here’s the thing: power comes and goes. We may lose our power during a stressful conversation or situation. Or we may find ourselves in personal and professional relationships that seem to suck it out of us.
Fortunately, it’s easy to get back in the driver’s seat. Here are three signs you’ve lost your power. And three ways to get it back.
1. You find yourself playing the victim.
My daughter has a very outgoing and vivacious personality. Me? I’m a total introvert. Sometimes when we spend time together I can feel a bit overwhelmed, which leads to feeling irritated, which leads to me blaming her for my bad mood.
But really, it’s not anyone’s fault. We have different ways of approaching and responding to the world. And in the end, I’m the one with the power over my mood and emotions.
Rather than sit and stew, I realize that the first sensations of feeling overwhelmed are my body’s way of asking for a break. When this happens, I excuse myself, find a quiet space to read, work, or just zone out, and then return when I’m feeling more like myself.
I don’t blame her; I take responsibility for my emotions. And because of that, we have a much better relationship. That’s power.
Here’s another example. My husband is a mediator. Often, he encounters parties on the opposite sides of their cases who are understandably stressed because of their personal workplace situation, lack of finances, and the ongoing contentious litigation of their case. As a result, they come to the mediation and immediately want to take their anger and fear out on their lawyers, the very people who are trying to help them resolve the case.
I’ve been in his shoes and can understand how easy it is to absorb the client’s anger and fears and get offended or, even worse, defensive. But, this immediate reaction only makes the situation worse, putting all of us in a position of total powerlessness.
Instead, my husband and I try to be mindful that when a conversation with a client — or with anyone for that matter — starts getting heated, it’s a sign all parties need to take a step back and get some perspective. The client’s anger is completely understandable considering the stress of the situation. But I’m in charge of how I respond to it. Rather than engage in a power struggle of who did or did not do something, I shift the conversation to focus on solutions.
When you feel yourself wanting to play the victim in a situation or relationship, it’s a sign you’re losing a grip on your power. By stepping back and gaining perspective, we can respond — rather than react — to the situation. Added bonus: by taking control of our emotions during a stressful situation, we’re able to act with integrity and thoughtfulness. This leads to much better results than coming from a place of anger and frustration.
2. You don’t find joy in what you do anymore.
My son is in his second semester of college. When he enrolled, he wanted to study psychology. It would be a good fit; he’s a very empathetic person. We encouraged him to pursue it as a major. But as he’s going through the coursework, he’s finding that he’s just not as passionate about the subject matter as he thought he would be.
Despite his lack of enthusiasm, my son feels obligated to pursue psychology as a major. He made a decision, he says, and now he has to see it through. (Can you imagine having that kind of conviction as a college freshman? I’m a lucky parent.) Now my husband and I are encouraging him to find a path he truly enjoys.
This will be his career, a major part of his life. If he’s not happy at work, chances are he won’t be happy at all.
I should know.
In law school, you spend the bulk of your time analyzing cases. I got this impression that becoming a trial lawyer was the only path to pursue. Why else go to law school, right?
But when I started doing the work, I realized I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would. It’s why I transitioned into running my own employment law practice. In addition to practicing law, I also get to manage a business. I truly enjoy overseeing a staff, searching for business opportunities, and managing client contacts. I never knew this was even an option as a career. But now that I’ve found it, I can’t imagine doing anything else.
If you find yourself losing your joy, take a step back. Look at what you love to do and try to do more of it. If you enjoy writing, for example, try to become the best writer ever. People will realize you’re good at it and give you more writing projects and less of the work you don’t enjoy.
For me, I started reading books on entrepreneurship. One in particular, The E-Myth, really had an impact on me. Slowly, I started thinking and acting like an entrepreneur. It’s how I got to where I am today. I gave myself the power to pursue what I love.
3. You let your emotional baggage control you.
Like I said earlier, so much of realizing your power is accepting responsibility for your actions, your thoughts, and, ultimately, your life.
Recently, a friend confided that she was having trouble with a colleague. For some reason, every time they worked together they ended up butting heads. My friend blamed the colleague for their issues, but inside she knew she was contributing to the relationship’s dysfunction. So she stepped back, did some soul-searching, and realized that the woman she was having trouble with reminded her of someone from her past. Whenever they interacted, my friend was reliving the pains of this old relationship. She realized that in order to get control of the situation, she had to address her emotional baggage.
Our past wounds are always threatening to take away our power. They shape how we view our relationships, they cause us to doubt ourselves and to blame others for our lack of confidence. Only by fully unpacking this emotional baggage and dealing with the items that cause us pain can we gain control of how we are contributing to situations that leave us feeling worse.
This isn’t always easy. And it’s okay to ask for help. Some people find talking to a therapist helpful. Others may benefit from meditation and yoga.
Sometimes, the first step to gaining control of our emotions and feelings is to admit that we don’t have control. By opening up and letting ourselves be vulnerable to our weaknesses, we can take back our power, and take back our lives.