“Betsy, you don’t understand who I’m talking about. You don’t know him. He will never change.”
I hear wives and husbands say this about their spouses all the time. Teenagers don’t stay behind, when they refer to their parents or the bullies that make their lives miserable. Men and women repeatedly insist on this when talking about their co-workers, bosses, friends, in-laws, and other family members. I even hear parents say this about their children. Regardless of who says it, my reply is always the same:
“You’re right, he won’t change.”
My statement is often followed by an incredulous and hopeless stare from my client. There’s usually a pause and then I add: “…unless, of course, YOU do something about it. You have the power to do so!”
Still incredulous, the look in their faces now seems curious, yet confused. A smart and sweet 8th grader expressed verbally what her stare said quietly: “Betsy, you keep saying that I have the power, but what does that mean? Where’s that power and how do I exercise it? How can I make him stop bullying me?
The first question can be answered easily by the dictionary: Power is the ability to do something or act in a particular way, as well as the capacity to influence the behavior of others. The other questions made me think, and in an effort to clarify her inquiry, I came up with four principles that would help guide her as she worked on becoming empowered. I will share those with you, but first let me tell you what I discovered as I explored further people’s idea of power.
I asked a group of men, women, and children who they thought about when they heard the word powerful. World leaders, judges, men, police officers, soldiers, super heroes, doctors, teachers, CEO’s, and the media were some general answers. Others were more specific: mom, dad, my boss, my wife, Trump, Oprah, Tony Robbins, Mother Theresa, and God.
Only one person said, “Me.” My 5-year old son.
My son got it right. You are the most powerful person you know.
Yes, you ARE, because nobody can have more power over your life than yourself. Even God respects your free will and doesn’t intrude if you don’t let Him.
You have the power to do the unimaginable. You can determine your destiny and you can influence the people around you, causing them to act the way you want them to. And you don’t need to have a title that is already associated with power, as is the case of the president of the United States. That’s cheating. The power I’m talking about does not expire after four years, nor does it depend on re-election. It relies on you.
If you’re thinking that’s easier said than done, you’re right. Exercising power is, indeed, extremely H-A-R-D. It is not about using your status, title, or resources to manipulate or crush others as you attempt to acquire your wishes. It also has nothing to do with control at the expense of others’ well-being. That is easy; power is not. In fact, we are truly powerful when we master four H-A-R-D principles: Humility, Authenticity, Responsibility, and Decisions.
You may have heard the story of a very powerful man who was followed by many and continues to be worshiped over two thousand years after his passing. He made the blind see, the sick heal, and the dead rise. He even defeated death Himself. Jesus is an incredible example of power. In fact, if you are a Christian like me, you probably agree that He is the most powerful of all beings because he can influence our lives like no other person could.
This all-powerful man was born to a poor woman in an animal stable. He didn’t go around with bodyguards, expensive jewelry, and Ferragamo sandals. He also didn’t ride a Lamborghini donkey. His power didn’t come from things, status, or titles. Rather, it came from humility. Jesus was a man of service. One that would bend on his knees to wash the feet of his followers. What an example of humility as power!
When you humble yourself, you go from a place of entitlement and arrogance, to one of compassion and mercy. Rather than asking “how dare you do this to me,” you’re wondering, “what made you feel or act that way? What can I do to make it better for you?” We ask questions to understand the person, we listen, we care. We don’t jump to conclusions, judge, or punish. Humility puts the other person’s well-being ahead of your own. When people feel loved and taken care of, they want to return the favor to the person making them feel that way. And that’s why the best leaders are so influential and have countless followers.
Be humble and leave pride, judgment, and status aside. Kindness, which happens when you come from a humble place, is the greatest of all weapons. It may not kill the “evil” instantly and it will seem to allow for unfairness to happen, but be assured that it will triumph eventually. Serve the people who serve you, and you will begin to understand what true power looks like.
In order to exercise power, you also need to be true to yourself. If you refrain from imitating others and you act with authenticity, people will be drawn to you and connect in a way that will allow you to influence them strongly. Take Kathy Buckley, for example. She’s a hearing-impaired motivational speaker and comedienne that does not follow the rules when she gets up in stage. She unapologetically says what she wants, even if it may sound inappropriate in other settings. Kathy also wears whatever she’s in the mood of putting on that day, and it usually includes sneakers, which is not your typical professional speaker attire.
Kathy is authentic and she is incredibly powerful when she delivers a speech. She captivates her audience and inspires them deeply with her genuine personality, story-telling skills, and amusing humor. She’s an influential leader because she is pure and real. She also has a strong sense of self-esteem and knows her worth.
Being authentic is possible when you know and love yourself. We all have different talents, and targeting them will give us the best results. While my power may be with words and Kathy’s with humor, another person’s can be his silent, yet strong presence. Don’t try to do things like someone else. Power is never alike between two unique individuals.
The third foundation of power is assuming responsibility. It was my first day with a couple, who came because the wife had engaged in an extramarital affair. The husband started to explain the situation in a way that I had never experienced before. “We are here because I didn’t take care of my wife, nor did I attend to her needs of time and affection properly, which resulted in her seeking that attention elsewhere.” The man proceeded, “I need your help with restituting trust in our relationship as I learn to become a better husband by loving her the way she needs me to and prioritizing our quality time over the long hours I used to spend at work.”
This was the beginning of a powerful journey of healing after what turned out to be a very traumatic affair. The lover became obsessed with the wife and made every attempt to destroy their family. The process involved having to protect themselves legally and the husband being exposed to torturing details of what his wife did with this man. It was arduous and painful, but the husband insisted, “She is worth it.”
I’m not sure how to describe the husband’s reaction. It sure sounds like love, but he was only able to show it despite the pain he was enduring, because of his ability to assume responsibility. He understood his participation in the affair by contributing to his wife’s vulnerability and dissatisfaction in their marriage. Rather than blaming it all on her and assuming the victim role, the husband was empowered by his accountability. With this attitude and unwavering faith in his marriage, my client acquired power over his wife by conveying the sense of security she needed to overcome this traumatic experience. It’s been six years since and this couple continues to thrive in a healthy and fulfilling marriage founded on trust, humility, and accountability.
Being accountable for your words, actions, and inactions is essential in learning that we have the power to change our situation in the measure that we had some responsibility in getting ourselves in it. In other words, if I had something to do with what happened, then I have the possibility of acting differently to change the outcome moving forward. Responsibility is power! Even when you’re the victim, you are accountable. At the very least, you are always responsible for how you choose to interpret and process the experiences you encounter.
Last, but not least, we become empowered when we actually make authentic, humble and responsible decisions that are aligned with our ultimate goal. I often hear couples say, “I’ll do anything to save my marriage. Anything.” When I suggest humbling themselves and doing for the spouse what the spouse does NOT deserve and without expecting anything in return, they seem to change their minds: “Anything… but that.” If you made the decision to save your marriage, but are not willing to continue making decisions to actually make it happen, your power is gone.
Decisions are to be consistent in order for an individual to become truly empowered and have the ability to influence others. H-A-R-D does not give us immediate results. In fact, it can be very frustrating. My 8th grade client started ignoring the inadequate comments of the bully in her school. She practiced humility by exercising compassion towards him. He has a lot issues and she was able to assume that he doesn’t feel good about himself and tries to put others down to feel better. This helped her refrain from judging him and allowed her to not take his comments personal.
She is an introvert, so she was uncomfortable setting boundaries verbally, as I taught her with some role-play exercises. Hence, she chose to be authentic by doing what was aligned with her personality: make the bully aware of the limits -where his rights end and hers start- with her strong and firm presence. She avoided situations that gave him the opportunity to rag on her, but when he managed to do so, she gave him a look worth more than a thousand words!
She also felt empowered by assuming the responsibility of those incidents re-ocurring. She reflected on what about her made him think that it was okay to offend her. She felt in control when she decided it was up to her that he stopped. And guess what happened the first day she applied all these principles?
Nothing happened. He bullied her again.
But guess what. As R.S. Grey said, “She believed she could, and so she did.” My sweet 8th grader persevered. One-day-at-a-time, she continued to make the humble, authentic, and responsible decisions that would eventually grant her the respect she so deserved (and earned!).
Making the right decision once doesn’t give us power. Making it over and over again, does. Like everything we value in life, H-A-R-D must become a habit. As my good friend Joachim De Posada insisted, success lies in delayed gratification.
Be patient, but be powerful.