Helplessness is a very difficult feeling. It can even feel like life or death to those of us who were left to cry for hours as babies, with no one coming to help us. Because we were so helpless over ourselves as babies and small children, it can trigger feelings of panic. It’s hard to remember, in these moments when fear is triggered, that as adults, we are not helpless over ourselves.

For many of us, the deep fear that got programmed into us as young children can trigger our wounded self’s desire to control, when we feel helpless over another’s choices.

What do you do when you feel helpless over another?

  • Do you get annoyed and irritated with the other person?
  • Do you get angry and blaming?
  • Do you collapse into victim tears?
  • Do you explain and defend, lecture or teach?
  • Do you shut down, closing your heart and withdrawing your love?
  • Do you acquiesce, giving yourself up to what the other wants?
  • Do you go into resistance, doing the opposite of what the other person wants?

Why? What do you hope for in behaving in any of these protective, controlling ways?

  • Do you hope to convince the other person to change?
  • Do you hope to avoid the pain of helplessness, and the loneliness and heartache that you might be feeling in response to another’s choices?
  • Do you hope to feel safe, rather than anxious or panicked?

The basic motivation of the wounded self is to feel safe by trying to have control over getting love and avoiding pain. When someone does something that triggers your feelings of helplessness, loneliness and heartache, your wounded self moves into action.

The Other Option

The other option is very challenging for most of us. This option is to fully accept that we ultimately have no control over others.

What would you do differently if you accepted this?

What I do is to move into compassion for myself – for the very painful feeling of helplessness. I hate this feeling as much as anyone, and I can’t say that I’m always successful in not going into my wounded self. At times, when another’s behavior is extremely painful to me, I still get triggered into my infant panic and want to control the other person. I find it very challenging not to be reactive when someone is violating or mean, or has betrayed my trust in a profound way. But I also know how important it is to keep working at it.

As soon as I realize that I’m being reactive, I move into compassion toward myself, lovingly helping my inner child feel the intense pain of helplessness, loneliness and heartbreak. I surround myself with the warmth and power of my spiritual Guidance, so that I’m not alone with these feelings.

At this point, I lovingly disengage from the situation. I’m generally feeling so sad that I need to be alone and cry. Crying helps me move the feelings through me so that I don’t get stuck with the pain. Sometimes I need to do an anger process to further release the feelings. Then I do further inner work to fully accept that I have no control over the other person.

To what extent are your conflicts, fighting and disconnection the result of not accepting your helplessness over another? Take a moment to think about an important relationship in your life, where there is conflict and/or distance. Is this the result of not accepting your helplessness over others, and not being willing to feel this very painful feeling? You might want to consider learning to manage this feeling, rather than continuing to try to avoid it, in ways that create relationship problems.

Margaret Paul, Ph.D. is a best-selling author of 8 books, relationship expert, and co-creator of the powerful Inner Bonding® process – featured on Oprah.