I am noticing a huge theme in my private practice this week. People are talking about loss of control and feelings of helplessness. It makes sense since we are all at the mercy of a virus we don’t fully know or understand. We do know that it is wreaking havoc on our lives. It seems like a good time to discuss empowerment as a means of taking back some control, or at least the feeling of control.
One of the things I have been focusing on with private clients is how to feel empowered – even during this crisis. In the past, I didn’t understand empowerment. For years, I gave my power away without knowing it. I blamed other people for my problems. Only after a huge personal crisis, did I learn what it meant to be empowered. I thought I’d figured it all out, but sometimes we need to be reminded of our hard fought truths.
Last Saturday, I went out for a long run and had an awful experience. I realized that I had fallen back into some old habits. Stress can do that. We fall back on old patterns of behavior that don’t serve us.
This week’s podcast is all about my experience of feeling unsafe last weekend. I think it’s something lots of people are experiencing; this sense that the virus has taken away our control. We are all experiencing culture shock. Moods are up and down. There is a sense that the virus has changed our lives and we don’t like it; except when we love it, but now we are over it, but it’s not gone yet, but we want it to be. You can feel how up and down everyone is right now.
Saturday, I did what I love to do on a weekend. I went for a run. Especially now, I love the chance to get outside, sweat, listen to music while my feet rhythmically hit the ground. It clears my mind and centers me like almost nothing else. The problem was that I chose a busy time and a crowded trail. But hey, I was going to wear my mask and stay away from people; at least six feet.
Except that isn’t what happened. The trail was crowded and almost no one else had a mask on. Bike riders were coming within a few feet of me, breathing hard without their face coverings, and I started to get pissed off. One woman, riding a bike with a toddler, actually turned her head and coughed in my direction within a few feet of me. My head almost popped off of my body.
I was trying to do what the experts said to do, but no one else was. I was protecting them with my mask. Why weren’t they protecting me? As I fumed, nervous about being exposed to the virus, I lost all my energy. I planned on running 8 miles, but turned around after 3. I usually have great energy on Saturday runs, but my anger had sapped it all.
I got home and vented to my husband about all the rude people on the trail. Why were people being so stupid? Didn’t they understand this virus? Can they really have missed all the briefings? And then it hit me that I had just given my power away. I can always tell when I’ve given my power away because I’m living in blame and anger. I had to sit down and think about how to change MY BEHAVIOR to match my values.
In this podcast I’ll talk a lot about why this is an important part of feeling empowered. It makes sense if you think about it. If your behavior and your beliefs are congruent, you will feel empowered. If they aren’t, you will give your power away, (and your self-esteem btw).
Here is an easy example. If you value health and you admire healthy people, but you eat crappy food and don’t exercise, you will not feel powerful. If you have those same values and you eat healthily and workout, you will feel good about yourself. You will have a sense of congruence between your values and your behavior. You will be empowered in that area. Whenever your goals, behavior and values line up, you feel more powerful. When they don’t, you will struggle.
My values around this virus are to risk exposure in very limited ways. I am not someone who wants to get back to restaurants, massages or movie theaters until we have instant testing for everyone or a vaccine. I miss all of it terribly, but with the science as I understand it, it’s too risky. I want to stay healthy and not infect my father or children, or ANYONE! In order to behave in a way that creates empowerment, I need to figure out what feels reasonable and then create a life that enables my values to work in the world. If you don’t want much exposure, don’t go to a crowded park on a Saturday or a grocery store during peak hours when the parking lot is full.
As soon as I realized the mistake I’d make, I took a deep breath. I can still run and still be in nature, without the distress and anger, but it means taking personal responsibility for what happened. If you don’t want to be exposed, don’t go out on the trail on a busy day at peak hours. It was totally predictable that the trial would be full of people on a Saturday. I have seen people on the news, not only refusing to wear masks, but protesting the entire shutdown. I am responsible for making the stupid decision to be out on a Saturday at peak hours. I will not make that decision again.
As you read the last paragraph, I hope you feel my level of control returning. I felt no shame or blame about what I’d done; that would be pointless. The fact is, when you take total responsibility for your decisions and behavior, it is powerful. I feel better, knowing that if I want to run outside and not be distressed, I need to go when no one else is around. I can go early in the morning or later in the evening. I can take off my headphones so that bikes approaching from behind me don’t surprise me. I can get off the trail entirely when people get close. I can voice my discomfort when someone is getting too close. There are so many ways to control the situation so that I feel ok, while still getting my run in.
This can apply to every area of your life. Identify your goals and values and then set a course to get there. It is only when we live in blame, resentment and anger, that we are giving away our power. By changing my own behavior, I was able to meet my goals, without the distress I felt the week before. Instead of resenting people for being in a different space than I am, I was able to just focus on what I need to feel safe, and thereby create the scenario that worked for me.
You can listen to me talk through this in the podcast by clicking ‘play’ below or in the following places:
Shannon Connery, Ph.D.