From powerless to empowered: Reconsidering beliefs

Imagine that a belief is a delicate seed, tenderly placed in the soil of our formative years. As the years pass, this seed matures into a complex mosaic of thoughts and decisions - not unlike how a seedling grows into an intricate network of vines that weaves into the ground. These subtle mental patterns shape how we see ourselves, engage with others and navigate our emotions as we transition into adulthood. Much like a seed hidden beneath the earth, the origins of these beliefs remain hidden, gradually becoming woven into the fabric of our identity.


This article takes a deep dive into one belief that can significantly impact our lives - powerlessness. This belief can affect our self-perception, relationships and overall sense of well-being. I will delve into how this belief can take root and how as adults, we can take steps to transform it, gaining the strength to heal and thrive.

Understanding our core beliefs

Core beliefs are like basic assumptions that we hold about ourselves, others and the world around us. These beliefs start forming when we're children, based on how we interact with our caregivers, friends and important events. They act as filters that shape how we understand experiences, influencing our thoughts, feelings and actions. It's worth mentioning that we tend to look for information that supports what we already believe. Because kids don't have a completely objective view of the world, the beliefs they develop can feel very real and stay with them as they grow up.

Where the feeling of powerlessness comes from

The feeling of powerlessness can be traced back to when we were young. Children rely heavily on their caregivers for safety, basic needs and emotional support. If caregivers aren't consistently there, are neglectful or overly controlling, children might start thinking they don't have much control over what happens to them. This feeling of powerlessness sticks around in situations where they feel like they can't control what's going on, making them feel helpless and vulnerable.

Consider a child who despises attending school and tries every possible way to avoid it. Despite screaming, begging and crying, the child is forced to go to school because both parents work. The child eventually develops a negative belief that no matter what they do, it won't make a difference, despite frequently getting their way in other situations. The child fails to recognise the bigger picture - that their parents must earn money to provide for them. This belief of being powerless becomes ingrained in the child's mind, shaping the way they see the world and causing them to constantly seek out evidence to support their existing beliefs. As a child, there are so many situations that can reinforce powerless beliefs.

Just like we can guide a plant towards sunlight, we can also reexamine and adjust our beliefs to better serve us. By taking the time to understand ourselves, we can uncover new strengths, confidence and self-worth.

The cultural origins of these inherited feelings of powerlessness can also be linked to broader societal dynamics and historical contexts. In some cultures, deeply ingrained norms and structures may reinforce specific power dynamics, leaving individuals - especially those from marginalised or oppressed groups - feeling disempowered.

Historical events like colonisation, systemic discrimination, war and socio-economic disparities can contribute to a collective sense of powerlessness that transcends generations. The trauma and injustices experienced by ancestors can be passed down through history, creating a shared narrative of helplessness. These cultural elements intersect with personal experiences, compounding the sense of powerlessness. Addressing these deeply rooted beliefs requires individual introspection and a broader societal acknowledgement of historical and systemic factors that perpetuate these feelings.

How the feeling of powerlessness affects us as adults

As time passes, these core beliefs become a big part of how we go through life. People who internalised a sense of powerlessness as kids might find it hard to care for themselves and feel confident as adults.

Struggling with self-care

Adults who believe they're powerless might struggle to prioritise their well-being. They might have learned that their needs don't matter or that trying to care for themselves doesn't make a difference. This could lead to ignoring their physical health, neglecting their emotions and skipping self-care activities.

Losing confidence

Feeling powerless can make self-confidence and self-esteem shrink. If someone grows up thinking that they have no control over their life, they might doubt their abilities and avoid challenges. This can stop them from growing personally, progressing in their career and working towards meaningful goals.

Trouble in relationships

Believing in powerlessness can complicate how we relate to others. People with this belief might struggle to express themselves, say what they need or set boundaries. This can make it hard to build healthy relationships and might even attract connections that make them feel even more powerless, leaving them ignored and undervalued.

Avoiding new things

Adults who firmly believe they are powerless might avoid new opportunities and challenges. They might be scared of failing and think their efforts won't matter. This can keep them stuck in their comfort zone and stop them from growing in their personal and professional lives and reaching their dreams.

Worsened stress and anxiety

Feeling powerless can make stress and anxiety worse. Always thinking you can't control things can lead to constant worry. This can hurt your mental and emotional well-being, making it tough to handle stress and leading to negative ways of thinking.

How can we heal?

As grown-ups, we can re-explore the convictions we developed during our youth. We can gradually weaken the hold on helplessness through introspection and conversations with a therapist. Just as tending to a plant can involve trimming it down to its roots to facilitate growth, illuminating and contemplating these beliefs serves a similar purpose. By examining them from a fresh perspective and testing these beliefs out in our adult years, we can reevaluate the actual validity of these beliefs.

It's amazing how our core beliefs can shape our perspective of ourselves and the world around us. Sometimes, feelings of powerlessness can linger from childhood and negatively impact our adult lives, causing us to doubt our abilities and neglect our own needs. However, just like we can guide a plant towards sunlight, we can also reexamine and adjust our beliefs to better serve us.

By taking the time to understand ourselves, we can uncover new strengths, confidence and self-worth. Seeking guidance from a professional counsellor can be a helpful step towards healing and feeling empowered, ultimately leading to a more fulfilling life. 

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

Share this article with a friend
Edinburgh EH12 & Balerno EH14
Written by Eleanor Pickett, CBT Therapist, MBACP, MNCPS Acc., Dip (Couns)
Edinburgh EH12 & Balerno EH14

I am a fully qualified cognitive behavioural therapist who can help you identify your emotions, thoughts and behaviours to produce lasting change. If you would like to find out more, please visit my profile.

Show comments

Find a therapist dealing with Stress

All therapists are verified professionals

All therapists are verified professionals