In an earlier post I mentioned a number of ways to build resilience and promised to address some of those strategies further in future posts. So here goes the one on building a sense of self-efficacy and perceived control (meaning you are not helpless and you have the power to make your life into what you want).

We have all felt powerless in moments. When we were children, we often were unable to make our own choices about what to do, study or even eat. As adults, we continue to feel helpless in our lives, only in less obvious ways. We can feel helpless in a relationship with another person, maybe even a spouse. “The other person is just never going to change.”

We can feel powerless as a parent. “My children do not listen to me.” Or your child may be ill or struggling in a way that you can do nothing about.

We can feel helpless at work because our boss is calling all the shots and our voice is lost. Some people may also have a fear of speaking up for themselves. This was and is, in moments, a huge problem for me.

We often feel powerless when it comes to our “lot” in life, whether we are born to poverty or disability or we are just really “unlucky.” I am fascinated by the unlucky proclamation because I hear this a lot, and it is systemic in families. Families can take on the “bad things always happen to us” mentality.

These types of helpless thinking are called “leading a victimized life.” We are victims of circumstance, bad luck, mean or inconsiderate people, and our own shortcomings. The real problem with this type of thinking (and all humans do it), is that if you really believe you are a victim (meaning you had absolutely nothing to do with the event) then you end up feeling truly powerless. The problem is with the other person, the situation or the bad karma. These are all externalizations of a problem that lies within our own head.

Powerlessness is a lie.

No adult is powerless, ever. It is only a perception. You believe you are helpless, therefore you are.

Yes, bad things happen to good people. No one consciously invites a car accident into their lives. How you perceive these events though is entirely within your control. An empowered person would not take the Eeyore route and after a car accident say, “That’s typical. Bad things always happen to me.” The universe is not conspiring against us.

Have you ever noticed that years after seemingly bad events occur you recognize the value (hopefully) in what you learned from that event? Maybe a scare from a car accident caused you to become more grateful for every day you do have on Earth. Maybe an illness lead you to find a healthier way of being bypassing a looming heart attack. Maybe a loss leads to a gain. Maybe a betrayal leads you to understand forgiveness. Maybe, just maybe, the universe has a more complicated lesson plan than you imagined.

Helplessness can be overcome by finding the silver lining (sorry to sound trite). This may take a few years to realize, so I have a faster route: Take your power back!

Often people who feel helpless, act helpless. They respond to others through a helpless filter. I once believed there was no way I could ever find peace, rest or happiness given my complicated, blended family with 7 children and 3 ex-spouses and chronic illness, blah, blah, blah. I guarantee, tell me your sob story and I can top it or know someone who has it worse than you. I don’t mean to sound insensitive, but it is time for us to suck it up and take our power back!

We can experience defeat, failure, loss, heart break, pain, illness, attack, parenting and disabilities, and still live a joyful, abundant life. It is our choice. Knowing we have a choice in how we perceive our seemingly impossible life situation is the first step. If you admit that you may have played a part (even a small one) in an unpleasant situation, you will begin to see how you might be doing similar things in other areas of your life.

For example, I struggle with setting boundaries and therefore give myself away. I end up doing and doing and doing for other people, never taking the rest and time I need. I can fill every waking moment with cooking, cleaning (think 5 teenagers), advocating, doctors appointments, medication management, shopping for food, helping with homework, driving people around, researching new medical breakthroughs, keeping the sanity in house in check, and managing schedules. This does not include working. I could allow myself to be exhausted doing for others. There is no time for me! I did this at home with the kids, with my spouse, my friends, my family, my children’s school, pretty much anyone who asked anything of me got their wish granted. All I got was a huge knot of resentment, sadness, and shame.

The only reason there is no time for me is because I do not make time. I learned the hard way that no one was going to come along and rescue me from it all. I had to take back my power I had given away so freely and make myself important. I made time to work and play and relax. I had to learn how to say no and not feel guilty. I had to learn how to set boundaries with people. When I did, I started to feel stronger and stronger. I stopped fearing conversations and reactions. And behold! People started to realize I was no longer a doormat because I stopped acting like a doormat. I never stopped loving people. I just started loving myself.

My teens sometimes don’t like it when I tell them to go get their own food because they are completely capable and I am busy, but in the end, I am setting the example for my children. I want them to make themselves important and not give themselves away in their lives. I also want them to be respectful of others and not mindlessly take from another person. Once you feel your power again, you will feel in control of your life on all fronts and resilience will be the result.