“There are two primary choices in life; to accept conditions as they exist, or accept the responsibility for changing them.”
With regard to personal power, I think there are two choices – claim it or give it away. I will discuss giving it away first. For convenience’s sake, I will use the pronoun “I,” not from ego or even personal experience (though I have experienced most of what I’m writing). I use “I” through much of this discussion though this pertains to most people
First, what does it mean to give away or one’s power? It means allowing people or events to determine how I use my resources. By resources I mean talents, time, energy and money. Some of this may be necessary in order to function in society. For example, most jobs require my presence at a certain time. These jobs usually require a focused expenditure of energy and ability while I am there. But in this case, I am being paid for these things so I’m not giving away my power; I’m selling it or bartering it.
Even in contractual obligations, however, I have given away some of my personal power by allowing people to speak to me or treat me in a way I don’t like.
How do I feel when I have given away my personal power? The predominant feeling is frustration. Imagine being physically trapped in an enclosed space or in handcuffs, or being restrained by someone physically larger and more powerful. Imagine, also, the fear, the anger, and the shame that go with this. There is fear because I wonder if the person or force will hurt me. There is anger because I don’t want to be treated unjustly. And there is shame for not having the strength or the courage to be free. Frustration is what comes out in me, but I feel fear, anger, and shame beneath that.
I also feel guilt and ask myself, “Why did I allow this? What is wrong with me that I allow myself to be treated this way?” Guilt is often meaningless and unnecessary, because the truth is I didn’t know how to extricate myself from the situation. Perhaps I even lacked courage. But guilt is never helpful. Never. Perhaps I made mistakes, but I did nothing wrong. None of us always makes the best decisions, even when it comes to ourselves and especially when it comes to ourselves. Knowing why can be helpful if it leads to better and different choices.
This is enough discussion of the absence of personal power. I prefer to focus on its use. First, it’s important to state that personal power should be used in integrity. This is not done when I lie, bully, or persuade someone to do what he or she feels is wrong. It is not physical, spiritual or mental coercion of others. In fact, it’s not about the control of others at all. Personal power is about self-control and choices.
Every time I have made choices that disregarded fear, I felt good about those choices. This isn’t to say I didn’t make mistakes, but when I stood up for myself in a way that was also loving and respectful to others, I felt good. When I was very young, I was asked to sign a document that was a lie. There was no grey area. If I signed this document, I was lying. It involved people close to me and I knew I might have been making life difficult for others by not lying. I felt tortured.
In the end, I decided not to sign. I explained my reasons and that made no one happy. Even some friends who were not involved didn’t support my decision. But I supported it. I believed I did the right thing and I felt better about myself than I ever had. It was one of my first tastes of using my personal power, the God-given power to decide what is best for me. A nice side note to this story is that the people involved found another way to solve the problem without lying.
Recently a friend made a decision to spend the day by himself. He knew this would disappoint others, but he did so anyway. It resulted in strengthening his self-esteem and his relationship with others.
When I choose to love myself, I am also loving God and others. Often I think putting others first and letting others always have their way are the same thing. They aren’t. Loving others sometimes means that I don’t allow them to have their way, because it’s not for their ultimate, or even immediate, good.
How then do I practically and lovingly apply my personal power? I first seek my emotional and physical safety. If I feel resentful about something I need to ask myself how I can do it differently. If I can’t do it differently, I need to ask myself how I can change my attitude. If I can’t change my attitude, I need to ask myself, again, how I can do it differently. This may involve a calm and loving discussion with someone else. In these discussions, it is important to maintain personal power over my attitude and over my fear of someone else’s judgments, perceived judgments, or anger about my choices. None of this may be easy, but I have learned that it leads to greater happiness and better relationships with God, others, and myself. I began to take my own personal power when I learned to Get Started and Keep Going.