Perspective/emotions on a situation changed? Self, self-help, fiction?
April 3, 2013 3:33 PM   Subscribe

Have you felt one way that was impotent or powerless, but now you feel calm and empowered? And the only thing that changed was you?

I'd like to learn how to make this more likely to happen to me. I'm looking for personal examples, self-help-type book examples, and examples in fiction. What happened? How did you do it? Or how did it happen to you?

The example I can think of is feeling dejected or powerless when having to deal with an authority figure, and now, say, you pity them and it's easy to genuinely effectively interact with them.
posted by zeek321 to Human Relations (16 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Haven't explored this blog much, but this is from a post at Generation Meh and is pretty apt:

I’ve started shifting my mindset away from looking a life as a capricious and overwhelming storm and me as a rag doll it tosses around. I’ve been realizing that I’ve been giving away my power and my agency by telling myself a story in which I have no choices and all of my actions are reactive and instinctual rather than deliberate and thoughtful. I have to do X. I wish I had the strength for Y, but I just don’t. Contrast that with I could be doing A, B or C, but for the present, X meets my immediate needs. This doesn’t mean it is a long-term commitment; I can reassess its value whenever I want and/or change course. How much more empowering is it to say, “My immediate needs are shelter, food and student loan payments. My job provides me with the capacity to meet these needs, therefore I choose to commit my time to working at it” than it is to say, “I hate my job, but I can’t find anything else. The economy sucks and I’m just stuck here.”

In both cases, you’re working at a job that is less than ideal, but in the first example, you’re asserting your agency and acknowledging this is a choice you make in order to derive certain benefits and in the second, you’re denying your agency and casting yourself as a victim of circumstances who needs outside intervention to succeed. Guess which version of you sleeps better Sunday nights?....

posted by kettleoffish at 3:56 PM on April 3, 2013 [4 favorites]

Yes. Absolutely. And I swear to you, the only thing that changed: I started regularly taking long walks by myself.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 5:05 PM on April 3, 2013 [4 favorites]

Yes. I decided that nobody cared but me, and I didn't want to live and die afraid.
posted by ead at 6:16 PM on April 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

I got older.

Also, lots of therapy, 'cause, you know...the answer here is always, "therapy."
posted by vivid postcard at 6:48 PM on April 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

Yes, I stopped trying to empower myself. Voila. Empowered.

I'm exaggerating, but only a little.
posted by shivohum at 7:19 PM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Keeping a journal, talking to a sounding board or blogging are the ways this usually happens for me.
posted by Michele in California at 7:25 PM on April 3, 2013

I stopped with the labeling, the self-fulfilling emotional states. I decided that saying I was neurotic was making me neurotic. And similarly, labeling my outlook as pessimistic or "realistic" (the last vestige of the pessimist) was making me pessimistic. I still had mostly the same feelings, outlook etc, but I stopped needing to label it. Just thoughts, opinions, feelings. Not defining perspectives or characteristics . Changed a great deal for me in the same sort of self-fulfilling way. But a good one, this time.
posted by atomicstone at 7:50 PM on April 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

What problems are you facing—and what are some potential solutions? Make a list. Then figure out who to talk to (or what is within your means, if they're more personal and less work-related) in order to get the items on that list fixed. You don't even have to have solutions—just make a list of the problems. Sometimes that alone can clarify things, or at least give you something to bring to, say, a boss, or bring up in a meeting at the right time later on.

Even if you're not rich, if you have more money than time to deal with a certain problem, can you throw money at it? I'm not saying be profligate—but if there are some easily identifiable friction points in your life, buying something to fix them can feel very empowering. It could even be as simple as (as frequently recommended on AskMe) having a pair of scissors (or other commonly used tool) in each room, or it could be as extravagant as getting your car detailed so you feel better about it and more in control of things.

Along those lines, don't cheap out on tools for your work or hobbies if it's going to leave you feeling sheepish or even hinder your progress. Spend a little more to get something that will do the job without embarrassing you or holding you back, and you'll feel a lot better about what you're doing.

If you have more time than money, what habits can you start now that will make your own circumstances calmer and more organized? Keeping yourself Zen will help you deal with people who project their own personal hellstorm onto everyone around them.

Think about the main principle of judo: using your opponents' momentum against them, stepping to one side and letting them throw themselves. Then there's the improv principle of "Yes, and..." If an authority figure is freaking out at you beyond reason, don't get fazed by it; take that energy and up the ante. When someone comes to you screaming, "Did you know about this?!" just calmly say "Yes. And it's fine—I already planned to fix it in X way."

This requires situational awareness and planning, of course—don't let them catch you off-guard. You know how in video games, once you've played long enough, you get to know exactly where the spawn points are for various demons, and thus can avoid triggering them? Some people are like that, too; just walking into the same room as them sets them off, because they think proximity gives them license to project their mental miasma onto others (or start endless uncomfortable conversations, or drag people into arguments, or pry into one's personal life). Learn these people's habits and avoid stepping into triggering situations whenever possible.

Making use of these techniques has made both my work life and my home life a lot more manageable.
posted by limeonaire at 8:28 PM on April 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

Oh, right—also, is there a checklist that could make your life easier? The FAA has found that checklists save lives; they can also save your sanity. I believe in process, not for process's sake or propriety's sake, but because it keeps me from having to keep everything in my head all the time. What would I grab in an emergency? Glasses wallet keys rings phone—done. What do I need to remember to check when I edit a certain type of document? I have a checklist. Ditto for most functions of my job. It makes it a lot easier to tell someone else how to do things if I have it all straight to begin with—and it's a lot easier to dismiss naysaying colleagues if I can easily rattle off how to do X thing or achieve Y results.

When it comes to remembering other things, I've also made that as frictionless as possible. Have a website I want to save? I hit Command-L, Command-P and bookmark it with Pinboard (my shortcuts; you'll have to make your own!). Have an appointment I can't forget? I put it in Google Calendar on my phone immediately. Think of something I need to remember at work the next day? I send a message to my work email from my phone, so I'll see it in the morning. Have a to-do list item, a quote I want to save, something I want to tweet later? I save it in Google Tasks via my phone's Tasks app. What's the status of that work project? I don't keep this in my head—it's on Basecamp, look it up!

Not keeping this stuff in my head frees me up to think about (or worry about) other things.
posted by limeonaire at 9:02 PM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh, and remember that there are limits to human endurance. Don't overcommit yourself; never feel guilty for saying no to something that will push you beyond your limits of energy or time. Set clear boundaries; make it clear that you respect your time and others' time, and that you are prepared to work hard for a certain amount of time but no longer, and people will tend to respect that. The key is to be forgiving of others and recognize their humanity as well. Know your constraints and be as giving as possible of leeway within that framework. Don't be a hypocrite. Seek allies in this; you don't have to be a union organizer or anything, but finding common ground with other people who believe in such a thing as work-life balance can really help!
posted by limeonaire at 9:29 PM on April 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

I really internalized the idea that my life consists of the stories I tell myself about what happened to me. And then I changed the stories.

Was I feeling like a victim? Well, then I started with the premise that I wasn't actually a victim, and then I reviewed the chain of events in my head to try and prove that I wasn't a victim. It made me very aware that there were all sorts of choices and options open to me that I had been automatically discarding without even considering. Mostly because they were tougher choices, and harder options.

It was a process (not quick) to learn to look at my life through fresh eyes, but it has been very empowering.
posted by Brody's chum at 9:38 PM on April 3, 2013

I stopped identifying with my ego.
posted by Obscure Reference at 1:53 AM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

This just happened to me. I wallowed for a while, "admiring the problem" and getting angry at the bastards who were screwing me over.

Then I decided, "F that noise." I choose not to let that situation define me. Almost immediately an alternate solution presented itself. I am still pissed but I am now managing it and life is good.

Ditto checklists, processes and tools to help with those things.

There are very few times where you are well and truly screwed beyond hope and there is really no way out. You have to look for your solutions, and be open to the reality that if you honestly try, you can usually find your own way out.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 4:37 AM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

For 40 years I lived in fear of the man who abused me. Even after it stopped, every time I saw him, or even thought of him, I was afraid. Then one day, I saw him at a party and I suddenly realized - "He's afraid of me!" It had never occurred to me that he could be afraid of me. And I felt very very powerful.
How did therapy help me to get to that point? By helping me to see things as they are, not as they used to be, or as I imagine them to be, or as I wish them to be, but as they are. There is a great power in that. You see an old man, struggling for identity and meaning, instead of an overbearing boss. You see yourself as you are, flawed but still here, still conquering your own battles.
You see that life is short and you can choose the game you play in the time you have.

PS. If you don't already know it, read about killing the buddha. That helped me too.
posted by SyraCarol at 5:50 AM on April 4, 2013 [6 favorites]

Happiness comes from confidence. Confidence comes from competence. Competence comes from having skills. Skills are something you can build.

Well that's what I tell myself anyway. I feel that when you're good at something, you won't feel so powerless. You'll have that quiet, burning conviction that you've got something useful to offer to the world and this gives you strength.

I remind myself of my agency - that I am responsible for creating my own narrative.

Also, I journal. Heh.
posted by rozaine at 8:43 AM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also: Many bosses who believe some variant on "It's impossible to find good help these days," "It's impossible to get workers to do a good job on X," etc. often aren't clearly conveying their expectations, have expectations that just aren't in line with reality, or simply aren't paying enough. Same goes for people who say they're "always" unlucky in love or that people "always" leave them—many times, the problem lies with them. Learn to recognize when the problem is yours or your boss's (or lover's), and act accordingly.
posted by limeonaire at 11:23 AM on April 6, 2013

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