Tag Archive: power

The power of adversity


I grew up in chaos.  My mother contracted MS early on, then miraculously went into remission, leaving only numb fingers for some years.  Later on, the nerve damage was more impactful, but most of the time growing up, her MS had only one major impact on the rest of us.  That’s right, chaos.

You see, as she was lying on her bed, day after day, unable to move or see, she would contemplate many things; and the biggest thing was: what was truly important to her.  As a result, when the miracle happened, she no longer considered things like housework and order to be all that important.  Creativity, on the other hand, was vastly important, but only a certain kind of creativity – creativity that led to practical solutions, and that bettered our lot in what she considered a meaningful way every day.  So, art was out, but sewing and designing clothing was in; ballet was out, but working in clay creating pots and dinner-wear was in; writing was out but cooking well definitely was in.  One other thing that happened is that us kids were expected to take up the slack in housekeeping, and even though I won’t go into what that looked like, I will suggest you take a few creative moments imagining what 4 kids might do with it.

This molded certain ways I operated into adulthood.  For instance, I would witness friends and associates struggling with whether or not to do what their parents were against, and would get that, in this way, I was fortunate.  I remember thinking more than once as an adult making my own way:  Wow!  This would have been a lot harder if I hadn’t grown up with chaos! We were a pretty independent bunch, and that gave me something very precious: personal power.

Yes, there were many ways in which I didn’t have this power and had to learn to regain it, but not when it came to my own independence. I had that in spades, and all because of the adversity I met in childhood.

Research and scholarly wisdom has thus far focused on the detrimental effects of childhood abuse and/or adversity. Willem Frankenhuis and Carolina de Weerth in their research paper Does Early-Life Exposure to Stress Shape or Impare Cognigion?  discuss evidence showing that, in addition to the detrimental impact of childhood abuse, there are some positives.  This doesn’t negate the negative impacts of such abuse, which can be severe, far reaching, and difficult to correct.  What it does show is that adults who experienced childhood abuse or adversity have, compared to safely nurtured children, better skills that help them deal with potential threats.  These people are better at detection, learning, and memory on tasks that protect them from these possible dangers.

One often-sited example is the study where children are given the option of delayed or immediate gratification, knowing they will receive a larger treat if they delay than if they don’t delay.  Children raised in an emotionally safe environment will opt for delayed gratification; those raised in a stressed unsafe one will opt for the “fast” immediate option, strategizing that something is better than nothing.  These children can never count on a stable environment and so they take what is offered in the moment rather than wait for what might never happen. Both strategies make sense, considering the two different environments.

Another example is the ability to shift focus in unpredictable environments.  Adults from adverse childhood backgrounds are, on the whole, better at shifting focus without loss of accuracy than their peers from stable childhood backgrounds. In other words, flexibility in times of instability is easier for the first set of adults, which is an asset in unsafe times.

The big learning for me from this study is this: no matter what our background is, children take whatever situation they end up with and adapt as best they can.  In Gestalt Therapy, this is called Creative Adjustment. It’s wonderful to know that we have this capacity in us; it’s something some of us can truly appreciate as a strength that is well-earned.


Maryanne Nicholls is a Registered Psychotherapist.  To find out more, gain access to her weekly newsletter, meditations and programmes, sign up at www.thejoyofliving.co .

The power of a power statement

I can do this!” She said, walking in.

What’s more empowering: “What did I do wrong this time!” or “I can do this!”? The first makes me want to hide away somewhere and lick my wounds; the second fills me with energy and confidence. The first focuses only on my perceived weaknesses and helplessness; the second focuses on my strengths.

“What did I do wrong this time!” is an example of what shamans call a Pretender Voice; “I can do this!” is an example of a Power Statement, or Commander Voice.

The idea of power statements are used by career counsellors to help a person present themselves to a potential employer in the most powerful light.  But long before that, they were taught to people by shamans to help them take back their power whenever they felt powerless, at the effect of something they had no control over. Power statements can be used to mask – as in the first instance – or to energize – as in the second.

I don’t mean to imply that all power statements used to impress others necessarily mask, but the focus is on impacting others, not ourselves; in that way it can be used to protect ourselves from others.  If this is the case, then in reality we don’t feel empowered, we feel weak, needing to hide behind a wall we make.

Power statements used to empower ourselves must be true, must be positive, and energizing to work. The thing about Pretender Voices is that, even though they feel overwhelmingly true at the time we voice them, they aren’t true. They’re false!  “What did I do wrong this time!” can indicate that we feel small with someone who we think knows more than we do.

Pretender Voices almost always hold a grain of truth, but become lies because of our focus on them: “This is never going to work!” might indicate that I’ve been through this before and expect the worst so thoroughly that it looms very large, as if it’s already happened. That it’s a done deal. We don’t see for what it is – one possibility – and not usually a very big one – out of many future scenarios, that have not already happened.

The truth is that we can choose to focus on something about us that we know is true and makes us feel empowered instead of helpless.  “I can do this!”, or “I can figure this out!”, or any number of true statements about ourselves will do. That’s why learning to find and then using our own Power Statement can effectively get us from a feel-bad to a feel-good place in a matter of seconds.

Do you know what your Power Statement is? If not, here’s a way of discovering it.

  • Close your eyes, take a few long and deep breaths; then think back to a recent time when you felt helpless and weak.  Remember the circumstances. Then see if you can recall what you were saying to yourself at the time; what your self-judgments were. Open your eyes and write these words down.  Notice how you feel when you feel powerless.
  • Now look at the words you wrote down and ask yourself: are these words really true about me now? Are they about me, or about what I see as my worst fear coming true? Are they about my capabilities in a given situation or about others that I have no control over? Discover how, in fact, they aren’t true but at the least, heavily skewed towards focusing on your weaknesses or worst fears.
  • Once you see the actual truth of these Pretender Statements, close your eyes once more, taking a few deep breaths. Then imagine the presence of a person you admire, or a storybook hero or heroine, or the strong and real part of yourself stepping up.  What words would you imagine they would use?  “You can do this!” “You’ve got what it takes!” “You can figure this out!” “I believe in you because you’re strong!”

What words ring true for you? How do they make you feel?  If they make you feel energized and positive, then those words are your Power Statement. Once you have it, write it down and paste it everywhere so that you learn to see it wherever you go; every time you begin to hear that Pretender Voice inside your head, say your Power Statement out loud. Until it’s there whenever you need it.

Stacey Kramer – The best gift I ever survived

Quote of the Week
The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud.
― Coco Chanel
At times we need more  – we know the logic, know what to do. And yet something is still blocking us. I offer both one-on-one consultations and coaching packages.  For more information, visit my website www.thejoyofliving.co/services-and-programs or contact me directly at maryanne@thejoyofliving.co