Autumn Leaves 3 Column

Monday, February 14, 2011

Understanding Learned Powerlessness

“He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.” Is. 40:29

In my last few blogs I have been sharing some of the lessons the Lord has been teaching me as I break the habit of over-eating. I recently began to recognize that the last several years have been deeply painful and highly stressful and that I have felt powerless to control the circumstances surrounding my life. And as I pondered the idea of powerlessness, I started to see a pattern of behavior emerge in my history.

Let me define exactly what I’m talking about. Children do not have the authority to make life decisions such as where to live, how money is spent, how discipline is applied, etc. Those decisions are left to their parents or guardians. Children learn how to make decisions by observing the adults in their lives making decisions and then being given the opportunity to make decisions for themselves. This is learned behavior. But what if the child does not observe or learn healthy decision making skills? The result can be an unwillingness to take ownership or authority in the decision making process, in other words, a learned helplessness or powerlessness.

I’m recognizing powerlessness has been my constant companion, starting in my childhood. With the specific dysfunctions in my family of origin, as a child many of my life circumstances were a result of someone else’s decisions and behaviors. As a young adult I had to learn to take back my appropriate power; my authority over myself; authority to say yes or no to someone; authority to engage or not engage in different activities, and the authority to experience the emotions I felt rather than denying them. Through counseling, prayer, and learning to trust “that I am who God says I am and that I can do all things through Christ” (thank you, Beth Moore and “Believing God”!) I made some significant progress in this arena.

However, when life becomes highly stressful, I fall back into the unhealthy behaviors, especially the behavior of learned helplessness that is so familiar. I found myself relinquishing my authority, my power in many areas of life, especially in my food choices. More succinctly, when profoundly stressed, I abdicate responsibility in my own life! But I have an inside track to taking back my power, for God gives strength to the powerless!

How about you? Do you find yourself abdicating responsibility in your life? How is that manifested? Does it take you time to recognize the behavior? I would love your feedback as I explore this topic further for my next blog.

And by the way, I have lost between 5 to 7 pounds in the last six weeks! I’m very excited about the weight loss, but I’m more excited about what God has been showing me in this process!


  1. Your blog today hit an important note in my own emotional life. I'll be taking the time to ponder this and pray that God reveals the areas of my life where powerlessness has held me hostage.

  2. I think I often take too much responsibility!! Thank you for your vulnerability, yet again.


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