On the last track we discussed obstacles to change manifested as habit and reflex. The accompanying technique is called The Howitzer Mantras.
On this track we will continue our three part discussion on obstacles to change by examining the second category of obstacle. This second category of obstacles to change is feelings of powerlessness, which, as you know, is a usual by product of abuse resulting in low self esteem.
The accompanying technique on this track focuses on overcoming feelings of powerlessness. But remember, the techniques in this three part discussion are not limited to the specific obstacle which they accompany. Rather, feel free to implement these techniques in any aspect of your practice which you feel they could be most effective. In short, these tracks are simply a vehicle to deliver the information and not a precise guide on how to apply the information. Sound good? Let’s continue.
Obstacles to Change: Feelings of Powerlessness
A second major reason why it is so difficult to alter destructive self critical practices is that most clients who employ them feel powerless to do so. When clients cannot observe what they are doing, their whole sense will be that their misery is visited upon them by sources beyond their control. Even when clients like Joan are able to observe self critical acts, a lack of control over them is often reported.
Joan stated, "It’s like that critic you were talking about has a life of its own, with its own opinions. To me, that voice just doesn’t seem like it’s subject to my decisions." I find that when the destructive self criticism that leads to low self esteem is long standing, the sense of powerlessness is deepened. As Joan stated, "I have been doing this since the abuse. It’s so ingrained, so habitual. How can I ever stop?"
To help Joan get control over her critic, I implemented a technique for overcoming powerlessness. As I explained to Joan this technique has four steps which each require subsets of steps we could focus on throughout her treatment.
4-Step "Overcoming Feelings of Powerlessness" Technique
Step # 1 - Recognize your Emotions
I stated, "The first step is to recognize your emotions. An emotion is your reaction to a situation. While it may not always seem like it, your reaction is under your control. When you say, "My critic makes me feel worthless," you are mentally giving your self critic power over your reaction. The critic doesn’t make you powerless. Without conscious thought, you chose to become powerless. That awareness is the first step in regaining control over the situation."
Step # 2 - Be Consistent and Organized
The next step is being consistent and organized. I stated to Joan, "First you want to be consistent in your response to self criticism. Try not to let your emotions get in the way of your response, whether it be clouding, probing, or the howitzer mantra. Then get organized. Keep track of each criticism and how you responded to it. Note how you felt afterwards and the changes you notice. Also, include a calendar of ‘things to do.’" Do you find that if clients can begin to control the process, they start to feel more on top of the situation?
Step # 3 - Not Forgetting the Rest of your Life
In addition to recognizing emotions and being consistent and organized, the third step in overcoming feelings of powerlessness is not forgetting the rest of your life. I stated to Joan, "Emotionally at times it feels like you don’t have control over aspects of your life. When you feel bounced and battered, it is important to acknowledge those parts of your life self criticism has not touched. Focus on your accomplishments in life, both in the past and currently. Work to keep balance in your life in this way and not let self criticism take control of your life again."
Step # 4 - Accentuate the Positives
Finally, I asked Joan not to let self criticism rob her of her power by accentuating the positives. Joan asked, "What are the positive aspects of self abuse through self criticism and reliving the abuse of my childhood on an almost daily basis? Tell me that." How might you have responded to Joan?
I stated, "You just displayed one positive aspect. You are learning how powerful you are. You are gaining a new level of assertiveness that you didn’t know you had before. Another positive aspect is your identity. One of the reasons for your low self esteem is that you have been feeding into self criticisms that deep down you know aren’t true. Now you have the opportunity to not only discover, but embrace who you truly are as a person." Think of your Joan. Could your client benefit from an adaptation of this overcoming powerlessness technique?
On this track we have discussed obstacles to change by examining the second category of obstacle. This second category of obstacles to change is feelings of powerlessness. The accompanying technique focused on overcoming feelings of powerlessness. The four steps I used in implementing this technique with Joan were recognizing emotions, being consistent and organized, not forgetting the rest of your life, and accentuating the positives.
On the next track we will discuss obstacles to change by examining investments in maintenance. As you will see, this obstacle to change may be one of the most difficult to overcome and may require extensive therapy. Our technique focus for the obstacle of investments in maintenance will be asking the price.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Orth, U., Robins, R. W., Meier, L. L., & Conger, R. D. (2016). Refining the vulnerability model of low self-esteem and depression: Disentangling the effects of genuine self-esteem and narcissism. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 110(1), 133–149.
Reynolds, K. J., Oakes, P. J., Haslam, S. A., Nolan, M. A., & Dolnik, L. (2000). Responses to powerlessness: Stereotyping as an instrument of social conflict. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice, 4(4), 275–290.
Williams Kapten, S. (2020). Power, powerlessness, and the parallel process. Journal of Psychotherapy Integration, 30(1), 147–154.
What are four steps to overcoming feelings of powerlessness? To select and enter your answer go to .