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Giving Your Power Away

One of the most common problems that I have found to exist in many people I have worked with is that they, " give their personal power away". So many of us were raised with the idea that we need to be helpful in order to be liked, and to be generous in all of our friendships and other relationships. Though it's true that it is good to be open and willing to help our friends, family members, and others, it is also important that we place a value on our own time and knowledge, and set healthy limits and boundaries to take care of ourselves.

I have treated a tremendous number of men and women, who grew up focusing on supporting, or taking care of the people around them. Many were taught that it is better to give than to receive. I'm not sure that's necessarily always true.

Each of us has a need to be loved, respected, valued, appreciated, etc. For so many of us, the way we are seen and experienced in this way has to do with feedback that we receive from outside of ourselves.
Self-esteem
Self-esteem is a term, which has been discussed for many years as being a building block, or a part of the foundation of the way we see ourselves and how we act in the world.
Self-esteem is learned. I do not believe that anyone is born with high or low self-esteem.
When we are born, our parent's do their best to raise us in a healthy, happy, productive, and positive way. They want to raise us to be good people, and productive members of the society.

Here are some factors related to life experience that can impact a parent's ability to create high or may actually promote low self-esteem in their children.

  1. The way the parents were raised by their family of origin.
  2. The number of siblings the parents had when they were being raised and their place in the birth order.
  3. The level of education, and the financial standing of the family.
  4. Whether the parents were married, single, or divorced and raising their child as a single parent.

Let's take a closer look at what actually happens in a family that has just had a child.
To start with its important to know that the child's personality is basically formed by the time they reach five years of age. During the first five years of life, a child physically grows a tremendous amount. They learn to manipulate their body. They learn to speak and understand language. They learned how to function as a family member. There are a wide range of skills and capacities that must be learned and absorbed during this period of time.

Most children watch their parents and learn from them from early in their life through adulthood. You may remember having watched your parent's reactions to everything you did. When you did things that your parents liked, they smiled. They may have made positive comments that were supportive and felt good to hear. If their comments were supportive and suggested that you could probably do almost anything if you put your mind to it, you were receiving the suggestion that you would be successful at almost everything you tried. If they frowned and were verbally discounting or acted worried about what you were doing, you might learn to question your ability and not be willing to try new things.

If you only received positive comments and attention when you did the things they wanted do you do, you would most likely do those things more to get the positive reaction from doing them. If you were doing things that your parent(s) didn't like or want, they might ignore you or give negative comments or even a consequence or punishment. In either case, you learned the importance of paying attention to your parent(s) to find out if you were okay.

Having the positive reactions from our parents and those around is necessary for us to feel good about ourselves. Many people therefore become habituated to the pattern of receiving feedback from outside themselves in order to feel good, happy, and safe.

Unhealthy dependence on feedback from others can limit our ability to have high self-esteem. For many people, it is necessary that others tell them that they are OK so that they can feel good about themselves.
It is best when parents give supportive feedback and urge their kids to take healthy reasonable risks so that they can expand their level of experience and feel good about themselves, their own ideas, and their methods of living in this world.

The concept of giving your power away has to do with choosing to place others first, or placing more importance and meaning on the words that others say to us than to what we say and believe, ourselves.
Here are two examples of how we choose to keep our power, or to give it away:

Story #1.
Picture yourself walking in the downtown area of a city at lunchtime. It's a beautiful day and you feel comfortable and safe. There are many people all around. While walking on the sidewalk to the place you want to eat lunch, a homeless person dressed in rags is walking toward you. The homeless person stumbles, bumps into you, and falls at your feet. The homeless person then starts screaming at you, blaming you, shaming you, and guilt tripping you, and yelling at you in a loud voice for causing them the fall and hurting themselves. You did nothing to cause this incident.

Question #1: On a scale from one to five (1 - 5) with five (5) being the most impactful, how much impact would the words from the homeless person have on you? How long would you be bothered by the experience? (hours, minutes, days, etc.)

Story #2.
Picture the same story, but instead of there being a homeless person in the story, imagine the person yelling, blaming you, shaming you, and guilt tripping you is one of your parents or your best friend.

Question #2: On a scale from one to five (1 - 5) with five being the most impactful, how much impact would the words from your parent or your best friend have on you? How much time would you be bothered by the experience? (hours, minutes, days, etc.)

What you may learn from your answer to these questions is that we choose to give our power to the words people say so that those words can have impact on us. I have always enjoyed working with clients assisting them in reclaiming their personal power as it allows them to feel and be more successful, and to take better control of their own life. This results in higher self esteem.

If you would like to discuss this topic with me by phone, please call my office at: (713)-266-6029. Leave your name, phone number, and a short message concerning what you would like to discuss. I will return your call during my business hours at the phone number you leave. I am usually in my office from Monday through Thursday from 7:00 AM until 9:00 PM. I look forward to speaking with you.
 

Alan J. Schneider
LCSW, LPC, LMFT, CGP, BCD.
2425 Fountainview, Suite 270
Houston, Texas 77057