On Being Powerless

Dear readers, today I am writing in a personal exploration style. The content may be too heavy for some.

Prior to creating drmikekuna.com I wrote my thoughts on Facebook. All of my writing has had a purpose, a purpose that may be unknown to many of you. You see, dear readers, I am trying to find my voice, specifically my writing voice. Part of that process includes being fearless in what I say.

I find that when I write different writing styles emerge. They press forward and then recede, only to be replaced by another style. My writing process is quirky. Sometimes I will get an idea during a life event. Sometimes a photo will trigger a post. At times I will have a great idea, only to forget it by the time that my fingers touch keyboard.

Today I felt a need to write. Today I had absolutely no idea what to write about. One phrase came to me. That phrase repeated itself in the insistent way that things sometimes do in my life. I have learned to address insistent thoughts as they often lead me in a direction that I am intended to travel. Where do these thoughts come from? My subconcious? An event? God? Likely, all of the above.

This morning I woke up to the insistent thought that I am powerless. I thought that I would write about it. Dear reader, like many I despise cryptic posts. Those post that make a dramatic statement, but offer no juicy details to finalize the story to a satisfying completeness. That is not my intention here. Rather, I would like to include you in the process of discovering the reasons why my consciousness has directed me. I will attempt that discovery by writing about it. If this level of obtuseness is unsatisfying to you then I would suggest that you stop reading now, lest you be frustrated and bored. I am going to write today’s piece as it flows from me, editing only grammar, not content nor sequence. Welcome to my mind…

My beginning was one without power. I suppose that is what most early lives are. I realized that if I wanted to move myself in any direction I would have to be my own active agent. I have talked in the past of individuals who helped propel me forward, but I had to do the actual work on my own.

To my surprise, I was able to accomplish what appeared to be impossible goals. Initially, I attributed those achievements to random chance or blind luck. Later, I accepted my personal efforts. Larger changes in my life seemed to happen by unknown external forces. Eventually, I had to admit that large changes were generated by a Higher Force. That Force I now call God.

Sometimes an apparent positive change turns out to be negative. Sometimes an apparent negative change turns out to be positive. Most times I accept this fact, at other times I fight it tooth and nail.

After decades of practicing my professional craft it has become easy to identify key problem areas in a patient and to develop useful interventions to help alleviate those problems. After decades of practicing my profession, I have learned that many patients are unwilling to accept such solutions. Of those that do accept my suggestion, many will not implement them. I understand this. I am not that powerful, and even a small percentage of change makes my professional life significant. Positive force, even small, pushes humankind forward. Negative force, even small, does the opposite.

So why am I writing about being powerless? Why did this thought enter my mind on awakening this morning? To understand this I need to go past my two polar extremes. The first being my well controlled internal milieu, and the second being my professional connections with others.

In between lies those people that I love. Those individuals where I have gone past empathic concern, and have connected with them on a profound level. Those connections can be both emotionally exhausting, and intensely rewarding. Because of the tremendous outlay of interpersonal energy required, I choose those connections carefully.

A number of factors combine to offer me unique insights in others. My co-dependency roots afford me more empathy than some. My OCD roots constantly analyze situational outcomes and potential solutions. My autistically (according to my psychologist wife) structured brain allows me to see data and solutions in aggregates, rather than in the A + B = C fashion of linear thinkers. Add to these the secret sauce of my training as a psychiatrist and 30+ years of “field” work; I come to the table better prepared than most.

On the surface, it would seem that the above package would be immensely beneficial to the loved ones in my life. I can recognize problems as they emerge, come up with potential options, and I even have the skillset to bring such options to a workable solution. Patients pay me hundreds of dollars for an hour of my time. Loved ones get that expertise for free.

However, people that seek your advice are different from people who you give unsolicited advice to. The later group viewing such interactions as potential intrusions. On an intellectual level I can understand this completely. However, my deep connections with others are not intellectual in nature. They are based on deep feelings, deep commitment, and a genuine desire to give that person what they tell me that they want. Of course, what people say what they want is not always what they feel that they deserve.

I tend to take on a loved one’s problem as my own and devote high levels of resources in helping them obtain the outcome that they say that they desire. It can be difficult for me to recognize that they may have a different actual agenda when I am so focused. This is very different from my professional life where I can stand aside with enough distance to explore the sub plots of a patient’s psyche.

When I connect with someone deeply I can be blinded by my desire to protect them. From what, you may ask? I don’t always have an answer to that question. I can only generate a metaphor that defines this feeling:

I am seeing a small child on a railroad track. The child says that they want to get off that track and I can sense their genuine fear. The train is coming and I am shouting solutions. Each solution is met by an illogical rationale why it can’t be done. The train moves ever closer, my pleas become louder, the returning rejections become firmer. Eventually, my attempted solutions become part of the problem. They delay the inevitable. They prolong the agony. Since they are not accepted, they have no true meaning or benefit. They are just words. What should I do? Do I stop shouting and let the train crush the child? Will the child figure out a way to save himself? Should I just wait with open arms to comfort and help pick up the broken person?… None of the above seems right to me.

I need to realize that solutions are only helpful if someone implements them. People have a right to guide their own lives, even if their action cause avoidable distress to them. I cannot make change happen by the sheer force of my will.

As I write this I am sad. I don’t want the people that I love to suffer. I want to pick them up and carry them to safety. I want to cover them up with a soft blanket and keep them warm. I want to protect them. I want them to know that they are loved, that they have value. Instead, I have to accept sadness and powerlessness.

Over the last 5 years I have undergone many significant changes. Some of them initially presented as truly terrible events. However, they were part of a greater movement that has had a profoundly positive impact on my life. I need to remember this as I look at problems that the people that I love face. I can’t predict how their seemingly incorrect actions will impact them as they travel through their own timeline. I need to constantly remind myself, some bad things produce good changes, some good things produce bad ones.

I also need to be cognizant of my personal needs. I may assume that anything that strengthens my connection with someone that I love is mutually beneficial for both of us. It is possible that a loosening of that connection could actually be good for someone that I care about, as it would allow that person to form potentially deeper connections with others. Despite my personal desires, it is important for me to realize that when I truly care about someone I need to consider that they may need to move in a new direction, even if that direction is away from me.

Today I am powerless, helpless, but not hopeless. Today I must accept my limitations. I understand that I am not alone, and that something greater than myself has a personal interest in me. That entity, who I refer to as God, also has a personal interest in those around me.

Still, the above knowledge doesn’t help the agony that I feel for the “child on the railroad track.” Perhaps writing in the future will help me understand that.

Today my goal to continue to gain a better understanding of myself and my actions.

2 thoughts on “On Being Powerless”

  1. Hi Dr Mike!

    I’ve seen lots of your Saving Savvy videos on Youtube and have really enjoyed them. I also enjoyed reading this article of yours, and it reminded me of a video by Giles Fraser on helplessness. It’s over 30 minuted long, but I think the conclusion makes it worth the time. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8iC61QTUsno

    Thanks for your videos! (By the way – I’d love you to do one on weight loss). Any chance? 🙂

    Best wishes, John

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