Edward Leyton MD FCFP MDPAC(C)

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At one time or another we have probably all felt taken advantage of or hard done by. It’s an unpleasant feeling of disempowerment and helplessness, as though something has happened, or someone has said something or done something to us that we feel powerless to change. Sometimes it is true that we are unable to change a particular situation, because it requires that the other person change their behaviour in some way to satisfy or ameliorate our feelings and emotions. When we require someone else to behave in a certain way in order to make us feel better we immediately place ourselves in a one-down position.

A feeling of disempowerment can occur any time that we require external conditions to change in order to make us feel better. For example, we buy something that doesn’t satisfy our needs, or a product does not perform as expected. This could be something we buy at the store or something that we purchase at a restaurant that doesn’t taste good. Or perhaps our boss is demeaning or a bully. Sometimes, if we don’t speak out about these things, then the disempowerment continues and we continue to feel cheated or hard done by. So, speaking out about what it is not right for us is important. It helps to maintain our self-respect. However, realising that we are angry, frustrated or sad and speaking out does not necessarily mean that we get what we want. Assertiveness, something that doesn’t always come easily to us, is important but not always empowering. Recently I had a piece of custom jewellery made at what I thought was a quality jewellery store. During the first week, the stone fell out of the setting. I returned it, and the repair was poorly done with the stone set crookedly and rattling around in the setting! Unfortunately, the owner of the store tried to argue that it had been “abused”, not something to which I took kindly. I managed to get most of my money back, which was only a partly satisfying solution for me. However, that was definitely better than nothing. Although I was still rather angry that I had to spend over $100 for nothing, I could let that anger go knowing that I would never shop at that store again, and I would make sure that as many people knew about it as possible.

In relationships with other people, particularly close family members and those in authority at the workplace who are “above us”, it is often more difficult to get what we want by being assertive. Family members are often recalcitrant in their behaviours, refusing to change and insisting that the other person change. This often results in a standoff that can be unpleasant and divisive. These kinds of situations actually require a change in perception on our part. We may need to find a way of “seeing it differently”. Sometimes it is helpful to step into the other person’s shoes. You can do this in the privacy of your own home — just imagine the other person in the chair opposite you, and then hear them saying what it is that they are proclaiming to be correct. Accept the emotions that you generate within yourself – you have a right to feel them. Then get out of your chair and sit in their chair. This will help to give you some perspective on their position, if you imagine what it is really like to be them. Are they feeling small and insecure? Do they feel threatened or afraid? At that point you can sit back in your own chair and see if you get any understanding from your own perspective. If you do, it may be unnecessary to do the next step, and you may be pleasantly surprised that you can “let go” of any bad feelings. If not, it is often helpful to step into another “perceptual position”. Imagine someone who is totally objective who does not even know you, or even a wise part of yourself who is non-judgmental and compassionate. Now stand up, move away from the two chairs, and look at those two people who are at odds, opposite each other in their respective chairs, and see if you have any kind, compassionate, and non-critical advice for them. You can even talk to them out loud if you want, but otherwise imagine you can project that advice to each of them. Now sit down in your original position and see how you feel. Notice the changes that occur in your feelings about the situation.

When we are at the effect of other people, it is because we believe that other people have the power to make us have certain emotions – usually negative ones. This is impossible. We choose how we feel. How we perceive the world ‘out there’, and how we feel as a result, is our decision. It is not usually a conscious decision, and often comes from unconscious old patterns of behaviour, limiting beliefs, and attitudes that we learned long-ago. Nevertheless, if we hold onto the idea that someone else can cause us to feel a certain way, then we will always feel at the effect of others and relatively powerless compared to them.

So here is an opportunity to take a step towards self-empowerment by owning your emotions, and speak them out when you can. If you think you cannot speak out your emotions in reality, then do the chair exercise. Sometimes, even writing out your feelings and the perceived feelings of others can be helpful. Look upon this initially unpleasant event as a learning experience, and ask yourself – how can I feel better under the circumstances and retain my self-respect? You can find a way to feel better.

© Edward Leyton MD 2007 © Stress Solutions 2017