Thursday, May 05, 2022

Feeling Powerless And The Reaction After

 One of the things that is coming to the fore, between trying to think more and read more Stoicism and meditate more on God, is the need to be ruthlessly honest with one's self.  There cannot be the willingness to avert one's eyes from the weak points of one's character and personality.  To use a martial arts analogy I am familiar with, one has to persevere to have the inner self match the mirror-like sheen of the polished blade.

With that in mind, I was brought up short this week when I consciously realized that I combat feelings of powerlessness with bad habits and sin.

It absolutely follows like clockwork:  I am in a situation or in a meeting or receive an e-mail which somehow makes me feel as if I have no power, whether to impact the situation or turn down the request or simply to somehow "fight back" against the perceived infringement.  And right after that, my instincts will kick in and I will do any number of things which are not great: overeat or another bad habit or simply become angry and irritated and lose focus for hours on end.

The reason I do it is pretty straightforward to me: being made to feel powerless, I lash out by doing something that is within my power to do. The better question is why do I think that this somehow improves the situation?

Because it never does, really. Then I get to feel bad about two things:  the initial incident where I felt powerless and then whatever I did afterwards to avert the feeling of powerlessness.  What I need is to come up with a more effective way to deal with it.

I would like to say that it is simply a matter of me being able to calmly and rationally think through the situation, realize what is happening, admit that I am feeling that way, and then turn my attention to something that I can control that is healthy and do that.  I say that.  It sounds very intellectual and thoughtful, and not at all how I deal with these things in the heat of the moment.

So perhaps in desperation I will throw the question to the wider audience:  What do you do when you feel that you are powerless in a situation and are looking for a positive alternative instead of dwelling on the situation or what you cannot do?

20 comments:

  1. I delay action for more time. More time always makes me remove myself from the heat of the moment where decisions are never best and get to a point where I can make rational decisions. It isn’t popular among those it affects who want instantaneous answers but it has proven time and again to be best for me.

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    1. Ed, that is wise advice. In point of fact, I find that if I can just distract myself with another task, it will accomplish the same effect.

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  2. TB, being able to analyze Self like that is not common, I think, but extremely useful. Excellent insight.

    To answer your question, if I'm feeling powerless in a situation, I play a sort of mind game with myself.

    1. List my options. There are always options. I'm not saying they are always logical or desirable, but they are there.
    a. quit
    b. find a new job
    c. complain
    d. tell the person off
    e. rebel
    f. sabotage
    g. revenge
    h. comply willingly
    i. comply under protest
    j. etc.

    2. Analyze the consequences of each. The challenge here is that this requires some objectivity. If it's a job, quitting will lead to economic consequences without a backup plan. Finding a new job may be an option, although it's not an immediate solution, and there are no guarantees a new job will be any better. Complying willingly might feel like surrender. The other options are emotional reactions, which, when acted upon rarely end well.

    3. Remind myself that I have a greater objective, i.e. a life goal. That I'm usually in the situation as a means to an end. Many of mine were about the choices we made to educate our children (homeschooling). In your case, you have the goal to eventually relocate to The Ranch. Sometimes getting our duckys in a row requires a few sacrifices along the way.

    I guess the actual goal with this exercise is to disengage myself from an emotional reaction and acknowledge that I do indeed have choices. So if I comply, it's because, ultimately, I choose to comply. Just knowing there are options helps me feel more deliberate in my actions and less like a victim.

    In the end, I have to remind myself that I may not have control of my circumstances, but I always have control of my attitude. Or should have. I suppose that's akin to walking by faith and not by sight.

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    1. Leigh - Oh, so much wisdom here. I never really thought about listing out all - all of - the actually outcomes ("revenge" as an option - lovely!). And listing the consequences is something I have done accidentally, but not in a thoughtful fashion.

      Greater Objective: this is something I keep coming back to with a vengeance lately. What are my real objectives, and how do I get there (and what do I really need to do versus what I think I need to do).

      The disengagement of the emotion is probably the biggest thing I need to work on - which actually is a big part of Stoicism, as I am finding out (so that has been a handy dovetailing of practice and need). Also, controlling what is in our control - ourselves, our decisions, our actions - instead of worrying about all that we cannot control is another struggle.

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  3. Anonymous5:00 AM

    I tend to overthink it and obsess on how I can fix it 'if only'. Then come to realization I will have to accept what is happening if it is beyond my control.

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    1. This is something I am coming to grips with directly thanks to reading I am doing with the the Stoics, especially Epictetus. I cannot control anything but my own actions and my own feelings. And - a more recent quote I am note sure who originally said - I am not responsible for winning the game with the hand I am dealt, only doing the best I can with it.

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  4. Hmpfff. I do the same things you do. Or at least, I used to when there was too much drama in my life…

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    1. Heh heh Glen. Yes, probably drama plays more than a little part in this. To be fair, most of this specifically comes from interpersonal relationships, not from general "life".

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  5. Take time to pray about it. A few moments with God seeking his wisdom in each situation is always beneficial.

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    1. Old Al - I do not that nearly enough as I should - I often think that prayer is some very formal thing, not a simple ask of the Father. This is something I am working through.

      Thanks for stopping by!

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  6. Nylon126:02 AM

    Wanted to see the family MD ASAP, not bad enough to visit the ER so called the appointment center. Told the earliest I could see any MD at my clinic was 6 days away or another MD at another clinic in 3 days. Geeez.....I waited and waited on the phone thinking...thinking which choice when the scheduler said wait! Can you make it to your clinic in 45 minutes, there's been a cancellation just come in. That hesitation on my part made me think, take a few seconds to make a decision. Was it Luck, Kismet or Him that made me hesitate? I believe I know, hope there was a point discernable in this rambling TB.

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    1. There was Nylon12, there was - sometimes the best thing we can do is simply play for time.

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  7. I crave clarity. And that is what you wrote! Clarity. You can't get anywhere unless you know where you are! And you have over half the battle licked by realizing that.

    In reading your post, I realized I mirrored that behavior when I was at work. I'd be hurt or mad, then I would usually rebel. Or be maliciously compliant. Kind of reminds me of the dogs that chew the house apart after you discipline them. Or pee and poop in an inconspicuous place out of spite.

    My reaction at home was to just ignore it if I can. "If it's important, they will revisit this." That usually gave me time to think. But usually resulted in paralysis. I'd just sit and sour.

    After my head injury, I changed completely. When I feel powerless, I try to find something to do that moves me towards a personal goal... Usually after bellowing out "Oh HE!! NO!!!" Or "What the ever-loving heck!!" or something similar. My behavior changed within a month of being hurt. It just happened without effort or thought. Enough so, that I am shocked still at my responses to this stimulus.

    My therapist said I should study PTG... Post Trauma Growth. I didn't even know that was a thing.

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    1. Thank you STxAR. That is what I am hoping for.

      The dog example is a good one (and pretty much a good representation - graphic and right on).

      Interesting that it changed post injury. Maybe an accidental "for the better change"? I have never heard of Post Trauma Growth, but am looking it up.

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  8. Anonymous9:14 AM

    Probably not the best suggestion, but being a great people watcher I have watched people "lose it". I try to remember how ridiculous they looked and not make a display of myself. Takes a moment of thought, though. Good luck, Julia

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    1. It is not ridiculous Julia. I have used that thought several times myself based on "performances" I have seen.

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  9. Comment section better again! Congrats!

    I focus on the concept that, for the most part, it's simply not personal. It might seem that way, but outside of my close family and friends, most people just don't think about me very much.

    I also take a deep breath and push back and examine my anger. Why is it? When I have the "why" I can work against it.

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    1. Thanks John! It is actually the topic of tomorrow's post; hopefully someone can learn from my struggle.

      You are right of course; most people could care less (than perhaps a passing fancy) about a lot of things about what I am doing and how I am acting (much to my actual disappointment sometimes; I somehow believe myself to be more than the proverbial "fist in the bucket of water".

      You are speaking of the "between" moment, or the space between action and reaction. I am struggling to increase that space.

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  10. Doing some catching up here, I landed on this post when I'm experiencing a situation that fits what you're talking about, TB. I've started to write about it, but the situation is just so maddening and convoluted (let me just say it involves taxes, the IRS, and the impossible task of connecting with a live person at this point in time). It's ridiculous stuff that makes a person's head spin, and then makes a person want to bang spinning head against a brick wall.

    I don't have a great answer to your question, but in this situation that is so completely out of my control (and is no fault of my own), I am trying not react in the way and to the degree that my spirit wants to.

    I am doing what I can, one step at a time, and trying not to let the "between" moments be my downfall. Though I admit... today I did a fair bit of emotional eating after wasting a couple of hours on the phone. But then later in the afternoon I decided to distract myself with some blog reading, and may even get a post up on my own blog after being MIA for a few weeks. My situation still looms, but for the moment, doing something that feels productive and feeds my spirit is better than what I was doing just a couple of hours ago. :^/

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    1. Becki - Taxes are maddening, and likely nothing more maddening that the situation where one cannot speak to a live person when one needs to is undoubtedly all the more frustrating. What I have been trying to do is write more thoughtfully in my journal and read more philosophy and pray more.

      What comes across as I do all of this is exactly what you suggest: ultimately I cannot control the situation, other people, the weather, even (good heavens) my own body. All I can do is control my own thoughts and reactions and make choices to act, think, and speak differently. God ultimately is in control of the situation. I can (and should) pray where appropriate; other than that worry and frustration buys me nothing except anxiety and bad habits or behavior.

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