Keeping Your Power Switch Turned On

By: Patricia A. Sartini, Ed.S., LMFT, LCPC

Understanding the concept of personal power and how you can learn to interact with self-assurance.

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In this article, I will address the concept of personal power.  Some may call it “acting your age,” “being assertive,” “taking care of yourself,” or “being empowered.”  I like to name it “keeping your power switch turned on.”

How many times throughout the day do you say or do something that isn’t what you wanted to say or do, and later wished you could have or would have said or done something different?  Confusing?   Let’s look at two examples and see if either applies to how you, at times, relate to others.

You have a girls’ night out once a month.  The weekend before your scheduled get-together, you go see a movie with your husband and really don’t like it.  The girls’ group plans to see a movie for this month’s night out, and the popular pick is the movie you just saw.  When asked if that’s a good pick for you, you tell your friends, “Sure, I’m game.”  Inside, you are irritated with yourself that you didn’t speak up to share your opinion.  You go to the movie and suffer silently.

Or, your supervisor likes to tease his employees when they make mistakes.  You find his behavior embarrassing and distasteful.  You make a minor mistake on a report; your supervisor teasingly says, “Way to go, Einstein” in the presence of your co-workers.  Your face gets hot; you see red; you stand up and shout, “Shut up, you are so ignorant,” and bolt out of the room.

What happened with each of the women in these scenarios?  Let’s take a look.  The first woman denied her reality by squashing her opinion and passively going along with the crowd, even when she did not want to.  Now, if she had spoken up, she may have indeed still seen the movie again, but she did not even give her voice a chance to be heard with her friends. 

How about our second scenario?  On the surface it may look as if the woman kept her power swtich turned on by yelling at her supervisor, but the opposite is true.  She, too, turned off her power switch by reacting with anger.  She really wasn’t in charge of herself during that time.  Therefore, her power was shut down.

Both women had abandoned their powers of choice and became reactors. What triggers this reactivity that leads to an either-or, fight-or-flight position?

It is fear…irrational fear.  “I’m afraid they won’t like me.”  “I’m afraid others will think I am weak.”  “I’m afraid she’ll get angry with me.”  “I’m afraid she won’t be my friend anymore.”  “I’m afraid she’ll think I’m stupid.”  And on and on and on.  You fill in the blank.

When you go into reactive mode, you limit your choices to only two…neither of which are usually from your power switch turned on.

Often, a good way to tell that you have turned off your switch is when you find yourself obsessing about and replaying the scenario well after the interaction/event has occurred.  In the replay in your head, you may be thinking of things you wished you would have said or done; possibly reliving the uncomfortable emotions you felt at the time; or, planning a way to “get even”.  In short, you are not finished with the scenario long after it is over.  This is a sign that you did not deal with the issue at hand with your power switch turned on.

If you deal with an uncomfortable scenario with your switch on, you will be finished with the scenario at the time it ends or shortly thereafter, after a brief replay for a quick assessment of your behavior.

The secret is to silence the irrational fear before you decide what to do.  A simple formula to do that is to say or do nothing when challenged interactionally.  It’s important that you buy yourself some time to get your emotion in check and keep the power on.  You can do this by counting to ten, leaving the room for a while, going for a walk….anything that will help your thought processes diminish the draining energy of fear.  Once you are in charge of the fear, other choices will come to you on how to handle the situation.  You then have the power to choose how to respond from a variety of options.  And, when you do respond, your presentation will be more empowered and you will be more equipped to handle however the person responds or reacts to you.

By keeping your power switch on as an adult woman, you can:

  • keep your energy high
  • respond with confidence
  • lessen self-doubts
  • keep grudges from forming
  • respect yourself and others
  • interact with self-assurance