Some years ago, a very wise woman, an analyst, told me my challenge in life would be to get my power back. It was the very first time I heard this idea about getting one’s power back, so commonly invoked in therapy, relationship and abuse counseling, even in AA meetings.
We are often told it is imperative to get our power back if we have lost it, but there is much confusion about what power is, exactly, and how one does get it back. My parents, like so many parents, spouses, partners, lovers, even friends took my power away, and i carried this sense of isolation and fear and helplessness well into my life.
I asked my analyst what it meant to lose your power, and she said it meant you deny the reality of your life and your self. When you give up the truth about your pain and suffering, you give it power over your life. More than anything else, this was the lesson I have tried to bring into my writing, my books, and my blog although it was terrifying and I was slow and late to learn it: I had to speak the truth.
What does it actually mean to lose your power?
Author Bill Ferguson (“How To Take Your Power Back”) describes it in this way: “When you fight the truth of the way your situation is, you give it power. You make yourself a victim and put yourself at the effect. To get your power back, stop the resisting. Surrender to the truth of the way your situation is.”
Power, then, is the ability to act, and to be truthful. When other people have taken your power, then you must find ways to get it back. I see this scenario all of the time. I have one friend who simply cannot be honest with people in his words or writing because he is terrified that people might be angry or upset with him. He has given his power away, especially to people who mistreat him. The Freudians say many damaged people are drawn to this scenario, they only know how to surrender power, not to take it.
I have another friend whose parents simply terrified her when she was a child, and they terrify her still, invading her privacy, she is too frightened to challenge them or even speak of her fear. She is looking for ways to speak truthfully about her life, and get her power back.
I had a painful lesson in power from an online group I had created, I gave a friend the power to speak for me and represent me to others. I have her all of my power, and I could only get it back when I wrote about it, it was the only way I could see it.
I know too many dog lovers who have surrendered their power to their dogs, permitting themselves to be pulled down to the ground, to have their houses damaged and soiled, even to believe they dare not vacation or go to work by themselves. Their dogs and cats sometimes quite literally run their lives.
I have seen so many parents surrender their power to their children, and upset the very balance and order of life. I have seen countless men and women surrender power to partners and spouses, so many painful divorces – mine, also – are the result of that.
Think of the people you know who have fallen in this way, and you will see clearly enough what happens when people give up their power – to dogs, children spouses, even bosses.
I am learning to be honest about my situation, about how I feel. I am clear about my boundaries, about my identity, about my passionate desire to solve my own problems. I have resolved – successfully – to state my beliefs, but not argue them with strangers every day.
Maria and I have walked this same path, we surrendered so much of our power to other people in the name of love, only to learn that control and fear are the opposites of love. We draw strength from one another, we never take it away.
It isn’t that I should never love someone or something so much that it might control me, rather that loving someone that much means I can never be controlled. Love and truth are never weaknesses, only strengths. Love is power.
For me, the pathway to getting my power back came through my writing, and then, my photography. I resolved that being authentic and as honest as I could be was my own rebirth and resurrection. And ultimately, through finding a power who gives me power, and never takes it away.
I feel this strength growing inside of me every day.
I resolved to tell the truth about my life, to stop fighting the truth of my situation, to stop giving it power over my life. I stopped resisting behind honest. If people hurt me or frighten me, I say so, I no longer hide my feelings and shape my words to protect others.
That is often painful and difficult. Lots of people don’t like it. They want to tell me what to do and what to think.
I took photographs of the things I wanted to photograph, not the things other people told me they wanted me to photograph. This was the way. When I took the “For Sale” signs down in the Round House Cafe this week, many people thanked me and a number of others thought I was wrong, that I lacked empathy for the landlord and had no right to interfere with the landlord’s decisions or property.
“I do have to admit that I was so tempted to take them down on Wednesday and tear them up,” wrote an intelligent and thoughtful young woman who lives in my town, “but alas, I don’t have the right or the authority to make the decision to take them down, it isn’t anyone’s decision besides the owner.”
I liked what she said very much, even if I did not see it the same way.
There are at least two sides to everything, maybe more, and the people who disagreed with me could be right, and I could be wrong. But I don’t think there is always a clear right or wrong. Our own truths are intensely personal, and I can rarely say with certainty that yours is better or worse than mine. Isn’t that our very destructive national disease?
Listening can be an article of faith.
Naom Chomsky writes that the smart way to keep people passive and obedient – to take away their power – is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion – only a left and a right are permitted – but to allow very lively debate within that spectrum. That makes so much sense to me, you can see it on any cable news channel every day.
That is how people come to have only two choices, neither of which most of them like.
Being a person is different from being merely human, or from blindly following the dogma of the church or the left or the right. What I do or don’t do depends on what I decide in regard to myself. That is my evolving idea both of truth and power.
Morality and power, says the moral philosopher Hannah Arendt, concerns the individual in his singularity. There is no absolute wrong or right, only the truth we each carry in our minds, hearts and souls. I can’t say what I did was right, I can only say it feels right to me, and that is good enough for me. I don’t need the approval of others.
In our society, and especially on social media, every though is now an argument, we cannot seem to find common ground, but my idea of power comes from rejecting this paralyzing and divisive notion of argument.
My life is not an argument, and my truth has given me back so much of the power that was taken from me. I will never again lie about my life, to you, or to me.
And that is a very beautiful thing.