Power and Responsibility
Up until 4 years ago, I had experienced bouts of debilitating depression for most of my adult life. A large part of my depression was caused by me blaming just about everything and everyone else for whatever had gone ‘wrong’ in my life. I felt utterly powerless, trapped, ‘stuck’, unable to change anything. And yet, at the same time, it was also strangely comforting – that this depression, that my life, was being ‘done’ to me. I wasn’t to blame for it.
Or was I?
Don’t Give Up your Power
We all have a limited amount of personal power. I don’t mean the power that comes with a job (CEO, nurse, barista – these all have the power to make or break someone’s day). There is a much more ephemeral power that we all hold, the power to live our own lives, to love ourselves, to determine our own path. We all have it, even children (in fact, definitely children – trying to make my 4 year old nephew do something he doesn’t want to is a real power struggle). You can generate more power, you can give it away, you can lose it and find it again. It’s not constant, but it’s always there. Many of us are completely unaware of just how much power we actually have in our own lives – and how much we regularly give away.
Many of us are far, far too quick to give up our power. Let’s consider some fairly common statements where we give power over own life to someone or something else:
“When I have a girlfriend, my life will be better” – the power to make you happy now resides in a woman you have not even met yet
“I need a drink/ coffee/ new pair of jeans/ to exercise” – the power to cheer you up is now with an inanimate object, or temporary experience
“I’m depressed, I can’t go out to that party tonight” – the power to enjoy life has now been given to a particular condition
“If I don’t visit my mum, she’ll be miserable no one came; she relies on me” – taking on the power from your mother for her happiness
The problem lies not in having a drink, or going shopping, or dating. It lies in how we how expect these things, and other people, to make us happy, to give us love, to make things ‘better’. Additionally, when we take on others’ power for their happiness, we don’t allow them to own their feelings or behaviour.
When we give up our power, particularly to other people, it creates three big problems. Firstly, you are absolving yourself of any responsibility for yourself – for your behaviour, your thoughts, your feelings. Your life. Everything from using “I was drunk” to excuse your obnoxious behaviour at a party, to attributing feeling more positive to dating someone, to blaming your depression for making everyone else around you suffer your moodiness.
Secondly, it places a huge requirement or burden on the other person. Why should it be someone else’s responsibility to make you happy? Someone once said to me that the role of their girlfriend was to ‘make their life better’. What a tremendous burden to place on someone else! Not only is this woman responsible for her own life, she is now also responsible for yours as well?
Thirdly, if you are the person to whom someone else’s power has been given, you are left carrying this burden, this responsibility. You can feel as if it’s your job to look after others. This can be very common in those whose childhoods were marked by having to emotionally (or otherwise) care for a parent. Oftentimes, those in this position can tell themselves a whole load of stories about how the other person needs them, taking away that person’s right to be responsible for themselves and not giving them back their power, and creating yet another reason to be stuck where you are. Of course, it makes many of us feel important and gives us meaning. You are also likely to be stuck in a particular pattern of dating, where you are attracted to those more willing to give up their power to you – which is great until you get sick of it, and it makes you miserable and you end the relationship. Awareness of whether, and how, you play this role is critical in developing freedom.
Many people don’t want to take responsibility because then really you only have yourself to blame. Of course, the fact that you freely gave up your power to others means that you are already to blame for your current situation. Which is more empowering? Being responsible for handing over the steering wheel of your life, your happiness, your freedom, your heart, to someone or something else? Or being responsible directly for your life, your freedom, your heart?
How does this cause ‘stuckness’?
If you have given up power to others, things, experiences, and won’t or can’t take responsibility for your own freedom, then it feels like you’re stuck in a giant web, with all these things and people penning you in. You are constantly asking ‘But why doesn’t it make me happy?’ Like me, you probably feel depressed, lethargic, powerless. How can you possibly come unstuck when there are so many things outside yourself that are dictating the terms of your life?
In a mindful approach, we work towards building an awareness that all we ever need in a particular moment is already within us. Love, joy, peace – it already exists. We also explore how attachment to people, things, ideas, also keep us caged in. You don’t actually need anything. This isn’t easy of course, which is why we speak of practising mindfulness. With this practice you can start to come back to yourself, bring your power back, learn to use it when you need to, and learn to calculate the vulnerability and risk equation of giving it up.
When you realise you already have what you need and that it is your responsibility to use it (or not), then freedom comes. Freedom to make your own decisions, freedom from anyone or anything to have control over you, your behaviour, your thoughts, your feelings. Freedom not to have to look after anyone else – unless you truly want to, with love. Freedom to enjoy a beer, to sleep with a cute guy or to buy some new jeans – without any of these things meaning anything, or impacting on your underlying sense of self, on your innate peace.
To come unstuck requires the courage to take back your power, by understanding your responsibility to yourself. To start unpicking where you have handed over power to others (people, things, experiences), and understand you freely gave this power away. To understand where you are not responsible and start handing back those responsibilities that were never yours in the first place. Awareness of this is the first step in freeing yourself. Freedom without responsibility is impossible.
One way I came free from depression was taking back responsibility for my life and stopping blaming everyone else, and my situation, for the way I felt inside. I also stopped taking responsibility where it wasn’t needed – for my family, for my friends. It was like someone took my security blanket away, and it was scary. But it was also incredibly liberating – a key step in coming unstuck.
Don’t Give Up your Power