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Who’s in the Drivers Seat of Your Life: Power or Control?

By: Fraya Mortensen

Has anyone ever told you that they think you are powerful? Or maybe you've been told that you're controlling.

Some of us may see ourselves as having control over many things, while others may view themselves as as powerless and without any control.

I'm going to look at the difference between power and control and which one we want to cultivate over the other. It's also important for us to look at when our power and control be misused so we can grow our awareness in this area.

It seems as though we wish we could have control over everything.....and that would be quite the life wouldn't it? So it's important to narrow down and understand where our true power lies.

The truth is that there are so many things that are out of our control such as:

The weather,

The behaviour of others


Work environments

And those work environments combine both “politics” and the behaviour of others - making the work place a huge source of stress for many people.

But it doesn’t have to be when we realize and embrace our own power.

So what are we in control of?

Well we are in control of our own actions - even though it seems like things outside of us hold us back from being able to do what we want to do .

But what we do is actually always within our control. We get to choose. We get to make a choice, a decision, based on the circumstances happening in our life.

And what influences our actions ? Our thoughts. But let me make this clear, our thoughts happen all the time and we don’t always have control over them, but once they’ve arisen, now we can decide whether or not we allow those thoughts to rule, or we let them slip into the past and say, "no thank you, I'm not choosing that thought today - thank you for sharing, but I'm going to choose a better feeling thought"

So long as we are operating as a conscious human, and aware of the thoughts that arise, we have the power to change them.

Real power lies in knowing the difference between what you can control

and what you can’t and embracing that power instead of complaining

or putting ourselves in the victim role, which will land us in the back seat, and now we're sounding like one of those back seat drivers that no one wants to hear from.

Lets take a look at these common things that we as humans sometimes complain about

The Weather

Yes terrible weather happens that ends lives and destroys communities and we have no control over that. What we do have control over is how we choose to respond to it - and that’s where we learn to develop those skills that help us to cope with adversity.

Ok ok.... I know you're thinking, yes Fraya, we know all about having the choice in how we respond, but how do we actually do that? How do we respond in a way that puts us in our power?

When an outside factor is impacting us, it seems to come over us very quickly and it seems like we don't have time to respond in the way we wish we could. There are automatic responses that we are hardwired into us, and I'd like to use the stages of grief to illustrate how we typically respond to just about anything.

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross developed a model to describe how people with terminal illness would be facing their own death and she published her book On Death and Dying in 1969 that talks about these stages: Denial/ Anger/Bargaining/Depression/Acceptance.

Let’s apply these stages to the issue of weather.

Imagine it’s your wedding day, you wake up and there’s a huge rain storm. At first you might deny that this is happening, you might say “we’re not supposed to be getting rain today”. but after the rain keeps on and the forecast says it’s gonna get worse, you might feel angry and say, "why me, why today of all days?" The bargaining stage could sound like, "I knew we should have booked this wedding in the dry season" "I'd pay any amount of money right now to move this wedding inside."

From there you'd find yourself in the sadness and depression stage, until you reach the acceptance of it all. How you get to the acceptance depends on your ability to direct your thoughts and feelings toward accepting what you are not in control of and what you can do about it.

I'll often say, "There's no such thing as bad weather, just bad outfits and bad attitudes"


Some of us can process things real quick and find it easy to get ourselves into a state of acceptance with some things. With other things it could be more difficult.

This is where we'll focus next on the behaviour of others.

This is where things often become much more difficult to accept. Some of the people in our lives have behaviours and addictions that are quite harmful and we're always wishing they would change.

What is true is that no one is responsible for the behaviour of another person, but some of us have been conditioned to believe otherwise. This is where we can be controlling of things that we have no control over.

We know how hard it is to change ourselves, so think about how hard it would be to change someone else, ya.... impossible.

So how do we respond to the harmful or hurtful behaviour we see in others?

Maybe they lied to us, drank too much and got into a fight, or they cheated or made critical comments to us or others that were disrespectful and inconsiderate? Maybe we were bullied in some way.

At first we may deny it, we might overlook it, give them the benefit of the doubt, an out of character moment, seeing it as a one-off thing and hope they won’t do it again.

Depending on the severity we can easily brush it off and dismiss it.

But the next response that follows is anger when we start to see a pattern in this undesirable behaviour. We feel upset to see them behaving this way again, and we feel upset that they are continuing this hurtful behaviour without correcting it or taking responsibility for it.

Next we move into bargaining with them and say, “hey if you don’t stop this (harmful thing - whether it’s issues of alcoholism, or other addictions, criticizing, or being physically, mentally, sexually abusive) I’m going to leave you, or break up with you, or not be able to spend time with you anymore. This is where we make an attempt to set a boundary with them.

And of course boundaries are not about telling other people what to do, it's always about what you will do, which is that you won't be able to have a healthy relationship with them. However many times we tell people to change in a way that is controlling and rarely will result in a change in the other persons behaviour. This is because that other person is also going through their own response to their behaviour.

They're going through their own stages of understanding what is is they are doing that is causing this trouble in you. First they deny that their behaviour is a problem. Next once they realize this behaviour they might feel angry about it, and blame others for why they are this way. Once they've owned their behaviour, this could result in feeling the depressed stage. They may feel down on themselves because they struggle to make the change - it’s too hard. Many other things may come to the surface at time for them as well.

The acceptance stage for them comes down to will they be able to change or will they accept their behaviour as a way of life for them. This is especially true for folks struggling with addiction.

Back to you now, after your bargaining and anger hasn't been effective in getting this person to change, you may go through your own depression next. This is where you start to learn the lesson that we can't change people and thinking so is a controlling behaviour of our own!

So to come to acceptance, which sometimes turns out to be a lesson in radical acceptance, can be a long road to reach and now the way you choose to respond to their behaviour is in your control.

And so within acceptance, may come rejection. I accept that this person is never going to change, and I understand that their behaviour is harmful to my wellbeing, so in this case although I"m accepting the situation, it turns out that I have to "reject" them so to speak.

But this does not mean you also reject them as a person, you simply reject their behaviour. You can still have love and care and compassion for them, but it doesn’t mean you have to continue to tolerate their harmful behaviour. This is where your power lies. Your choice to accept or reject their behaviour is what you are in control over.

Let’s finish off now on the topic of politics.

The political systems we have in the world are all different, but one thing they all have in common is the need for Power and Control. Of course want to live in a world that has a sense of order, instead of chaos. But what can we really control? Chaos happens, even within the constructs of order.

The majority of people know how and want to behave in a way that allows for peace and order. While there are a minority of people who do not and do not have a care to follow rules and diminish the impact that their behaviour might have on society as a whole.

What happens here is that the behaviour of the minority is exaggerated and creates a sense of chaos in our world that we must fix. Instead of accepting that misbehaviour happens and will happen and we cannot stop it.

The government and big companies decide on how much things will cost. They make rules for how old you have to be to get your driver’s licence, or how many bags of garbage you are allowed to put the the curb every week. They tell us how much tax we must pay, how fast we're allowed to drive and place limits on how long we can stay living outside of our own countries.

What I notice from all of these rules and limits are that they all stem from a place of fear.

These systems were put into place to control us, to have power over us, to tell us what to do so that we're not acting recklessly, or acting in a way that's not in the best interest of our infrastructures or budgets. Because apparently there are people out there who will misbehave and take advantage of certain situations and we can’t have that happening, so there must be consequences so we don’t live in a world that is ‘out of control’

Politics is defined as: "the activities associated with the governance of a country or other area, especially the debate or conflict among individuals or parties having or hoping to achieve power.

And the way they typically achieve power? Through control.

What we've forgotten is that we are all self governed bodies. We lost the ability to govern ourselves when someone thought it would be a good idea to come on over and set up rules for people they didn’t even know.

Politics will keep us from operating from our own power and instead be operating from a place of fear instead of from a place of genuine connection and an intention to learn about ourselves and others.

I mean that’s what I’m all about because I choose the belief that regardless of what is happening in the world, I always have control over the way I think about myself, the way I conduct myself and the way in which I can accomplish my goals and live in the present moment. If the government wants to increase the taxes I pay and tell me that I have to obey their rules, then if I don't I know that will be at my own risk and I will have to face the consequences of my actions. I'm not going to complain about it because then that's when I lose my power.

Complaining comes from a state of anger and bargaining which we are all prone to as we have all found ourselves complaining about the state of our political systems to others. We think we 'should' have some control over what happens. And typically yes! We get to vote, we get to have a say, we get to petition and protest.

But some people learned about power all wrong by telling other people what to do and when we told our people that they could not drink alcohol, or smoke tobacco or do drugs and we made those things illegal.

We're still trying to control people from doing drugs and yes addiction destroys lives and families, but we incarcerate people for it. If someone harms another being while on drugs they need to be held accountable. We also need to learn from them as much as they also need an opportunity to learn about themselves. They need support, not the jail. The jail is the fear that politics thinks will keep people from misbehaviour. They think it's a deterrent. But what is actually does is it creates an environment of shame, guilt and unworthiness.

Real power does not have control over other people’s behaviours.

To move into acceptance requires trust – trust in ourselves, trust in the people, trust in how we will respond to adversity - even when we can’t rely on the behaviours and actions in others - can we trust ourselves to act in our own best interest which ultimately are also int he best interest of human kind ?

It's common for us to stay stuck in one of these stages, especially anger. We can be perpetually in an annoyed, irritated, angry state over the things we have no control over.

While others stay in denial, or depression. It’s fine to visit these places, but while in these places we are actually powerless because we see things as happening to us, instead of for us. Everything that happens to us is for us to understand the importance of acceptance.

And the path that is going to get us to acceptance stems from our thoughts. Because someone who is truly powerful and who understands that acceptance is the way, and trust and faith is the way, and that compassion and connection are the way, they will have an influence on others and encourage others to aspire to their fullest potential and power by offering them opportunities instead of limitations to grow their mindset and abilities in this way.


Fraya Mortensen is a Canadian based Transformational Mindset Coach who helps empathic and highly sensitive people to build their self-awareness, self-compassion and set healthy boundaries without the guilt.

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