Let Yourself Feel Helpless—for Awhile!
Dr. Gary explains how accepting your feelings of helplessness can help you achieve a greater sense of empowerment.
By April 18 411
Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist who specializes in helping clients deal with the emotional impact of chronic and life-threatening illnesses.
One of our biggest fears is uncertainty. Human beings are hardwired to not only strive to avoid uncertainty, but also to do everything we can to stay in complete control—of everything we do and everything that happens to us, now and in the future.
Good luck with that, right? And on the flip side of control lies another word that strikes fear in the hearts of us human beings: helplessness. We fear helplessness so much that we often have a black and white attitude about it: if I am not in complete control, then I must be helpless.
But let’s face it. Life is uncertain. We have no idea what’s going to happen from one minute to the next. And we’re pretty much helpless to do much about most of what happens in life. Who understands that better than someone who is living with a chronic condition? So I am probably preaching to the choir.
However, my intention here is to provide what might be a new perspective on helplessness. Along with some ideas for handling those helpless feelings you may experience from time to time—or even often.
Accepting helplessness opens the door to connecting with your power
My perspective on helplessness begins with a question: What if you stopped fighting helpless feelings? And, instead, let yourself feel all that helplessness?
Now you might have a question in return: Are you serious? You’re telling me to admit that there’s no hope and just give up?
My answer is no, that’s not what I said at all. Here’s what I think about helpless feelings: Feelings are merely feelings. They only have as much power as we give them. When we try to push them down, they just get bigger, along with the thoughts that triggered the feelings.
And here’s what I think about helplessness: Admitting where we’re helpless in life frees us up to see the possibilities, to put our coping skills to work. And allows us to see more clearly where we do have control.
There are some areas of your life where you do have control.
It comes down to this: Fighting helplessness creates a lot of mud in our minds, and we get stuck in that mud. When you accept where you’re helpless, it becomes clearer where you do have control. It’s that simple. You become more fully aware and engaged in taking care of yourself and managing your chronic condition effectively. In a word, empowered!
Here are a few simple steps toward giving up the urge to do battle with your own helpless feelings:
Unclench your fists and sit still. Let those helpless feelings settle in for awhile. Sure, life has given you another little (or big) reminder of how unfair it is. Maybe it hits every time you have to take your medication. Or when you have to do something you’d rather not do. Or can’t do something you’d rather do. Take a seat and invite the helplessness in for a visit.
Holler, cry, vent. How do you experience feelings of helplessness? Do you want to get angry? Sink into sadness? Does helplessness kick up the fear factor? However helplessness feels to you, what’s important is to let yourself feel it. If sitting alone helps, then go off by yourself. If venting helps, then find someone who is willing to listen. Don’t hold back. Feel the relief. Fighting your own feelings can be exhausting.
Remember: you’re not stuck here in helplessness land. I know this sounds like a contradiction. But letting the helpless feelings in—and hanging out with them for awhile—is the best way to not get stuck in helplessness. This isn’t a place you have to stay. Actually, it’s a stop along the way, not a destination.
Now, take a look at where you do have control. Okay, so you can’t make your diagnosis go away. You can’t disappear the ways in which your chronic condition affects your life every day. You can’t change the ways in which it has affected areas of your life like your job and your relationships. But there are some areas of your life where you do have control. Taking good care of yourself, physically and emotionally. Remaining complaint with your treatment plan. Asking for support. Just to name a few.
Yup, we’re all helpless in a lot of ways. But accepting where you’re helpless opens you up to seeing where you aren’t. Congratulations, you just took the first step toward empowerment!
What helps you deal with feelings of helplessness? Share your thoughts by adding a comment below.