One of the most frustrating feelings we experience is helplessness. Deep trauma is often a direct result of being trapped in an unhealthy situation over which you have control—being beaten, raped, being held at gunpoint, facing combat, and so on. For most of us, these are not the kinds of trauma we're likely to face often—or even ever.
Regardless of the intensity or length of the traumatic situation, feeling helpless to change the way someone treats themselves or how they treat you is always painful.
What do you do when someone you care about is treating themselves poorly—drinking too much, taking drugs, putting themselves in harmful situations, eating badly, acting out with irrational behavior, putting themselves down, or isolating themselves?
To avoid feeling helpless about how this person treats themselves, do you try to control them by doing any of the following?
- Convincing, explaining
- Getting angry
- Withdrawing your love
- Judging, criticizing
What generally happens when you try to control the other person? Do they get angry? Do they resist and withdraw? Or do they change their behavior as a result?
What do you do when someone treats you badly—judging you, threatening you, being mean, lying, and so on? Hopefully, if someone is physically abusing you or severely emotionally abusing you, you will find a way to leave the relationship, taking yourself out of range of the abuse.
Do you instead try to control them with any of the above behaviors?
You might turn to controlling behaviors when you are unwilling or unable to feel the reality of the situation—that you are helpless to change the other person's choices. This just perpetuates an unhealthy relationship dynamic.
Here's how you can love yourself and be loving to others even when you feel helpless:
Here is a powerful process for loving yourself when you feel helpless over another person rather than abandoning yourself and reacting with controlling behavior.
One of the most important aspects of lovingly managing helplessness is to name the feeling. Too often, because this is such a hard feeling to tolerate, you might go right to anger, frustration, or irritation, or you might shut down rather than face the reality of your powerlessness over a situation.
Once you can name the feeling, then you can lovingly manage it.
Put your hands on your sternum, breathing into your heart and opening yourself to love and compassion—as you accept the reality of the painful feeling of helplessness over others.
Let your inner child—your feeling self—know that you understand that he or she is feeling the deep pain of helplessness, that you are right here with him or her, and that you are not going to leave him or her alone with the pain. You are going to love yourself through it rather than continue to abandon yourself.
Stay lovingly and compassionately fully present with the feeling of helplessness until you feel it release. You may feel the need to cry or rock—this is natural and perfectly OK.
Open up to learning any information you need about the situation causing your sense of helplessness and about what action you can take that is loving to yourself.
Take whatever loving action you are guided to take.
Check in with yourself and your feelings after having done this. Hopefully, you'll feel a sense of relief.
Paradoxically, accepting your helplessness over another person empowers you to take loving action on your own behalf. As long as you stay stuck trying to change the other person, you won't focus on what you can do for yourself. Accepting that you have no control over another person enables you to look at what you do have control over, which is whether you will love yourself or abandon yourself in the face of the other's behaviors.