When I first heard the term “take back your power” some decades ago, I thought it pertained mostly to relationships in which one person was overly submissive to the other. Since I didn’t seem to be in that position with anyone, I felt this wasn’t work I needed to do.
But in the years since, I’ve come to feel that power sacrifice is something we do all the time, and nearly everyone would benefit from reclaiming their power on a regular basis. As I see it, there are two main categories to power loss (though, as we’ll see, there’s quite a bit of overlap):
- We give power to a specific person (consciously or unconsciously).
- We ignore, deny, or fail to recognize our own power and agency (Merriam-Webster: “agency: the capacity, condition, or state of acting or of exerting power”).
Let’s look at some examples of each category.
Category one includes the types of relationships I mentioned at the beginning of the article, such as when one person seeks the other’s approval to the extent of relinquishing their own needs, preferences, self-esteem, possibly even losing their sense of self. We often dub these relationships “codependent” and the power transfer can be very obvious to an outsider.
There are many subtler forms that are trickier to recognize. For instance, it’s fine to have a leader, boss, or mentor whom we accept guidance from; this doesn’t require giving away any of your power. But it’s easy, due to the hierarchical nature of the relationship, for an unconscious power transfer to occur. (That said, it’s also possible to hold onto your own power even while, say, working for a boss who makes big demands on your time and energy.)
Another subtle form of interpersonal power transfer is something like investing your power in someone, often because they bring something positive to your life, such as stability, support, attractiveness, wise counsel, heavy lifting, or good humor. The difference between simply appreciating these qualities versus giving away your power as a secret exchange is that when they don’t behave in a way that you like, it feels very upsetting – maybe to an irrational degree.
If you have our workbook, Freedom, it can be very useful for helping you feel into the difference between being in possession of your power versus having put it in someone else’s hands.
Because they have your power, it’s as if they’re breaking a deal they never agreed to. You probably didn’t mean to give away your power, nor do you even realize this has happened. All you “know” is that they should be different, and you feel justified in making their behavior your business. It’s similar to how you might feel if a company you invested in made some bad business moves – except that the company consented to the investment.
It’s reasonable to expect your partner to be mature and responsible, and it’s natural to be upset if they break an agreement or cause harm. But if you have your power and they have theirs, they can be who they choose to be and do what they choose to do, and it feels clean. You may disagree and have emotions about it, but you can work through it in a level-headed way that’s founded on reverence for each party’s agency and your mutual choice to be together.
Whenever you find yourself intensely upset by someone’s behavior, I suggest you let it trigger a quick “power check.” Who has your power? Are you allowing the other person’s behavior to dictate whether you’re peaceful, centered, and happy? Perhaps you’ve unintentionally given them some of your power.
Giving away your power doesn’t make you stupid or naïve. It’s absolutely natural, especially given our childhood of utter dependence on others. Much of the time we give our power away through a totally benevolent impulse to help or share. But it’s worth developing an awareness of the difference between helping someone and giving them what’s yours.
And here we come to an important principle: your power is your power. You can’t give it to someone else in a way that’s truly good for them or you. If anything, giving others your power is an infringement on them and a weight on the relationship.
Next time we’ll look at ways to take back your power and return others’ power to them. And we’ll also explore that second way we give away our power.
Have you ever had an experience of giving away your power? Did you reclaim it? Has this article made you aware of a situation in which you might be leaking power? Please share with the community in the comments section below.