Staging a Power Shift

People having a business meetingLet’s say you have an interest in power issues and dynamics. For example, you notice you are overly cautious in using the professional power that goes with your position of trust. Or, you are so well-boundaried that you can’t be flexible with your power when it is appropriate. These two beliefs are toward the extreme on the “use of power continuum.”  Holding any position that is extreme makes you extra vulnerable for making ethical mistakes. Right Use of Power calls us to examine and evolve our relationship with both personal and professional power. The health of this relationship is crucial to using power well and more significantly, to using power for the good of all.  I have been thinking about the process of evolving more satisfying and effective beliefs. Obviously, it is more complicated than just deciding you want a new belief or a new habitual response.

So, for example, using the issue of being over-cautious. You are aware of this difficulty. You notice you are afraid you will cause harm, so you hold back. Things don’t seem to go well. Your impact doesn’t match your intention. I’ve been thinking about the stages involved in the behavior shift you’d like to make. Again, using over cautiousness with power as an  example, I’ll project a possible belief (Stage 1) that might keep this overly cautious behavior in place, and then describe the stages of belief shift that I have identified through years of practice as a psychotherapist.

  • STAGE 1–AWARENESS:  “It’s not okay to use my power.” : The belief we are starting with is, “It’s not okay to use my power.” Prior to becoming aware of this limiting belief, your unconscious and unintended impact is being perceived and experienced as a “push over,” very fragile, easy to manipulate, not firm or directive even when that is needed, and so on. Your intention is to be kind and help people. Your impact doesn’t match this intention, causing unnecessary suffering.
  • STAGE 2–FELT EXPERIENCE: “In this moment, it is okay to use my power.”: This step involves having a real experience of what previously seemed impossible. You can have this experience in therapy, or with a trusted friend, or by becoming aware that it has always been possible to use your power, you just believed you shouldn’t, maybe out of fear that you would automatically cause harm. This belief became so strong and so unconscious that you never tested the belief out. So, you consciously have a felt sense of the experience of it being okay to use your power. You have an experience of using your professional (or personal power) in a strong and appropriate way, and it’s okay. More than that, it seems to be effective in the situation you are in. What a surprise. You take a moment to let your body register that something happened that you didn’t expect.
  • STAGE 3–REFINEMENT:  “Sometimes, with some people, in some places, it’s okay to use my power.”: Realizing that shifting from “I can never use my power” to the opposite extreme of “I can always use my power” is equally dysfunctional and ineffective, you begin to test out your new possibilities with your power, and get feedback to help you refine it so that your use of power can be more effective and satisfying.
  • STAGE 4–DISCERNMENT: “I can discern situations that are likely to support my new belief that it’s okay to use my power.”: You discover that you can use your  previously well-developed alertness and awareness to discern situations where your use of your power will be useful and often even appreciated. You no longer need to use your alertness to habitually shut down. Ah, more freedom.
  • STAGE 5–RESILIENCE: “I am resilient. I can repair and recover from hurts and challenges with my power.”: You find that even if you misjudge a situation, you are remarkably resilient. Your heart and soul aren’t as fragile as you earlier thought.
  • STAGE 6–BIRTH RIGHT: “Even if people hurt or criticize me when I use my power, this doesn’t mean that it’s categorically not okay for me to be powerful.” You begin to understand that your birthright is to use your power. You have a natural right to have an effect or to have influence with others. This is the definition of power.
  • STAGE 6–ALTRUISM: “Now I can better understand and help others with their relationship with power.” You notice that your desire to help others understand power dynamics and to contribute to the empowerment of others is a natural result of having a more flexible, effective and satisfying relationship with your own power. Altruism triggers endorphins in the brain.

Beliefs set up the way we experience the world. As Anais Nin said, “We see the world, not as it is, but as we are.”  Beliefs and the habits of responding (such as the one about power used here as an example) that are linked to these beliefs are created out of painful past or childhood experiences and are designed to protect you from further pain.  However, they go into your unconscious and thus become unavailable for change. These beliefs are either original misunderstandings or have now become out of date.

I’d like to invite you to identify a belief and habit that you notice doesn’t serve you well and try out using this map to support you in “Staging a Power Shift.” I’d love to hear about your experience!

© Copyright 2011 by Cedar Barstow. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Rudy Nuun

    August 24th, 2011 at 1:47 AM

    Its all about balance in my eyes.
    I have a great deal of power in my industry and i have gone through most of these factors you have mentioned.

    Good article, thanks.

  • shelton oliver

    August 24th, 2011 at 7:29 AM

    cautious while exercising your power is fine but sometimes it can get to a point wherein you no longer do exercise your power! while this can happen to a lot of reasons,I think the most common ones have to be a)having committed a mistake in the past due to exercising your authority or power and b)having others around you who kind of force you against exercising your power.

  • Cedar Barstow

    September 15th, 2011 at 10:39 AM

    Hi Rudy, Thanks for your validation that you can relate to these stages, or most of them.

    Hi Shelton, I’m wanting to understand what you are saying here. I’m reading between the lines and imagining that this happened to you personally. Perhaps you “shut yourself down” out of shame over the mistake you made, or perhaps those in an up-power role to you, shut you down, or you are in a situation in which you are not allowed to exercise your role responsibilities (ie role power). In any of these possibilities my best wisdom is to (any or all appropriate) self-correct whatever needs correcting, let go of shame, make amends, clarify your role responsibilities, skillfully and sensitively address misuses of up-power, find balance, re-link your strength with your compassion. I’m so sorry you feel forced out. Remember, Power is simply the ability to have an effect or to have influence…this ability is a birth right. Perhaps you’d like to read my book? And thanks for being so honest.

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