Kathleen Adams, LPC, RPT
times, scribes were devotees of the Word. They were the
bridges between worlds, charged with the sacred task of
painstakingly transcribing the Mysteries into a form
that could be referenced by holy men and women. Many
centuries later, our modern journals give us unlimited
access to the Mysteries of our souls. Through this
column, I hope to offer ways that we can approach our
own lives with the love and devotion of the scribes of
Authentic Power: How to Claim It, How to Keep It
Navigating life these days sometimes feels like tiptoeing through a mine field: So many saboteurs, so much that can go wrong. In every life there are many things that can catch us by surprise and topple us off center: A cantankerous boss, a troubling
teen, bad news at the doctor’s office, a car accident, worrisome levels of debt. Any of these, and so much more, can leave us feeling powerless and defeated before we even start.
Yet there is something that transcends circumstances and lends strength and hope when everything seems to be falling. It is our own authentic personal power – not the “power over” of “might/fight/right,” but the true, authentic, inexhaustible resource of
power that wells up from within.
Five Steps to Personal Power
Your journal is a valued ally in your decision to claim and keep your personal power. In its pages you will examine your core beliefs, develop and deepen relationship with the part of you that holds your personal power, learn how to walk away from “power
struggles,” and come from a core of proactivity rather than reactivity. So get out your notebook or journal, or navigate to your blog or a new word processing document, and let’s get started. You’ll probably want to do these processes over several days. It’s helpful if you
do each step in sequence.
1. Your Personal Relationship with Power
Let’s begin at the beginning. What is your relationship with power? Start by dividing a page, or a word processing document, into two vertical columns labeled Negative and Positive (or Bad/Good, or –/+, or however you
choose.) Write in each column, as fast as you can, the words, phrases, characteristics and qualities you associate with power – even specific names you associate with “bad” power and “good” power! Don’t censor yourself, and don’t try to make the columns even. Take about 10
or 15 minutes for this exercise.
When you’re done, go back and see if you can notice some themes. Summarize each column with a feedback statement: “As I look at this, I notice…” or “…I feel…” or “…I seem to believe….”
At this point, walk away from this process. Leave it alone for a few hours. When you come back to it, start with a fresh page and write for 5-10 uninterrupted minutes, as fast as you can, starting with the Sentence Stem, “My core beliefs about power…..”
2. Who is the Authentically Powerful You?
In his memoir Heaven’s Coast the poet Mark Doty writes, “What is healing, but a shift in perspective?” We might substitute the word power: What is power, but a shift in perspective? If your core beliefs about power suggest that, even
occasionally, you think everyone has it but you, or that it is an ephemeral or fickle thing, or that it is accessible only to those who have privileges (wealth, position, education, talent, etc.) unavailable to you, then let’s see if we can shift perspective.
Look at your list of positive associations with power. Now see if you can remember three times in your life – from birth to the present moment – when you experienced something that we might call authentic power – a sense of empowerment that was
sourced in the qualities you listed. These might be times when you felt in alignment with yourself and the world around you.
Now, write three Character Sketches of yourself in those times. Take a step back, observe the scene as a narrator might, and write about yourself as a character, in the third person. Write both what is external to the “character” – what are the
circumstances? – and also what is internal – how does s/he feel, respond, initiate?
When you are complete with the three Character Sketches (which might take about 10 minutes each), read them over and look for themes. What do you notice? Summarize this in a Character Sketch of your Empowered Self, the part of you that is
authentically personally powerful.
3. Your Empowered Self
The third step is to deepen relationship with your Empowered Self. Try having a journal Dialogue – a written conversation in which you write both parts – with this part of yourself. Start by closing your eyes and imagining yourself in a beautiful place
in nature, walking side by side with this part of yourself that we are calling the Empowered Self. Imagine that you are having a conversation with the part of you that knows how to succeed, that wants you teach you to live from the place s/he masters. Your Dialogue will
take on its own form and rhythm, so let it go where it goes without imposing too much structure on it. Sometimes it’s helpful to set it up on the page so that it looks like a movie or play script, like this (Empowered Self is referred to as “ES”):
Me: I need your help when I ask for a raise. I always feel so wimpy and inadequate.
ES: It has been 2 years since your last raise, and you have had two excellent performance reviews since then. What all have you accomplished in the last year alone?
Me: Hmmm… let’s see. I was the team leader for the development project.
ES: And how did your team do?
Me: We finished on time and brought the project in 8% under budget.
ES: And nobody fought with each other.
Me: Right. We all got along really well.
ES: And what else have you done in the past year?
Cultivate relationship with your Empowered Self. Consider this part of yourself a member of your personal success team. Dialogue with your Empowered Self when you run up against a difficult circumstance, person or situation. You might just be surprised
at how helpful and cooperative s/he is!
4. Walk Away from Power Struggles
A power struggle results when we think (sometimes accurately!) that someone or something is trying to assert authority or control over us. Power struggles are always heirarchicial; we perceive this someone/thing as bigger, better, stronger, more “in
charge” than we are. Power struggles can be crazymaking when we are in the “underdog” position; we often feel helpless, intimidated or victimized.
As you develop your own empowerment muscles, you will increasingly realize that personal power is internally sourced, and thus it is not available to be taken away. Similarly, you will realize that when you are confident in your own empowerment, you are
able to see another’s crusade for dominance as something that doesn’t have to involve you. The shift in perspective becomes: “I have my authentic power, and it is not available to you. And because I have my own, I don’t want yours. Therefore, we have nothing to struggle
over. I am walking away.”
My friend Marianne, a wonderfully empowered woman, was diagnosed with a moderate case of diabetes mellitus in June. She panicked, went into denial, and ignored her doctor’s advice to immediately begin treatment. She spent the summer cowered in an
emotional corner, fearful that there was already irreversible damage, yet helpless to do anything about it.
In August she took back her power. Her Empowered Self called the doctor, began medication, enrolled in a diabetes management class, and started keeping meticulous records of her blood sugar levels and food intake. Within 72 hours she moved from
“victimized” to “empowered.” Two weeks later she had educated herself, her family and friends about the disease and had started proactively planning how she would manage business meals and make the necessary lifestyle adjustments. And she began to see immediate improvement
in her glucose levels!
“Everything changed for me when I woke up and realized I was giving away my power to a disease,” Marianne said. “That very day I decided to get proactive and take charge. It’s my life and my health. I’m not giving that up.”
5. Get Proactive
Marianne knows an essential truth about personal power: While we may not always get to choose our life circumstances, we certainly can choose how we respond to them. That isn’t to say that we don’t get temporarily flattened by bad news or challenging
conditions. But at a certain point, our Empowered Self will stand up and say, “Enough. Let’s get into action.”
Bring to mind a challenging situation. Sit down with your journal and plan to write for 15 minutes. To begin, write three feeling words at the top of your entry. Before she got proactive, Marianne might have identified her feelings as “overwhelmed,
scared, helpless.” When you’ve checked in with your feelings, write two or three sentences each for the following Sentence Stems, in order:
v The challenging situation I want to explore is….
v The first thing that comes to mind is….
v Beneath the surface, I find….
v I feel bad (or: stressed, angry, scared, etc.) about this
v If there were something good (hopeful, positive, etc.) about
this, it would be ….
v My Empowered Self knows my resources and support include….
v My next step is ….
Then, at the end, write down three feeling words. Marianne’s might have been “strong, determined, resourceful.”
Then … take your next step! And here’s a secret that your Empowered Self knows: Any step you take that moves you in the direction of authentic power, no matter how large or small, will help you get there. Any step at all. The important thing is to get
into action – and even more specifically, into proaction, where, on the cause/effect continuum you are at “cause”, instead of reaction, where you are at the “effect” of the behavior of others, or the circumstances of your life.
© Copyright Kathleen Adams. All Rights Reserved
Kathleen Adams LPC, PTR, is delighted to be resuming her Scribing the Soul column for Soulful Living. A licensed professional counselor in private practice specializing in journal therapy, she is also the director of the Center for Journal Therapy, Inc. in
Denver (www.journaltherapy.com). Kathleen is the author of six books on writing and healing, including the best-selling Journal to the Self and a
collection of essays, Scribing the Soul, that include many of her past columns here. Her latest project is Journal Conference 2008: The Power of Writing, with keynote speakers Tristine Rainer, Christina Baldwin and James Pennebaker, to be held in Denver June
18-21, 2008. For more information, check www.journaltherapy.com or email her at
Kathleen's Feature Article on Dream Journals:
in the Dark: Cracking the Soul's Code Through Dream