Photo: Jeremiah Sullivan
Deepak Chopra, co-founder of the Chopra Foundation and author of Spiritual Solutions: Answers to Life's Greatest Challenges, reveals how to find our inner strength.
In an ideal world, the title of this article would be "5 Ways to Feel More Powerful." But as things stand, many people feel powerless, and the social trends that drain personal power only grow stronger. Whether you struggle due to the recession, a controlling spouse, or the anonymity of routine work, it’s crucial to find a way to limit that feeling in your day-to-day life.
Before talking about power, let's clarify what power isn't. It isn't a force that you use like a weapon to get your own way. It isn't a suppression of what you don't like about yourself to achieve a perfect ideal that doesn't exist in the first place. It isn't money, status, possessions, or any other material surrogate. There are countless people sitting in the lap of luxury who feel even more powerless than the average person does. This is so because the issues of power are all "in here," where you relate to yourself. Now we can address the five things that help conquer that feeling of powerlessness.
1. Stop giving away your power.
Becoming powerless doesn't happen in a single dramatic stroke, like the barbarian hordes breaking down your door and burning your house. It's a process, and for most people, the process is so gradual that they don't notice it. They are more than happy, in fact, to give away their power by degrees. Why? Because being powerless seems like an easy way to be popular, accepted, and protected.
Thus you are giving away your power when you please others in order to fit in. Or when you follow the opinions of the crowd. Or when you decide that others matter more than you do. Or when you let someone who seems to have more power take charge of you.
It can often seem right—or proper—to sit modestly in the background, holding accepted opinions, living for your children, or letting a controlling spouse run roughshod over you in order to keep the peace. In small and large ways, however, these kinds of decisions reduce your sense of self-worth, and without self-worth, you cannot rid yourself of your powerlessness.
2. Examine why it's "good" to be a victim.
Once you start chipping away at your self-worth, it's a short step to becoming a victim. I define being a victim as engaging in "selfless pain." In other words, by telling yourself that you don't really count, you can make the suffering you endure into a kind of virtue, as all martyrs do. It's "good" when you serve a higher spiritual purpose—or so some religion suggest but what if there is no higher purpose?
Most victims feel good about worrying all the time, but worry makes you far more vulnerable to bad things in general, since worry is so all-consuming that the mind isn't free and alert enough to tell real threats from imaginary ones. Worry feels like a protection—when it is exactly the opposite.
Victims find lots of other "good" reasons for their plight. They are forgiving of an abusive spouse, because forgiveness is considered spiritual. They enable an addict, because tolerance and acceptance of others is equally spiritual. But if you stand back, you’ll see that victims in such situations are deliberately bringing suffering upon themselves, which not only confirms their powerlessness, it encourages it to grow and grow. The victim is always being acted upon. There are enough abusers, addicts, rage-aholics, control freaks, and petty tyrants out there to drain the power from anyone who volunteers to play the role of victim.
Having given away too much of themselves, the first step for victims is to realize that their role is voluntary. They are not trapped by fate, destiny, or the will of God. Their role is a personal choice, and they can chose differently.
Next: Guiding your own evolution