Time and again, people have sought me out in when they were in emotional states so overwhelming, you’d think they were five minutes away from certain death or life-long imprisonment. Unexpected troubles feel this way; I’m not judging. They have a tendency to overwhelm and overpower, even when everything else in our lives looks pretty good. Whether it is a financial hardship, a career change, or even just slipping on a new diet and exercise routine, when challenges arise, it feels like the whole ship is sinking and we’re helpless to stop it.
Through the years I’ve mentored and counseled many people from many walks of life and through different phases of their lives. I’ve heard every kind of problem, and what I can tell you after all these years is that every problem has one commonality: the problem we face is not as dire as it feels.
Let me share a story about a woman who had success in her field, a loving partner, and a healthy family. While she was beautiful, fit, very generous, and loving, she struggled emotionally.
I began to see a pattern and, subsequently, the underlying problem: a drastic deficit in self-worth. And I’m not talking about not recognizing how beautiful she was or how many things she accomplished. It was a belief that anything out of her control that found its way into her life needed to be completely shut down. Suddenly, the successful woman before me is expressing how everything seems insurmountable, and she is so emotionally flooded that she can’t take a step forward. She feels totally and utterly helpless.
What happens next might sound a little familiar: because she can’t cope with the situation, it balloons until she gets to the point where she cannot deal with anything. Nothing is right in the world. Enter self-sabotage.
To quell these feelings, she digresses into numbing behavior; she takes pills and shuts herself off from the world. Eventually, she becomes disillusioned by this behavior and comes back to the world again, repairing the much less pressing fires she left in her wake and never actually confronting the original problem. And this cycle happens over and over again.
Patterns like these happen most often when we feel out of control (a parent becomes ill), when we find ourselves in unknown territory (got laid off from our job), or when we make a mistake (forgetting to pay a bill, cheating on a diet, missing an important deadline.) While all of these may feel like their own version of the world ending, they aren’t. They are opportunities for us to recognize our fear and turn it around. Here are a few ways you can turn your feelings of helplessness into empowerment.
This may sound scary, but it’s not. When you find yourself in an unsatisfactory situation, begin by asking yourself exactly how you got there. Don’t focus on others and catch yourself if you start blaming. Outside factors may have played a part but who is keeping it alive? For now, only focus on your part. If you forgot to pay that important bill, what were you focusing on that stole your attention away? Is financial fear something that you deal with but don’t want to resolve? What can you do differently so that this doesn’t happen again?
By accounting and recognizing the part we play in every event in our life, we go from victim to victor. By taking full responsibility for everything, we also take every bit of our power back, and from that powerful place, we can make sound decisions followed by strong actions.
You Don’t Have Control
Just as important as accountability is the realization that there are things that we have zero accountability for and are powerless to change. So much of our unhappiness comes from trying to control that which is inherently not in our control.
The loss of a loved one or an incurable illness are just two examples of the multitudes of scenarios that we may face in the course of our lives. No emotion that you have about the situation will alter the reality in any way. However, the emotions you choose to feel surrounding these events will have a powerful impact on your experience of them. One could become obsessed with the idea of injustice and become angry, embittered, and volatile. While those feelings may feel empowering, they are in no way changing the situation, but rather adding prolonged suffering to an already trying ordeal.
Ask for Help
One thing that gets us out of states of helplessness and wards off self-sabotage is asking for help. However, this isn’t easy for some of us. In moments of anxiety and self-doubt, the last thing we want is to actually admit that we have no idea how to build our website, or that we are totally stumped about how to eat clean. Or we need help with the bigger things like finding a therapist, getting out of debt, finishing everything on our to-do list, or parenting successfully.
If you shudder at the thought of asking for help, ask yourself why? Is it because you don’t want to seem incapable? Is it because you’re afraid you’ll be obligated to yet another person? Perhaps you fear the judgment of others. Take a look at what’s underneath your aversion and then ask yourself if that thing is worth stifling your growth (hint: it’s not!).
My advice for tackling the aversion to asking for assistance: start small. Practice asking for help in low-risk ways and scenarios. Pose a question on your Facebook page asking for help finding a good yoga studio, ask a good friend to help you retool your skincare routine, ask a coworker to give a crash course on how to build a spreadsheet. The more you get used to asking for help with little things, the more prepared you’ll be to reach out for support when it really matters.
No problem you have is unique. Your problem has already happened to thousands of other people. So reach out, read, use your friend network, and find the people who have already come out the other side. See what worked for them and from there deduce what can work for you.
Change your Consciousness
Everything that happens to you is for your highest good. Every challenge, every setback, and every problem is an opportunity for growth and learning. Trust the process and trust the Creator. Further, change is the law of life. Nothing lasts forever, including this problem.
A practice I find incredibly helpful is appreciation. By focusing on the things in your life you are grateful for, you begin to put your problem into proper perspective. And by realizing that your whole life is not in upheaval, rather one or two areas are, you can attack those issues from a place of strength. Without gratitude, your footing can feel like it’s on an unmoored ship in a hurricane.
The next time you are feeling overwhelmed, helpless, or defeated, bring your focus back to you and what you can do. From there ask for help, get support, and remember that nothing lasts forever. On the other side of the discomfort is all of your success, joy, and fulfillment. Eventually, you’ll get addicted to accepting the challenge and creating change. A life lived as a Change Junkie is the life of my (and your) dreams. So get started today. How can you turn in your helplessness into empowerment?
THOUGHT INTO ACTION
Tackle a problem today, preferably one you’ve been trying
to ignore like an ostrich with its head in the sand. Pick a tool, or two, or
three and make a plan. Take at least one action TODAY. Follow that up with at
least one action tomorrow. If your problem is of the sort that cannot be
addressed, take an action that brings you comfort or comforts someone close to
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