The Power of Choice
While exploring Observer Mode with a client, I commented on the ways choices multiply as you become neutral. With a laugh, she said, “But I already have too many choices. That’s part of my problem.” The relationship between power and choice can be summed up with a single question, Who has the power and who has the choice?”
The Who in this question is important. Even though we’re discussing personal power (the power you have inside of you to be, to do, and to have), your power responds to and interacts with the power of others. The category of others includes every person you meet or deal with. It also includes such inanimate aspects of your life as work, money, time, space, energy, sleep, tools, equipment, ideas, beliefs, etc. Your relationship with others always has an emotional component, so when we discuss emotions and power, we’re also discussing relationships.
Let’s look at relationships, choices and power as they correlate to three of the 5 Modes of Power. For most people, most life situations are never that extreme. Most of us, however, experience instances or events when some emotion from Victim Mode overwhelms us. I remember getting into an altercation with my brother when I was perhaps 20 years old. I was engaged to be married and my soon-to-be husband had a front-row seat for our little sibling drama. I can’t remember the argument itself. I do recall my brother pushed me away from the TV to change the channel (this was long before remote control), and I was so furious I kicked him in the back.
In Victim Mode the other is always a “persecutor,” and that persecutor is perceived to have all the power – and therefore all the choices. If the victim sees any options, the choice is limited to Fight? Run? Freeze? Mostly, victims simply act as the situation demands.
Imagine for a minute you’re the one operating in Victim Mode. The emotion engulfing you is fear. You’re seriously in fear of your life, as if a snarling man-eating tiger were stalking you. You can’t win in a fight. You can’t outrun the danger. So you freeze. You try to become invisible. With survival at stake, you will appease if possible, submit if necessary.
Or what if the emotion raging inside you is anger? Fierce, unrelenting, body-shaking anger. You’re not going to run away. You’re not going to play dead. No, by god, you’re going to fight, and you’re going to win. Or what if you’re struck by revulsion strong enough to turn your stomach? No hanging around here. Run like hell.
For most people, most life situations are never that extreme. Most of us, however, experience instances or events when some emotion from Victim Mode overwhelms us. I remember getting into an altercation with my brother when I was perhaps 20 years old. I was engaged to be married and my soon-to-be husband had a front-row seat for our little sibling drama. I can’t remember the argument itself. I do recall my brother pushed me away from the TV to change the channel (this was long before remote control), and I was so furious I kicked him in the back.
I’m sure I’ve had other moments of such rage in my life; this one sticks with me because we had a special audience. What amazes me, looking back, is the degree to which I was the victim of my anger. I let anger take over, and in that black rage I acted purely on instinct. I didn’t think. I acted impulsively, lashing out with the handiest weapon, which happened to be my foot. After I kicked my brother, my fiancé calmed me down and described to me that I could have ruptured my brother’s kidney.
In Victim Mode, the true “persecutors” are the emotions. We become powerless in their thrall. Our perception of what’s possible becomes so narrow we stop thinking, we can only react. The emotion itself makes the choice for us: fight, flight, freeze.
You can spot Victim Mode by the following clues:
You’re engaged in a battle that consumes most of your thoughts and energies.
There’s something you avoid at all costs.
You are immobilized.
It’s possible to be in Victim Mode in one or two areas of your life and function quite effectively otherwise, but Victim emotions tend to be so strong and draw so much of your energy and attention they impede everything else.
Also, it’s important to recognize that while in Victim Mode you cannot be the observer of your own behavior. You can observe it later, but when besieged by such emotions you do not have access to your power of neutrality.
In InterpreterMode the other is no longer a “persecutor.” That role is filled by challengers, adversaries, opponents, enemies, competitors, antagonists, etc. In Interpreter Mode , the emotion itself no longer owns all the power. Rather, power shifts to the shoulders of the players, and the strongest player has the most power.
Of course, who’s strongest depends on who’s measuring, and an Interpreter tends to grant the power of the measuring stick to someone else, either directly or indirectly.
For instance, if you need someone to acknowledge, validate or approve of you, you hand them the measuring stick. In order to gain their approval, you must meet their standard.
If you aspire to something that seems attainable but elusive, such as wealth, success, beauty, holiness, style, happiness, etc., chances are you’ve adopted someone else’s measuring stick. (The measuring stick can belong to some group of people.) If you feel perpetually on the brink of disaster, you have avoided grasping hold of the measuring stick of your own security. You assume that something others find harmful must also be dangerous for you.
One of the consequences of measuring is a preoccupation with blame and responsibility. We become more concerned with what they did or what they should do and neglect our own part. We want someone else to atone, to make it better, to pay damages, to level the playing field, to apologize, to come clean, maybe to grovel. Until the other acts in one of these restorative ways, we are justified in feeling resentment, anxiety, loss, deprived, miserable, unhappy.
At 21, I embarked quite naively on the adventure of marriage – and the marital tiffs began almost immediately. I experienced bewilderment, frustration, misgiving, guilt, and probably a dozen other Interpreteremotions. My husband and I were at each other constantly. If the house was a mess, I’d get defensive at the slightest indication of criticism. If we couldn’t afford something, one word from me would send him into a spin. Neither of us knew how to own our emotions. We both wanted the other person to make things better. “If he would only _______, I’d be happy.” “If she would only ______, things would run so much more smoothly.”
About ten years into the marriage, I claimed my own happiness. Again, the details elude me, but I recall sitting alone in the living room, struggling with whatever was specifically wrong at the time. I said to myself, “No more. I’m not going to let his negativity stand in the way of my happiness.” That declaration didn’t improve the marriage – and I still operated from Interpreter Mode a good share of the time – but by that choice I accessed more of my personal power.
You can spot Interpreter Mode by the following clues.
You feel others (people and situations) have more power than you do.
You want others to make things better.
Something (the situation, other people, yourself) doesn’t measure up.
The first step into claiming your power and claiming your choices is to become the observer of your emotions.
The most important relationship in Observer Mode is your relationship with what’s possible. The instant you step out of Interpreter Mode and into the bright light of personal power, an array of choices suddenly spreads out before you like a smorgasbord. You’re not longer constrained by “can’t.” Sure, you can still see what you don’t want; but now you can also see what you do want. Power and choice walk hand-in-hand. When you see you have choices, you feel you have power. When you feel powerless, you can’t see choices sitting right under your nose.
One of my clients once began a coaching session with a tale of how terrible things were going for her. She felt beset from every side, and I could hear the pain and frustration in her voice. When she was finaldy to start talking through it, I asked where her power was. In a wail, she cried, “I don’t have any.”
This wasn’t our first conversation about personal power, so I prodded her a bit. Reluctantly, she conceded she had the power of her emotions. As soon as she recognized this power, she was able to see the choices available to her. By simply recognizing she had options, she moved from Interpreter to Observer.
While exploring Observer Mode with a client, I commented on the ways choices multiply as you become neutral. With a laugh, she said, “But I already have too many choices. That’s part of my problem.”
With power comes choice; with choice comes power.