The way we see ourselves affects everything. In particular, when we see ourselves in a negative light, we actually take away our own power. We take away our power to make positive, supportive choices. We may give our power to others — people who don’t deserve it, who don’t have our best interests at heart.
According to psychotherapist Lisa Richberg, LMHC, when we see ourselves negatively, we might believe: I am not good enough. We might believe: I am not smart enough, attractive enough, athletic, productive, capable, or creative enough.
“We relinquish our personal power when we let our boundaries slip, allowing others to take advantage of us.”
We also might believe that situations are beyond our control, again stripping ourselves of power. In reality, we might’ve had control all along. Because we always have a choice, said Richberg, who specializes in co-morbid eating disorders and addictions, anxiety and depression.
We might not have a choice in what happens to us—such as getting sick or getting laid off—but we have a choice in how we think about the situation, she noted. “Do we remain positive, making the choice to accept what we can’t change and to change what we can? Or do we lie down and allow life to rule us, by choosing helplessness and fear?”
Of course, this tends to be easier said than done. How do we cultivate our personal power, especially when the last thing we feel is powerful? Below are several positive strategies that Richberg shared.
Focus on self-exploration
First, Richberg noted that to take back our personal power, it’s important to work on our self-esteem, self-love and self-care. Which may sound intimidating and overwhelming. But the key resides in small, concrete steps. “This is done through self-exploration,” which can be done through journaling (and going to therapy and practicing mindfulness).
Richberg asks her clients to take some time every night to reflect on these questions in their journals: What went well today? What stood out to you? How were you able to manage certain struggles? Were you successful because you tried a different or new approach?
In addition, she suggests they journal about what might’ve gone better: How did you manage your time? Were you effective in communicating with others? Is there something you’d like to work on the next day? How will you know if you’re effective in the future?
Lastly, she suggests that clients check in with themselves throughout the day and record their thoughts and feelings. Because, over time, doing so helps us to pick up on patterns. It helps us better understand ourselves, our needs, and our dreams. It helps us to know how we want to exercise our power. For what choices? For what actions?
Communicate your needs
We exercise our power when we ask for what we need and stand up for ourselves. Richberg suggested “stating your needs with confidence and love.” If you’re not sure what this actually looks like, you’re not alone. That’s because it’s a skill many of us weren’t taught while growing up.
Naturally, first it’s important to recognize your needs and wants, she said. How did this need arise? “Has it come from a healthy and grounded place? Will asking for this need infringe on the personal power of others?”
When Richberg’s clients have a hard time expressing their needs in a healthy way, she teaches them a skill called “DEAR MAN,” from the Interpersonal Effectiveness module in dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). Then they practice role-playing in session. You can practice this skill in your journal, with a friend or with a therapist.
Specifically, the acronym stands for:
- Describe the situation with the facts, and without judging or blaming the other person.
- Express your feelings or opinions about the situation.
- Assert your wishes. That is, clearly ask for what you want.
- Reinforce the positive effects of you getting what you want. That is, tell people why this would benefit them.
- Stay Mindful of your objective in this situation. For instance, you might repeat what you want again. Ignore any attempts by the other person to distract you, change the subject or verbally attack you.
- Appear confident. Keep a confident tone of voice and posture. Make appropriate eye contact. Avoid apologizing.
- Negotiate with the person. Share alternate solutions, and consider reducing your request. Be willing to compromise.
Adjust your self-talk
Our words are powerful. Which is why it’s vital to talk to ourselves in a positive or neutral way. This also takes practice. “Sometimes creating a mantra is helpful, a short statement that we repeat to ourselves throughout the day,” Richberg said. She shared these examples: “I am worthy of love,” “I am powerful,” “This too shall pass.”
You might not feel very powerful in your day-to-day life. Maybe you’re used to glossing over your own needs. Maybe you’ve become a martyr. Maybe you’re used to giving away your power to others.
But remember that you are powerful. It simply might be that you haven’t accessed or exercised your personal power yet (or in a long time). But that power never leaves you.
You do have choices. You can learn the skills to assert your needs and yourself. And you can start now.