By Joyce Alexander, RNP (retired)
Each one of us has more power than we generally perceive we do. Some people, in fact, do not recognize that they have any power over either what happens to them, or to how they react to what happens to them. Yet, we are totally powerful people; we have total power over what goes on inside us.
Recognizing that I am a powerful person with ultimate control over my emotions and actions is a heady feeling, and a scary feeling too. It is heady because it gives us a feeling that we can control ourselves, but it is scary because we also realize that there is no one else who can save us if we fail to exercise that power fully or competently.
When we were children, if we became frightened or sad, we could call on the god-like adults in our world to make us safe and to keep us safe. They could turn on the lights to scare away the monsters that might be lurking there when we could not reach the switch.
At some point in our lives, though, we must recognize that no one can do for us what we must do for ourselves, and that is to exercise our power to keep us as safe as possible from external events and internal tidal waves.
Sometimes things happen externally that devastate our internal and external worlds: A trusted friend/family member/lover dies or betrays us, or a recession, depression, bankruptcy, or war intervenes in our carefully built and safe life that we could not have foreseen. This external event sweeps us away into an abyss of loss and despair. We see our own mortality, or that our life is half gone and we have not accomplished the “you should do x-es” that we had always thought we would do.
We let our sense of devastation externally and internally push us into an abyss of grief and pain. How do we take back our power when we feel so powerless, so naked and vulnerable? How will we ever feel safe again?
Recognizing that we are not in complete control of external events is a scary feeling, yet one that we must, as adults, face. Recognizing the truth that our plans for our future may not all be possible at this point in life is also necessary, and may sadden us.
Phases of life
Just as a child grows through various stages from birth to leaving home, adults too pass through various stages of adulthood. Erick Erickson described them as x, y, z. Unfortunately he did not describe them in great detail, but left his theories for others to expound upon.
I agree with Erickson that we go through various phases in adulthood as we move through the decades of the twenties, thirties, forties, etc. We are not the same person in each of these decades of our lives. We have different wants, needs, skills and knowledge as we move through life.
While it is easy to see that it would be an inappropriate thing for a 60-year-old woman to be sad that she could not marry, conceive a child and raise a family at that age, sometimes, we are saddened because we cannot have all the options at age 30 or 40 that we did at age 20.
When an external event precipitates a major change in our lives, or even an internal tidal wave of regrets or realizations of our lives makes us “sit up and take notice” of where we are on the life-time continuum, we pass through a stage where we may feel powerless over our emotions.
An encounter with a psychopath may be the precipitating external event in our lives, but it can be anything, or nothing in particular. A painful encounter, though, gives us the opportunity to take stock of where we are, where we wish to go, and who we are in the next phase of our adult lives. It is a time to truly recognize that we will not live forever, and that we are subject to the natural laws of this world, and yet, to rise above this and to find significant meaning in ourselves and in our lives.
We can use the external events to grow and refocus our lives, realizing that we do have power, complete power, over some things, and that we have no power over other things. We can live while we live, and find meaning and satisfaction in each of the stages of our lives.