When We Are Powerless

Despite what we want to believe about life, there are so many instances where we are completely powerless.

A stifling traffic jam. A delayed flight. An unpleasant family member we must see every Thanksgiving. Rules and bureaucratic red tape that must be observed. Situations where another person refuses to comply with a reasonable request we have made.

There are, of course, much more painful and much less mundane instances of powerlessness in life as well. The passing of loved ones. Traumatic memories from our past that cannot be changed. Having to endure injustice with no immediate recourse to repair the situation. Senseless, random tragedies.

At best, these situations are frustrating and inconvenient. At worst, they’re heartbreaking and gut wrenching and painful beyond words.

Which is why, regardless of the situation, we try to avoid being powerless if we can.

But these instances of powerlessness are crucially important to our existence because being powerless allows us to see who we really are. Because there are things we can learn about ourselves in these moments that we are unable to learn at any other point in our lives. Because when we’re powerless, the only thing we can control is how we behave in each difficult, powerless moment.

Even though it’s unpleasant, part of learning about ourselves is identifying that we are powerless in these moments. That we are completely unable to control what is happening.

Identifying this powerlessness is not about adding insult to injury.

It’s about becoming more aware of our current reality. It’s about defining our experience and framing it in a way that allows us to get past the uncomfortable surface layer.

When we can acknowledge these truths, it gives us the freedom to examine the way we feel about being powerless. Where our mind goes when we are in these situations. The urges we have. How we try to escape. How we try to rationalize or deny our experience. Whether or not we’re able to remain compassionate toward others and ourselves. These are truly some of the most valuable things we can learn about the essence of who we are.

Given how much we can learn about ourselves in these situations, it’s possible that we are our realest, most true self when we are powerless.

But it’s not only about how we feel and react in moments of powerlessness. It’s also about how we feel and react once the moment has passed. How we transfer whatever we felt in that moment of powerlessness as we move forward and continue living our lives.

In some very important ways, life is principally about how we deal with being powerless. Because, unfortunately, so much of life involves navigating from one instance of powerlessness to the next. The silver lining of this reality is that within all of life’s powerlessness, we are granted the opportunity to find out who we really are.

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