How to deal with powerlessness

One of the first times I felt powerless was as a little girl, waiting for my mum to pick me up from school.

She had been delayed and I didn’t know where she was.

My eyes scanned the streets, thinking maybe the next car would be hers.

I only had eyes for our family’s light brown Holden Kingswood.

But she didn’t come. As the hours wore on, I started to concoct all sorts of theories about where she was.

And of course, my mind drifted to the worst case scenario.

She eventually did turn up. But during those two hours, I reached quite a heightened state of anxiety.

I managed to escalate each thought I had to another level, and another.

As a little girl, sitting there on the kerbside, I felt powerless and out of control. And in many ways, I was. I was a primary schooler, without a mobile phone, without adults around me, without many options.

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Powerlessness – or at least, the feeling that we are powerless – is debilitating.

And I want to propose an antidote to this all too common struggle of powerlessness, whether we’re kids on the kerbside or adults in the corporate world.

The answer, I think, is to focus on the little choices we have.

Not the big life-changing decisions.

But the small choices we have.

I don’t know about you, but I also feel powerless when I think about the big issues of our world.

The refugee crisis

The environment

The rich-poor divide

I also sometimes feel powerless on a smaller scale.

Such as when my relationships just aren’t going the way I want.

Or when I’m just so busy and can’t seem to clear my schedule…

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But when we break our issues down into much smaller choices, we start to find solutions.

I think one of the causes of powerlessness – or at least the feeling we are powerless – is information overwhelm.

When we feel like the problem is too big, or that there are just too many problems,  we become overwhelmed very quickly.

Take the refugee crisis for example.

When I started researching the situation with refugees globally and closer to home, I began to feel overwhelmed.

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As one person I felt I had no power over what is happening in Nauru and Manus Island.

And the more I started asking questions, the more I started realising how overwhelmingly sad the situation is.

And felt pointless to take action of any kind.

But the alternative to becoming overwhelmed is to break it down into much smaller choices.

Three choices is a good place to start.

So my first choice was to sign a petition.

Through googling the Amnesty International website I was able to add my voice to those Australians asking that these victims be transferred to a safer place.

My second small choice was to take a look at the refugees who’ve successfully made it to Australia and volunteer to welcome them.

If you haven’t heard of The Welcome Dinner Project, look it up.

You can choose to host or attend a dinner to welcome eight established Australians with eight newly arrived people, and two trained facilitators in attendance. You can host or bring a plate, and it’s a beautiful opportunity to say welcome to those who are still unsure about their new country.

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My third choice was to donate a small amount per month to a family who are working on the ground with newcomers to Australia helping them with their paperwork and all the things that they find difficult.

Recognising your choices and acting on them is an antidote to powerlessness.

Another issue we can get overwhelmed by is the environment.

We hear about issues surrounding landfill and food waste, and in theory we all want a more sustainable world.

But when it comes to the crunch we become overwhelmed.

Those feelings of powerlessness creep back in, and we do nothing.

We participate in ‘all or nothing’ thinking.

We leave it to the eager beavers in the environmental groups.

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But if we all just “leave it so someone else”, what hope is there of change?

Feeling overwhelmed or convicted or vaguely claiming we care about landfill but not doing anything about it isn’t going to change anything.

You will only perpetuate the feelings of powerlessness, whether it comes to your personal problems, or the social issues you care passionately about.

The antidote to powerlessness is taking back your power, whether as a consumer or a social justice advocate, or someone in an unhealthy relationship.

So I’d like to leave with you with my formula for resisting the overwhelm that comes with powerlessness.

  • Name the problem
  • Take a deep breath
  • And name three choices

Resist the voices that tell you the issue or problem is too much or too hard or that things are never going to change

And recognise your personal choices, which you have a right to exercise despite the fact we live in a broken, messed up world

  • Name the problem
  • Take a deep breath
  • And name three choices

Break it down into smaller pieces until the problem seems less large.

And act in confidence, knowing that your choice, your petition, your act of love matters.

And it does make a difference.

 

This was originally written for the purposes of a TEDX talk in my home city. They didn’t want me to speak on this topic in the end, but writing it was a good exercise in thinking through issues surrounding powerlessness.

4 Comments

  1. I felt called up to start to represent some refugees with he qualifications I have … God essentially said “step up” and then once I did, and I must add while I was completely out of my depth and overwhelmed … He would then say, “just do the next thing you know to do”. It’s not many cases … but it’s “something”
    Blessings, God is Good

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