Where Is Your Power?

by Adrian W. Hall, MFT, ATR

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We are all born with a tremendous amount of power as human beings.  A couple of weeks ago, I was talking about not allowing our power to be wasted by fear, instead to know the fear and convert it into energy that can be useful to us rather than trying to cut it off or avoid it.  This week, I want to talk about what David Richo says about being passive.  It is another way that our power is drained away from us. 

The first passive act David Richo discusses is making excuses and apologies for other people internally.  He says:  “We may perform mental surgery on experiences so that we can gain closure on them without having to feel the inner trepidation that may be associated with an assertion on our part” (p. 176).  Now, sometimes we have to reconcile things on our own because the other person is not available or they are dangerous in some way.  However, if the majority of the way you are dealing with things that disturb you is by doing mental gymnastics to make everything OK without ever communicating with people about it, your power is being compromised.  Why?  First of all, you are doing things in relationships on your own, which means that the “relating” is actually taken out to some degree.  Operating that way is too much work to ever sustain a satisfying relationship.  Second, you are not taking care of yourself. Taking care of yourself means having a voice.  Third, the other person has no chance to learn about how they are impacting you and no chance to shift to relate in a way that works better for you both.

Another passive act that David Richo discusses is “smoothing over”.  We all know what this is, we have all done it.  Here’s the thing, by smoothing over a situation to prevent anger in order to keep the peace actually is “acting against the truth” (p. 180).  Yes, it is burying the truth of what is going on, which means power is being buried.  So, let’s say you notice your spouse is starting to get upset or you know there is something that will upset them, so you try to smooth things over or you hide whatever you believe will upset them.  Well, that means that anger (or preventing it) has become more powerful than the truth.  And, by smoothing things over, you are doing work that is not yours:  dealing with someone else’s anger, when it is their job to deal with their own anger responsibly.  Also, if you are the one smoothing things over, your experience/thoughts/feelings get neglected.  Again, this is really not sustainable in the long run without being resentful or disconnected. 

While there are a number of passive acts that David Richo discusses, the last one I want to talk about is “living reactively”.  It means that behavior or feelings are based on what other people do.  So, you see what someone else is doing or being, then you devise your strategy to respond.  David Richo says “strategizing is a nonassertive behavior since it attempts to prevent or control a reality rather than letting it unfold: this is acting against the truth” (p. 180).  Yes, it is acting against the truth of what authentically occurs to you; what you want/think/feel/need.  When we are living in response to others all the time, we lose touch with our true experience.  Sometimes I notice that people are really confused and out of practice with knowing their true experience because they have been in the practice of only knowing how what to do/feel/think based on others.  This is a really sneaky passive act.  The other two are much more obvious.  So, really, take a look.  Be willing to look inside at how you are really being. 

Notice that in each one of these acts, there is an element of leaving yourself behind or not taking care of yourself AND there is a theme of the truth not being present.  So, think about this:  being passive means that you are not getting to actually embody your full self and the truth is buried.  What more powerful entities do we have in this world beside ourselves (this is the single place where we actually have control) and the truth?  Really, none.  So, living passively is foreclosing on the opportunity to live powerfully.  It is like trying to be an elite athlete without using the most powerful muscles in your body…sure to be a frustrating journey.  So, it seems to me like it is worth it to live through the moments of discomfort to be assertive.  Don’t you think so?

*This post is written in response to a section in David Richo's book "When Love Meets Fear: Becoming Defense-Less and Resource-Full".