Saturday, April 11, 2009

Giving away power

I always try to look inside myself for the things that seem to have the most power in my MS and then try to change those. There are three that always lead me to bad places: fear, my inclination to self-destruction, and giving away my power. Today I'll write about giving away power.

Giving away power is when we assume that we are incapable of doing something and then prove it by our own actions. Another way of describing it is when we shoot ourselves in the foot.

An example: I went to meet one of my study partners last night and within the first ten minutes, I apologized for lacking focus as it had been a long day. Now, I felt like I was a little scattered and was having trouble focusing, but I have no idea what his perception was. He hadn't mentioned it or said anything, and for all I know, he thought I was very focused and just following out trains of thoughts. But once I say that I'm lacking focus, he's going to look at me for the rest of the night and think that I'm not focusing. I've made him think something about me which is only a reflection of how I'm thinking about myself, but may or may not reflect reality.

There have been numerous educational studies that find that a teacher's expectations and assumptions about a student play a major role in the success or failure of that student. I think this is true of all of our interactions. If we assume someone is ignorant, or we expect that they don't know what they are talking about, then even if they give us the correct answers, it's very hard for us to hear.

Giving away power is all about shaping someone else's assumptions about us to think worse about us. Why we would do this is a whole different discussion, but becoming aware of it is incredibly liberating.

Another example: I'm very good at fixing things. I used to be an auto mechanic and usually when I look at a mechanical object I can see how it comes apart and, usually, how to fix it. When I see someone trying to fix something and I go over to help, if I'm staying within my power, I ask if I can help, let them know I'm good at fixing or that I've fixed something like it before, and I start a conversation with them about how we can fix the thing.

If I'm giving away my power, I start the conversation with: "wow, it's been a long time since I've fixed one of those, I don't even know if I remember how", or some variation of that. I'm letting them know my weaknesses before I let them know my strengths. Invariably, when I give away my power, the person discounts my input and even if I know how to fix it, they prevent me from helping. When I'm in my power, the person usually hands me the object and it gets fixed.

This brings me back to an important question: How do I talk about having MS without giving away my power?

Telling someone I have MS invariably brings up lots of preconceptions in a person's head and they might treat me differently now that they know. So the first thing I do is have a conversation with a person about their MS stereotypes. It puts everything out in the open as they then know what's going on for me and what's realistic and what's not.

When I talk about my MS, I always talk about it from a place of power. I don't talk about it as how it limits me, I just let them know it's a fact of my life and go on from there. I want to shape their assumptions about me to know I'm just a normal guy with MS, not the miserable, pathetic stereotype they may have in their mind.

I try to watch what I say to be aware of when I'm giving away my power and be aware of when I'm shaping someones assumptions to think worse of me.

I know that giving away power leads me to bad places, and when I look over the history of my episodes, I can usually find a way in which I was giving away power in a major way at the time of the episode. I don't know if holding onto my power will prevent more episodes, but it's been a good measure for how healthy I am.

I think it's important to note that MS does rob us of power. The question is if we're giving it away before the MS comes to prove the point.