How often have you felt powerless in your life – victimized by people or circumstances, drained by obligations and expectations, stuck in situations that felt out of your control to change? Feeling powerless can happen to all of us and it is one of the most common causes for anxiety and depression.
But although we feel as if someone or something outside of us has taken our power and is in control of us, in reality we are usually giving our power away, often without noticing that we do. Early on in our lives, when we completely depend on the adults around us, our subconscious mind develops three distinct survival patterns; to avoid, to please and to control. These deeply ingrained patterns are the major reasons, even as adults, we still lose our power.
Avoiders are very sensitive to criticism, rejection and failure. They try to escape potential hurt through making themselves smaller or even invisible. They hide in a small and controllable comfort zone and preemptively loath and bash themselves, before anyone else can do this to them. Outside of their refuge, avoiders vigilantly scan their surroundings for any signs of judgment or danger. Being keenly aware of their surroundings, they often absorb other people’s energies and emotions, which makes them feel easily overwhelmed and even less safe. Avoiders don’t only give their powers to the assumed threats from the outside, they also deny themselves any sense of empowerment, because in their mind feeling confident and positive only increase the risk of getting hurt.
Pleasers discover that their best bet to escape painful rejection or abandonment is to make sure that everyone is “ok” with them. Their pleasing behavior can range from being the chameleon, who is able to fit in everywhere; the care-taker, who feels overly responsible for others, to the perfectionist or overachiever, who needs other people’s approval and adoration to feel safe and secure. Pleasers give their power away by making their sense of safety and worthiness dependent on the approval of others. In contrast to avoiders, pleasers seek connection and are afraid of being alone, because on a subconscious level, they have no solid relationship with themselves, and therefore believe that they can’t make it on their own.
Controllers want to establish a sense of safety, and strive to micromanage all aspects of their lives. In the extreme they can take on the role of being the authority and strictly enforce their ideas and rules through anger, threats and punishment. By controlling others through instilling a sense of insecurity and powerlessness, they feel more empowered and secure. However, underneath this dominating behavior often reside profound feelings of inferiority, vulnerability and pain, which stem from traumas and confusion from their childhood. Like avoiders and pleasers, controllers ultimately drain their power trying to manage their deep-seated anxieties and lack of self-worth through focusing on the world outside of them.
Now, don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong per se with any of these patterns. In fact, most of us utilize them in various aspects of our lives. We may please our boss at work to increase our chances for a promotion; we may avoid the complaining neighbor next door; and we may feel the need to control our kids or the new puppy, when they don’t behave the way we want them to.
The problem arises, when we are unconsciously relying on these strategies to cope with our own anxieties and insecurities. Because no matter how many people we have avoided or kept successfully at arm’s length; and no matter how many we have “wowed,” made happy or controlled – in the end we may still end up feeling powerless. We have been defining ourselves through circumstances and people around us, and thus making them more important than ourselves.