It can be challenging to overcome feeling powerless and helpless, but there are some strategies you can try to replace these feelings with a sense of strength and empowerment.
Perhaps lately you’ve been feeling powerless and helpless. Maybe you’ve experienced a devastating loss. Maybe you’re going through a difficult situation, and you feel stuck. Maybe there’s always been an undercurrent of: “I just can’t do this. I can’t change my circumstances. This is just how it is (and maybe always will be)”.
Just because you feel powerless and helpless doesn’t mean you actually are. This happens because when we get scared, we get tunnel vision, said New York City psychologist Lauren Appio, Ph.D.
And it becomes “hard for us to take a step back and review our options because, in this state of mind, we don’t feel we have any.”
Sometimes, people feel powerless and helpless because they’ve been regularly invalidated or treated as incompetent — and “it can be incredibly challenging to know how much power and influence you actually have in your life.”
While therapy is one of the best ways to work through these kinds of issues, especially if they’ve been going on for years, there are also actionable, relatively small steps you can take. Below, therapists shared their expert tips.
Appio suggests analyzing times you have felt empowered and were able to take action. Being aware of the circumstances and feelings you had around those scenarios may help you squash feelings of powerlessness and helplessness.
Things to consider include:
- How did I feel in my body when I felt empowered?
- What thoughts crossed my mind?
- What actions did I take?
- What supports did I have?
- What worked well?
Knowing these answers and taking into consideration your strengths can help you with your current situation.
Our thinking creates our feelings, so in order to change our feelings, we need to change our thinking first, said Christy Monson, MFT, a retired psychotherapist and author of the book “Finding Peace in Times of Tragedy.”
Creative visualization is simply “daydreaming with a purpose” — helps to create a calm, healing inner world, and to connect to your inner wisdom, she said.
Creative visualization: How it works
Monson suggests trying the following creative visualization to connect to your “inner child“:
- Sit down and get comfortable. Quiet your body and focus on your hands, your feet, and what you are sitting on. Ask yourself what the light around you is like.
- Slowly inhale and exhale through your nose, counting your breath.
- Let your eyes close and imagine a flight of stairs.
- Imagine you’re climbing the stairs and counting each step until you reach 10. Notice the stair’s details and take note of how they look and feel to climb.
- Visualize reaching a beautiful place like a mountain top or beach when you get to the top of the stairs.
- Once you are in this place, look for the child you were and get to know him or her. Ask the child what they want and how you can keep them safe.
- Put anything in this scene you like and engage all your senses, imagining how it feels, sounds, and smells. Feel the child “healing in this place.”
- Once you have cared for your inner child, care for yourself as you are now.
- If you’d like, look around the beautiful place and find your wise mentor, another version of you, to ask your questions and discuss any concerns.
- Once you are done, go back down the stairs and take a moment to be grateful for the beautiful place and the person you are.
Imaging exercises like the one above can help depression symptoms.
Feeling helpless can be a symptom of depression and anxiety. A
Palo Alto, California-based psychotherapist Stefany D. Fuentes, LMFT, regularly has her clients examine their thoughts to see if they may be cognitive distortions. She asks her clients to challenge their thinking by answering these questions:
- “How do I know this thought is true? Is there evidence?”
- “Is there another explanation?”
- “Have I made this situation too important?”
- “What is the realistic worst-case scenario?”
- “Am I too worried about this?”
Just getting started can help you stop feeling powerless in life.
Figuring out actionable steps to change your situation may help. To make those steps seem more manageable, break them down into the smallest steps possible.
For example, if you feel helpless because you are unhappy in your current job, the first step could be something as small as asking someone to proofread your resume.
Monson suggested asking yourself: “What will I do differently next time?”
Thinking about this can help you learn from your current situation. You can evaluate the decisions that led to your current feelings of powerlessness and create an action plan to prevent repeating those decisions in the future.
Your “why” is your motivation to empower yourself.
According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), motivation can be extrinsic (such as receiving a reward or money) or intrinsic (an internal reward for your actions). They note that while many focus on external rewards, intrinsic rewards can be just as motivating.
Why you want to empower yourself may be enough to motivate you to take action. Your rewards may include:
- feeling less helpless
- feeling you are in a better spot in life
- an overall sense of satisfaction
It can be difficult to recognize your personal power and get rid of feelings of helplessness. Strategies from visualization to remembering why you want to empower yourself can help you on your journey to reclaim your power and validate yourself.