• Richard Brydson

Why We Learn to Feel Powerless and How We Move Forward

Updated: Sep 15

The best way to describe the concept of “learned powerlessness” is to put it into the context of conflict resolution as a way to help you understand how certain experiences can be used to gain insight. I chose to write this post to help my clients overcome and adapt from their moments of powerlessness. I’m hoping this can help others see that the negative consequences of the conflicts they experience are rooted in these moments of powerlessness. I want this article to support them in making a different choice at the next crossroad.


When pressure builds up for us, we can often feel overwhelmed and powerless. We then learn coping mechanisms as a way to deal with the uncertainty or fear. These strategies work in the short to medium term, but they need to evolve beyond our comfort zone, so that they do not lead to crisis and exacerbated conflict. There is a unique opportunity within a conflict resolution process to notice how our own actions contribute to a pattern of conflict and its eventual emotional fallout. Once we can notice these patterns as they arise, we can find a flex zone in between comfort and crisis, and then be able to firmly commit to being the agent of change in our lives.


How Do the Feelings of Powerlessness Start?


We begin learning about our feelings of fear and vulnerability start early in life and continue to re-interpret them into adulthood. Some of us may have not learned sustainable ways of dealing with our feelings that preserves our relationships with loved ones. Powerlessness is easily described by the thought, “I don’t know what to do”.


How we either resist or welcome the feeling of “I don’t know what to do” can be the pivot point between positive and not-so-positive life experiences. And as long as we think we can’t handle these experiences that we call “hard” during moments of reflection, we won't learn the full meaning of our story. Our incomplete understanding will continue fuel our reactions and the life experiences that we least want have.


With effort, these memories of adversity, can be re-contextualized as "impressions".

These impressions represent the starting point of growth from the powerlessness which accompanies the physical description of our experiences as hard. After all, this difficulty we are experiencing is a passing constriction that’s only one part of the complete experience of growth and change.


Our overwhelming emotions are part of this whole transition. Included in the whole transition is an emotion we anticipate as overwhelming, and the knowledge or insight that follows. Lasting recovery, renewal, and positive relational interactions are what we can hope to expect by playing the tape all the way through.


There is real value in allowing these emotions to move through you and make you stronger.


Powerlessness and Conflict Management


If you’re reading this, you may have already decided to leave your spouse with whom you have shared a world. This work is hard in the way I am speaking about it, but if we persevere in mediation through this adversity, the intensity of these memories will decrease each time they come back to us.


The closer we are to someone, the more we feel extreme emotions. Expressions of frustration, judgement or withdrawal are products of the beliefs we form about ourselves and others in the aftermath of conflict. It is likely that you have never thought about much of what I am saying, but if you made it this far you are potentially on the cusp of a new frontier of learning that can positively impact all your relationships.


How to Move Forward with Our Feelings of Powerlessness


So, you may be asking, what can I do about all this?. I spoke in an earlier blog about the act of bearing witness. This pause is a starting point from which many new and freeing life choices can suddenly and progressively come into your awareness.


The reason I am inviting you to use this perspective when processing conflict is that I know how it feels to follow through with my intention to change my life. Imagine the feeling of independence that comes with no longer seeing others as the cause of our pain, but rather as those showing you the source of the pain.


Our painful memories are signs of this older pain that invite us to revisit the story of the past in the here and now. Take the first step, reach out to me and be brave so we can work together to untie this knot for good. For family mediation services and conflict coaching, contact me today.

© 2020 by Aligned Choices Mediation.