The eloquent wisdom of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s words, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” is so profound and far-reaching that they became watchwords for an entire nation, and have, in less than a century, become so familiar that some might mistake them for cliché. But in fact they are as true today as when he said them, and as they were even before he gave voice to that eternal truth.
He knew that when people operate from a place of fear, they lose their power. That is not good for a nation at war. Nor is it good for anyone. And we are not talking about power over others, but personal power: the force within that gives focus and purpose to personality and ideas.
When we are able to grow into maturity with our personal power intact, or when we reclaim it, we choose to face our fears. If you have given your power away, you can get it back by confronting why you let it go in the first place.
Giving away power usually starts unconsciously and gradually. We are born not just with the capacity to love ourselves, but actually wired to do so. That self-love allows us to have self-esteem which allows us to operate from a place of personal power not fear. The loss of power can occur because of a monumental, traumatic event or can leak away slowly over the years.
We become aware of the “power loss” when it shows up as a significant issue or a repeated problem, for example within relationships. The fallout of power loss may present itself as–
Low self-esteem. (Note: this is more likely a cause, rather than an effect, of power loss though we notice it as a symptom). Low self-esteem can present as feeling bad about ourselves because we not living and acting in alignment with our essential self or our core values. We can go for a long time like that, but it takes a toll and with luck we figure it out so we can make the necessary shifts. (For more on valuing ourselves check out these links on self-esteem and self-confidence.)
Repeated problematic relationship patterns. When we get into a “second verse, same as the first” situation with each subsequent partner, it may be a clue to examine the source of our personal power to see if it has been breached. When we give our power up within a relationship, the results, sooner or later, are unhealthy.
Over-the-top stress. Stress is a part of life, but when one negative thing/experience/issue leads to another and another and another in a domino effect, until we are unable to function OR are functioning from a place of tremendous ill-health (mental and physical)—#redflag. Why is this happening? Has your ability to self-modulate and assert yourself leaked away with your personal power?
Poor health. Usually related to the above point (stress), illness and chronic pain are absolute side-effects of power loss. Many people erroneously believe that illness is an outside force that finds us and that we are all equally susceptible. Bad luck or good luck whether we are “found” by illness. Alas that is not always true. For some interesting facts about how our mental and emotional wellbeing links to physical health and vice versa, check out this informative blog by a friend and colleague, Teri Goetz.
Depression. When we feel helpless due to a perceived lack of control the effects are powerful and damaging.
Anger/victimhood. A common symptom of power loss is anger, even rage, often without a clear sense of why. This anger usually connects to our feeling like a victim, and we end up blaming others for our situation. If you find yourself using words like, “If he hadn’t…” or “She made me…” or “They were the ones who…” check yourself. Damaging in the extreme, victimhood can become a lifetime trap if we let it.
Unmet needs. Alas, when we turn our power over to someone else we lose out on having our needs met. You don’t have to be a total doormat to be missing out, but if you live in a way that values the needs of others over your own, and if you take care of pretty much everyone else before yourself, you may even believe you don’t have many—or any—needs. You may believe that you are “fine” and that taking care of others is your “mission” and “calling” and brings you joy. And it might. But what about you? Everyone has needs. Reclaiming your personal power will allow you to see to yours, which you can do without interfering with anyone else’s (i.e. you don’t have to choose).
Where does this power leakage begin?
Most often it begins in childhood when we quickly learn to give away our power to appease our parents, caregivers, family, etc. Children who assert themselves are often viewed as bossy, ungrateful and difficult. Though it is obvious how emotional and physical abuse can lead to children releasing their power in self-preservation, it can happen in families where there is none. Rigid authoritarianism, neglect, familial mental illness, withheld love, unintended but relentless upheaval and loss, and many other situations can give rise to an adult who has forgotten how to claim his or her personal power.
Why does it originate? Fear. The source of so many of our problems, both personal and global, is fear. What that feels like on a personal level: inadequacy, wanting to be accepted, anxiety about disappointing others, disappointing ourselves, change, responsibility, or losing a relationship. Fear really is the one thing that can bring us all down, just as FDR understood.
Stepping out of fear and back into your power is a major step to having a relationship with yourself that allows you to find love with another. So what is it that prompts us to want to regain our power? Usually it’s when the pain that results from living a life of fear instead of personal power becomes overwhelming. At that point, change is imminent and it is time to jump on the growing impulse. Don’t let yourself keep going down the old worn-out path no matter how familiar it is. If it does not serve you or your highest good, a new path can be forged….
You can take back your power. It requires some mindfulness and conviction, and it is helpful to have support along the way from friends, a personal coach, or therapist. This is not necessarily a “quick fix” but it is a permanent one and worth the effort.
How to step back into your personal power.
Love yourself. One hundred percent, complete and total self-love. And that includes emotionally, physically, spiritually. Look at yourself the way your best friend sees you. Recognize your brilliance, kindness, awesome sense of humor, spirit of fun… whatever it is—the great stuff. Look at the things you’d like to change (taking things too personally, being late, short temper) and the things you can’t. You may always be a little messy, or a little too neat. You may always cry at commercials or suck at math. Love all the pieces. Next: feel your feelings—wide open. Explore yourself. What makes you feel the best, what are your hopes and dreams, core values, relationship and life goals? Whatever they are—they belong to you and thus have ultimate value. This is a huge topic. Here is one of my previous blogs that helps with the steps towards manifesting self-love.
Face your fears. Sounds easy to say, hard to do, but honestly most of them are not so scary when you get them out into the light of day. Look at them for what they really are—a pack of lies and limiting beliefs that you’ve told yourself based on past experiences that no longer affect you. Your life, your future, and your self-esteem do not need to be limited by those fears. You are lovable, are loved, will be loved (by you and others). You are valuable, are valued, will be valued (by you and others). You can do that thing, you are doing it, and you will continue to do it, whether it’s write poetry, pay the rent, or ask someone on a date. A fear can only threaten you if you give it life.
Set and keep personal boundaries. Know what works for you and what doesn’t. Practice saying NO—to yourself and others— when something doesn’t feel right. If you are used to saying “yes” all the time, it may take a while for you to recognize the feeling inside you when you really should be saying “no.” But give it time. Sit still and quiet and listen to your inner knowing. The truth is in there.
You always have the choice to give your power away or step into it and be true to yourself. Choose to be true to yourself!