This is my 100th post. And it won’t be a long one, but I was just reflecting on something that I wanted to share. And that’s about the nature of personal strength.

I think that we often live out paradoxes in our lives. I think we tend to identify with one side of an issue, but deeper reflection might reveal that we are actually living out the other side more often than we would ever care to admit. Right now I’m thinking about the paradox of power.

I pride myself on my strength. All kinds of strength. I am physically strong and I’ve “survived” so much and I am amazing at always landing on my feet and being able to take care of myself. People often comment on how strong I am. But the truth that I almost never let anyone see is that I actually walk around feeling completely powerless most of the time and all the “strength” that I project is a mask for this feeling of powerlessness.

I remember when I was 12 coming home to a “for sale” sign in my front yard. No one had said anything to me about moving and I loved my home and my neighborhood and the swingset in my backyard the way some little girls love horses or women love their husbands. That place meant everything to me, and I was devastated to see that sign.


Or mi Papi. I worshipped the ground that man walked on. I wanted to grow up to be just like him. (Except for that whole violent alcoholic thing.) But he was so creative and so strong. He wrestled alligators and did beautiful bead work and taught me to play poker and shoot. He used to stick me in the front basket of his bicycle and bike me all over town. He was my hero. But he would just disappear without warning for months or even years sometimes. And I had no address to write to him. No number to call him. Nothing.

These are just the tip of the iceberg. I often felt powerless as a kid. And maybe all children do. Because kids really are powerless. Ultimately. There may be some parents who take their children’s feelings and needs into account more than others, but in the end, kids are legally bound to adults who decide their lives for them.

Now in a safe, healthy family, that is exactly as it should be. Adults have the benefit of a more objective perspective (at least potentially) than kids can possibly have. A good parent, at least a good-enough parent, will have a decent sense of what a child’s physical and emotional needs are and how to care for them for the most part. More so than a child can have for herself.

But when the parents are selfish or self-absorbed or too broken themselves to recognize what even they need, they aren’t in a position to actually meet a child’s needs. So the kids are left adrift in a world where they can’t meet their own needs because they both lack the means and a solid knowledge of what their needs actually are.

And this affects their adult lives. I, for example, am a complete control freak. And, as I said, I walk around with this facade of strength masking my feelings of powerlessness. Something goes wrong and my first impulse is to be devastated–it is hard for me to remember that I am an adult sometimes and I have the power now to actually take care of myself. I know more or less what I need and I am completely capable of meeting my basic needs. But I still feel like a needy child who wants to be taken care of.

Not sure what the moral here is or what we can do about it. But maybe it’s just something to keep in mind when we work with kids–how powerless they are, how we can reflect on what needs they have that we, the adults, should be meeting. And how we can help them develop the resources they will eventually need to care for themselves and eventually, their own families.


About pamwatts

Writer, Reader, and Children's advocate
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6 Responses to Powerlessness

  1. What a beautiful piece! Thank you for sharing this, because it truly embodies what this exceptional blog is about. I congratulate you on your 100th post and look forward to reading the next 100.

  2. I am in awe of the depth in this post, of the insights you’ve gleaned over many years, of your ability to step back from a feeling of devastation and recognize that you’ve gone into control-freak-mode… all of it! This is just excellent, Pam. I hope that other survivors of horrendous childhoods will find this blog and feel the hope that shines through even when powerlessness seems to reign.

  3. Susan says:

    More excellent work! Do you realize how far ahead of others you are? Most people I know never recognize the damage their families have inflicted on them. I’ve seen some incredible states of denial.
    I started working on the control freak issues when I was about your age. I must have made progress cause my house has been a wreck for 3 years now. The dust bunnies have great-grandchildren. 🙂 love & hugs

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