Have you ever had the experience where someone has so completely bamboozled you that before you know it you’re completely disconnected from your power?
And before you know it you’re handing over money or engaged in something that in a clearer state of mind you’d never contemplate?
This happened to me once early one Sunday morning when I’d popped out for a relaxing coffee in Brixton, London.
I was happily reading my book when I became aware of a presence in front of me.
I looked up and saw- a little closer to me than was comfortable- a small, thin woman with dirty, tousled hair and even dirtier clothes.
Then she smiled revealing her teeth and gums which were in a terrible state, leant her head to one side and said the words that completely threw me off balance.
‘Can I have a sip of your coffee?’
~ I was so surprised and horrified that I couldn’t think straight ~
I know. I aspire to be compassionate and equanimous. But something about the shock of this apparition knocked me completely off balance.
There are so many things I could have done.
Said no and I’m sorry that I couldn’t help her.
Got angry and asked her to leave.
But instead I felt guilty and obligated to help in some way. But there was no way I was going to share my coffee.
~ I was completely bumped into one of my automatic, default patterns ~
So I asked her if she’d like a coffee and bought her one.
The staff clearly recognised her and it was at that point that I had been expertly manipulated.
She had quite clearly done exactly the same thing with any number of people before.
I imagine she knew exactly what she was doing when she asked for a sip of my coffee. And knew that it might well create exactly the sort of reaction that it had.
The interesting thing for me here is not how I should or could have responded. Nor whether someone in such a difficult position really needs to helped and supported by society (they should in my view).
Although these are valid and very important, what is so fascinating to me is how such a small interaction as this can create such a powerful knee jerk reaction in me. And how often this same mechanism is used in the media and in relationships to manipulate and control.
~ When we’re knocked out of our power we’re vulnerable ~
So how does this work? And is there anything we can do to protect against it?
The main mechanism to knock us out of power is to challenge our internal status quo in a powerful way.
This happens primarily through two routes.
The first is fatigue. This can be exhaustion from simply doing too much, excessive amounts of information for too long or in too short a space of time. Or it can come from repetition.
Whatever way it arises, the fatigue stops us from being fully present and aware and this makes us vulnerable to outside forces influencing our thinking.
The second is intense emotion which can also sometimes make us vulnerable in a slightly different way.
~ Fatigue and intense emotion are two situations that can increase our vulnerability ~
I say emotion but actually it is probably more accurately described as some kind of intensity.
The news focuses on the negative and there is a very good reason it does. In doing so, especially in a shocking way it activates the survival parts of our nervous system. Understandably this makes us pay attention and activates our fight / flight mechanism.
But the intensity can equally be positive in nature and still knock us off balance.
This is exactly what happens when a marketer manages to help us get in touch with the dream of what it would be like to really have something we believe we want.
Suddenly our grounded sense of being in touch with what is important recedes and we can find ourselves whipping out the credit card to buy something we had never known we wanted.
The example I gave above with the coffee perfectly shows how easily this can be triggered by an outside influence. Her request for a sip of my coffee completely knocked my lovely sunday morning reading coffee experience off balance.
But the disturbance can equally come from inside us from a thought process or a feeling.
If you’ve ever woken in the middle of the night and found yourself treading the lonely path into negative thinking you’ll know exactly what I mean.
~ So how do we guard against it? Get curious about your personal expression of power ~
The first and most important way is to get curious about your personal expression of power- how and when you have it. And what makes you lose it.
If you take a good hard look at when it happens you’ll start to discern patterns and once you see them you are in a position to do something about it.
This is the first step to developing awareness and having a framework for growing the amount of time and the depth we can spend in our zone of power.
Noticing when and how we’re knocked out of our power automatically also makes us aware when we’re in our power.
The next step which goes with it is to deepen our ability to be with difficult feelings without getting completely thrown by them. It is our reaction to our challenging feelings that makes us vulnerable.
This is best trained away from challenging situations initially. As we gain skill and confidence we can see them in real time more as they come up.
~ Situations where we have given away our power become resources for us ~
This gives a real sense of power because suddenly all the situations where we have given away our power become available to us as possible resources. We can take back our power from where we have left it.
But as we can see from the example above it is not always possible to notice what is going on in real time. This is when we need the skill of the third step.
The third step is to develop a deep and abiding sense of compassion for ourselves- no matter what.
Easier said than done but every moment spent in understanding how to do this is incredibly enriching for the rest of our lives.
It is often the judgement of someone else or ourselves that opens the doorway to our being knocked out of our power.
If we’re able to hold ourselves with more kindness then we are much more able to stay with the shifting landscape of our own internal world and express ourselves fully in our lives.
For me this is truly standing in our power.
I’d love to hear some of the ways that you get knocked out of your power and what you do about it.