Reading has always been an escape route towards adventure, comfort, or courage for me. When life becomes overwhelming or it loses its luster, the imaginary worlds defying routine and dressing life in poetic images full of promises and beauty, open my heart to the possibilities my reality denies. I feel renewed and emboldened. I am not alone, someone out there understands.
Nor that I need an excuse, but in these times of reclusion thousands of pages have piled up and I have spent many hours traveling in time to mythical places, walking side by side with beloved characters and uncovering ancient powers and mysteries. I am a sucker for well-written books, a beautiful metaphor, or an unexpected sentence. Spectacular use of words can make me drool. I collect them in a notebook! What they depict gets etched in my soul.
The plot, character development, arc, it is not enough for me, I want beauty and complexity, I want stories to tap into something undying, to transcend my mortality and limitations, to make me believe that no matter where I am at the moment, or who I am, there is hope. Something dormant might awake and I shall soar.
Beyond this world
Lately, I have been into reading fantasy in its many sub-genres. Some books have blown my mind, but many have left me wanting. I devour books, which makes me prone to frustration when finding well-written literature for mature adults dealing with this predilection for worlds of magic, fantastic creatures, and epic adventures become a challenge.
Which begs the question…
Why, do I want to keep reading this? What is the charm, the magnetic pull they have on me?
I realized that l am living vicariously through these characters. I long for my journey and opportunities to resemble theirs, I do not care about the implicit challenges and dangers because something precious is at the end of the tunnel. My characters might be vulnerable and in pain, they might face destruction, even death, but they are not powerless. On the contrary, there is always a source or destiny, dormant or not, they have access to, they might need to go on a quest and learn how to use it wisely and honorably, they might resist the call and make themselves deaf to the signs or words of advice, but the power is there and they can feel it.
My heart wrestles with my mind, as I always believed every one of us had a prophecy written in the stars, each one a chosen one waiting for one’s quest to unfold and powers to reveal themselves. More often than less, though, I feel void of power and at the mercy of outside forces squeezing my humanity from all divine spark and erasing any trace of courage from the soul. Exhausted, I resign and move with the mechanized and senseless rhythm that much of our society seemed submerged into nowadays.
Two conflicting stories living within me keep pushing to direct my steps. When I look back, I can see it has been this way for many years. But for the first time, I wonder. How much of me being or feeling powerless is a learned attitude? Have a made it a habit? An identity?
Undeniably, there are circumstances in life that can make things difficult to swallow, even break us. All the same, I can recall responses or reactions to events in life that saw me slipping into unconscious patterns of powerlessness so ingrained that I could not find a way out.
Repeat a lie and you will create an illusion of truth
Feeling powerless and being powerless Is not the same.
Those of us who have lived in oppressive regimens know for sure the difference, which does not make any easier to act upon or shake the fear and anger when faced with impossible situations.
As I ponder over how many things nowadays are on the verge of collapsing and the many challenges we face, I can see how powerlessness has become a dominating ideology permeating our society, families, and countries. We are told so many times a day that we are powerless, that we have come to believe it.
How far have I gone allowing this insidious habit to serve as a front for avoiding taking action to improve my life?
What does powerlessness do to us?
For starters, it diminishes self-esteem and crushes any sense of efficacy we have. It makes us look at every setback or mistake as confirmation of our unworthiness and incapacity to hold our lives together or thrive. It tears down our souls and victimizes us, we not only underestimate our inner and outer resources, but we also obliterate them and become a cog in a wheel that constantly reiterates our lack of power. We see ourselves as failures and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Do I bow my head and suffer silently, or is there another choice?
Saying Yes to life
When powerlessness is “learned”, it becomes self-perpetuating, we expect to have no input in the matter. I did not have a say in the past, I will not be able to control things in the future. Even when the external forces are no longer there, I still act as if I was under “the boot.” I find myself “asking permission” to do and be what I want and looking for ways to justify or validate my choices, or lack thereof.
I live no longer under an oppressive regimen, nor am I a child. Yes, there are things I need to sort out and sometimes frustration becomes me. I lose sight of all that I have gained and deflate in self-pity or freeze in the icy waters of self-doubt and self-criticism. I go into a survival-appeasing role and give away my power.
Overcoming learned powerlessness, is a gradual process to reclaim slowly but persistently, every human right and embrace all that encompasses YOU: quirks, dreams, weaknesses, strengths, the outstanding, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Of course, I would rather deal with my brilliant traits, but life has a maddening predilection for growth and expansion and it is a very creative “lesson planner” exposing us to “opportunities” we would happily give up if asked before-hand.
Powerlessness is always about the past and the future
We get to choose how to react to any given thought, emotion, or set of circumstances. The tricky part is doing such before we get all riled up! It is a learnable skill to foresee one’s triggers and sense the crushing weight of old patterns and beliefs coming over before they render us incapacitated. We can learn to prepare by gaining awareness of those situations that might sweep us into past scenarios, blinding us to the present.
I reckon that more often than I care to say, I am in need to “pluck myself out” the muddy waters of my default reactions instead. It is a work in progress. Yet…
Tiny steps can help me remember that in the now I have power
Some feelings are signals that something is out of alignment. “Feel” the storm and let it run its course. Take a few moments to breathe and center yourself. Ask: how the past might be triggering the primal brain’s mode of ‘fight, flight, or freeze”?
Recognition is an act of powerfulness itself
I am choosing to be present and not allow fear to render me a victim. I am reclaiming my territory. Look at the situation with today’s lenses and weight possible responses. Work with what feels accessible at the moment, no matter how small.
Powerlessness also comes from trying to absorb too much
Climb every mountain! Sang the nun in the sound of music, she did not say to do it in one day, though! Chunk it! Small actions and choices might be seen as naive or a waste of time, but if done consistently over time their accumulative effect can transform your life.
Ask for help.
Find someone to connect with that inspires you or can offer a shoulder. Reaching out gives us hope. No matter what you are going through, someone out there has gone through it. Human interaction can positively affect us and someone else. That is power too.
Smooth and unexpected
I started this article by sharing some of my reading habits. When we connect with a character, we are connecting with every single human being or archetype behind that character Powerfulness can rise from a story whose characters inspire us to act, be ourselves or spark our next great idea.
Focus on a vision
“He who has a why to live for can bear almost anyhow.”- Nietzsche
In his famous book “Man in Search of Meaning,” Victor Frankl * makes several references to those words. Frankl says that we are driven by a need for meaning in our lives and we could find it through creating something significant, relating, and caring for others or facing suffering with courage.
Change is personal
Inner power comes from owning “I matter, I am significant even if it is only to me.” I might not be able to change the world, but I have a say in my life. It comes from envisioning something outside us that aspires to transcend.
When we dedicate time and effort to a vision that is more significant than ourselves, success becomes a by-product of this dedication.
Meaning can be found in small daily actions, and there’s tremendous power in choosing how we face our circumstances and the way we relate to the outside world.
“What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task.”
One at a time… To overcome powerlessness, look into what gives meaning to you, no matter how insignificant or small you judge it to be. What you are called to fulfill is worthy to be explored and nobody but you can do so. Begin taking small steps for the pleasure of doing something you value, and let that something surprise you.
*Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist as well as Holocaust survivor.