Giving Away Your Power Doesn’t Make It Easier
You want to make it easier on others so you just go along with things. You defer to other's ideas and preferences, because you think it's helpful. Sometimes it feels like you're making a sacrifice, but most of the time it seems like no big deal and just seems easier.
Giving up your needs so that other's needs can be met could be called "power under" behavior. Conversely, meeting your needs at the cost of other's needs could be called a "power over" behavior. Collaborating so that everyone's needs can be met is called "power with".
The ironic thing about "power under" is that it doesn't actually make anything easier. When you engage from "power under", you withdraw not just your needs and preferences, but also your energy, creativity, and support. When your partner asks you what you want to do for date night, and you say, "I'm flexible, what do you want to do?" It leaves your partner alone in figuring out what would be fun and enriching for you both. If this kind of interaction happens habitually across a variety of contexts, your partner starts to feel like a power monger. Even if they are trying create "power with", when you hold back, the most well intentioned partner can start to shift to "power over". If this is happening, you might hear your partner say things like: "You make me feel like a monster", "Why do I have to figure everything out?!", "I feel like you're judging everything I do." In time you will start to resent your partner for making all the decisions, and you might regret all the times you gave up your power. This creates a tortuous cycle of blame and shame.
If you start to move from "power under" to "power with" and your partner is still trying to engage you in collaboration, they will likely be relieved and happy to have you showing up. It might be awkward at first. You might stumble about figuring out how to contribute to the conversation. You might overshoot and lobby for a preference that doesn't mean that much to you and then next time let go of something you really care about. You might have a few arguments with your partner until you gain confidence that it's okay for you to show up with your needs and what's alive for you.
Let's look at some things you can that will help you truly collaborate with your partner and come from a "power with" place.
Build a relationship to your needs. Print the feelings and needs list from my website and put it on your nightstand. Take ten minutes every night to find the needs that were met and unmet for you that day.
Bring awareness to the habits of "power under" by noticing a telltale sign that you are in it. Maybe there is something you typically say like "whatever you want", "It doesn't matter.", "Just tell me what you want and I will do it.", "I don't care."; or maybe there is something you do like look down, slouch, stand just behind and back from the interaction, or speak quietly. Choose one telltale sign that will be your signal to stop and do something different.
Perhaps you replace "whatever" with "Give me a moment to think of what I would like." Perhaps you replace slouching and standing back with stepping closer, standing upright, and making eye contact.
Create and practice a mantra that helps you step forward into "power with". Here are some possibilities:
It's okay to take up space
I am welcome here
Hiding doesn't help
It's safe to show up
I want to be alive in my life
There is space for my needs
Ask for support. At first you may think you actually don't have any needs or preferences. If you have been behaving from "power under" for a while, you may be disconnected from what is really alive for you moment by moment. You may need to ask your partner to wait a few minutes or a day while you find your truth about a particular decision or situation. Let your partner know that you are trying to make this change and what would be supportive to you as you do. Here are some requests that might be helpful:
Please greet my ideas with warmth and curiosity at first even if you don't agree.
If have the impulse to tease me, please keep it on the inside and don't tease me.
Please don't laugh at me as I stumble, but rather offer an appreciation of the effort I'm making or reassurance that it's okay to be awkward.
Please show patience with my process by encouraging me to take the time I need to find what's right for me.
As you begin this practice of stepping forward into "power with", you will likely encounter internal resistance as well as resistance from others who are used to ignoring you. You might feel fear or panic. You might notice your mind finding all the reasons you really don't need to offer what's true for you. You might feel hopeless or resigned telling yourself it doesn't matter or why bother. Surrounding yourself with people who are kind and patient and dedicated to "power with" is key to facing and moving through resistance to stepping into your power.
Stepping forward into your power not only helps you live a vibrant and satisfying life, but also allows you to contribute meaningfully to the well-being of others.
PracticeTake a moment now to check in with where you are behaving from "power under", "power over", and "power with". You might find that it varies greatly in different relationships and situations. Reflect on the situations and relationships in which you behave from "power with". What is it about these instances that allow you to come from a "power with" consciousness?