Life Coaching Tip: As women, thanks to early conditioning from the patriarchy—we can get wedged into the “Powerless Trap” rather easily. However, once we shine a light of awareness on your brain’s trickery, it will be easier for you to address your mindset and create better habits that serve you. If I’ve piqued your interest, then, please read on. . . .
When I worked as a case manager at a community mental health agency years ago, my salary was less than stellar. To give you an idea of how low wages are in that profession . . . when my coworker’s husband was laid off from his job and they had to live off just my coworker’s salary for a few months, their family became eligible for food stamps and Medicaid.
To make matters worse, after working at this agency for a few years, we were told the organization wasn’t doing well financially—and the entire staff was forced to take a 20% pay cut while our productivity requirements were increased at that same rate.
When I think about this now, it seems so bananas! We were case managers, social workers, therapists, and nurses barely making more than poverty level.
Now you might think there was a staff uprising when the salary cuts were announced, but there was not. There was crying, complaining, and lots of hard feelings—all expressed behind the scenes.
I too was part of the pity party. Criticizing and blaming—the administration, political figures, ADAMHS board, “the system”—and this became a daily conversation at work, home, and dinner parties.
It was a dismal situation, for sure.
As the quality of care for our clients diminished and staff satisfaction declined, most of the staff eventually left to go work for the other community mental health agency in the county—for a salary and working conditions just slightly better than the one they’d left behind.
As for me . . . It took me another full year before I finally resigned—and when I think of it now, I wonder what took me so long?
Once again, bananas!
Of course, I cared deeply for my clients, and I was worried about leaving them behind—but I was equally concerned about our finances at home. Our daughters were teenagers—and one was getting ready to leave for college. I felt stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Today, I understand though that despite my helpless feelings, I was only stuck in my mindset—and certainly not for reals!
Even though my primal brain was messaging me otherwise, I had lots of options—but instead of exploring them, all I could think to do was complain, criticize, and blame others for my unhappiness and financial woes.
I was in the “Powerless Trap”, and it felt debilitating!
The “Powerless Trap” is another insidious tactic of the primal brain to keep us feeling stuck in our (often uncomfortable) “comfort zone”. No doubt, we’ve all experienced this trickery by the subconscious mind to keep us from up leveling our lives at one time or another.
When we’re in the “Powerless Trap”, we feel like we are a victim of life’s circumstances. We believe we have no ability to make changes or take control of our destiny, so we willingly give up our power.
We let ourselves off the hook—blaming others for our circumstances— and don’t accept accountability or personal responsibility for our actions. Conveniently then, we don’t have to risk vulnerability or do the other hard work that is required to stretch and grow.
Instead, we chronically complain about other people and our circumstances—even though these accusations have little to do with reality. We subconsciously block the flow of positive energy, reinforce our hopeless story, and keep ourselves stuck in misery.
When you’re in the “Powerless Trap”, you . . .
- Obsess over negative situations—but aren’t genuinely interested in finding solutions.
- Are quick to judge, criticize and blame others.
- Rarely accept personal responsibility and feel defensive when your story is questioned.
- Feel excessively concerned about fairness and “keeping score”.
- Secretly feel angry or resentful of other people’s success.
- Deep-down believe that other people have it easier than you do.
- Minimize positive events and good news, while continuing to repeat the same, sad tales.
- Are extremely risk adverse.
If you recognize yourself here, then despite what your primal brain has told you—you can get yourself out of the “Powerless Trap”.
Now, based on the list you just read, you might not be happy about or accept this as good news. Yes, the very first step to getting out of the “Powerless Trap” is to be willing to give up your story of being powerless.
I realize this seems like a no-brainer, but it’s not as easy as it sounds!
We humans cling to our stories about who we are—our identities—even when our stories are not working well for us.
This too is the dirty work of the primal brain that sees being wrong about our identities as a threat to our safety. Subconsciously, we need to know that our perception of who we are is solid. Often, we would rather stay unhappy in the comfort of the familiar than risk the dangers of the unknown.
In her book, “Badass Habits”, author Jen Sincero writes:
“Because of our hell-bent dedication to being right, when it comes to our favorite topic—ourselves—we will defend our identities to the death even if we’re miserable and our identities aren’t something we’re proud of.”
So, if your brain is resistant to this change, how do you let go of the identity of being “powerless” and become “empowered”?
As always, awareness is the key.
You can start by asking yourself the following questions . . .
What do I think about myself? How do I talk about myself?
What beliefs—consciously or subconsciously—am I buying into because of identifying myself this way?
When I think about my goals and dreams, what comes up for me emotionally?
How am I trying to avoid these emotions?
What payoff am I receiving by staying in the “Powerless Trap”?
Staying curious without judgement or shame and asking yourself the hard questions is some of the best work you can do to regain your power. Shining a light of awareness on your thoughts and beliefs about your identity can be a game changer!
And if you recognize yourself as a chronic complainer, criticizer, judge, and/or blamer, you can take steps to correct this habit too:
- Challenge yourself to stop participating in these behaviors.
- Observe the critical statements that fly out of your mouth and swirl around in your brain.
- List these critical statements down into two columns: Column A = statements that are about real problems that you can do something about; Column B = all others.
- Take personal responsibility—do your best to handle your column A list.
- Then, make a firm decision to release all items on your column B list.
- Plan to repeat this process again and again, just as soon as your old complaining habits reappear—and they will! (Old habits that originate in your subconscious mind do not go down without a fight. However, this is a fight you can win!)
Although it takes courage, effort, and a willingness to be uncomfortable to live in your fullness— there is no other real option. You are not here to sit on the sidelines and criticize the world like a grumpy armchair quarterback.
You have more important things to do.
You are needed on the field!
You are here to activate your gifts and talents–to take up space, speak up, and be seen.
You have so much to offer—don’t relinquish your power.
Allow yourself to be so caught up in your own brilliance that there’s no room to focus elsewhere.
Sister . . .
You are capable.
You are fierce.
You are POWERFUL!
When your soul gets all fired up and you shine, the world expands—and your spirit feels a whole lot brighter!
PS – If you are feeling triggered after reading my message today–please know that it is never my intention to guilt or shame anyone for having the natural feelings of anger, resentment, sadness, grief, disappointment, envy, etc. And it’s certainly not my intention to “victim blame.” I understand that hard circumstances such as loss, injustice, violence, discrimination, inequality, poverty, etc. are part of the human experience—and it’s healthy and necessary to allow, acknowledge, and process your feelings.
BUT. . . if this has become a life pattern for you—one that is getting in the way of your fulfillment—then, I encourage you to get some support, so you can finally move forward. When you’re blaming the entire world for your suffering, you’re not actually attending to your true pain or helping yourself to heal. Be kind and compassionate to yourself, my friend.