Power. To many, the word itself feels like a loaded grenade.
It carries with it connotations of faceless government structures ‘doing to’ rather than with, figures of authority holding the keys to societies locked doors and implacable titans of industry, business, and war. It’s equated with force and status; it’s unabashedly aggressive, corrupting, and sneaky. It can be held over you, seized, and abused.
Power is a big scary bastard of a word, and as a person with psychological trauma I’m well acquainted with the experience of feeling I have none at all – both internally over my own self and externally in the context of a largely hostile world. So, it came as a great surprise to me upon being asked ‘What does power mean to you?’ that the first thought that sprang to mind was not of Boris Johnsons baggy face or the atomic bomb, but this: socks.
Good socks mind; still springy with their nearly-new elastic, possibly patterned (depending on my mood) and certainly clean. We trauma survivors have an impeccable level of personal self-care after all. The kind of socks that almost excuse the ugliness of the existence of feet. There is of course a reason for this and no, I do not have a fetish. So let me explain by first outlining two misconceptions about power.
First of all much, like happiness, power is often perceived to exist elsewhere. It lives in the realm of an idealised, theoretical future; one in which we are improved versions of ourselves, and the world is a more rosy, benevolent version of the one we’re forced to inhabit today. In this imagined reality our present toil, hardship, and struggling have all paid dividends; we are at the top of our professions, the matriarchs of our well-adjusted families, the envy of our peers and there is neither a bell nor whistle not sounding in our honour.
We have triumphed at this game called life and entered the winners circle as masters of our personal experience; we have the six-figure total in the bank and Jaggg on the driveway to prove it. The problem with this narrative? This future, the future, doesn’t exist. Spoiler alert: once you’re in that first-class lounge of your powerful future there’s always an upgrade to take its place, and this you are forced to chase with as much vigorous longing as the last.
Secondly, others always seem to have more of it than us; consequently, what we have is never enough. We’re so preoccupied by the toxicity of comparison that we’ve turned it into a recreational activity, scrolling social media has become the modern-day equivalent of self-flagellation. Status, success, and renown is everywhere once we fall down the cyber rabbit hole and this edited showreel of people’s realities can only serve to make us feel inferior by contrast.
It would be crass of me to presume that you equate fame or popularity with power, but it’s a reasonable statement to say they sit comfortably alongside one another; as social animals we covet belonging and social media gives us this in artificial spades. Consequently, online notoriety translates so often as power, and the view of where others are sitting is often depressingly preferable to our own. This is equally true of the media. Daily news items strewn with the crimes of politicians manipulating the systems that govern our day-to-day lives, hoarding power in Westminster like fat dragons on piles of gold or crooked casino croupiers.
What can we do? The house always wins. What we don’t realise is that we create our own disempowerment every time we refresh our news feed or choose to focus our attention on the power of others, it’s a contract of misery we enter into willingly. Comparison only ever serves to emphasise a lack, and it is in this perception of a lack that we crave the appropriation of more when what we should be doing is appreciating the value of what we already own.
These things considered this is what I’ve come to realise about power and, incidentally, happiness. People are often so preoccupied by the notion that it’s owned by someone else, somewhere else that they miss the glaringly obvious fact that’s staring them square in the face like a hungry Dobermann; everything you need to have it exists in you right now. Yes, you, the person reading this between work emails, the person deciding whether sharing this on social media will make you look good. You have all the potential for power you’ll ever need, all that’s required to actualise that revelatory levelling up is one simple catalyst – the awareness of this fact. And how do we do this? With socks.
I have bad days. I have days when I feel the whole universe has cleared its monthly agenda and put on its ‘out of office’ in order to specifically focus all of its energy on personally fucking me up. On these days I feel tyrannised, disempowered, and helpless. They are shit, life is shit and I am the ultimate living embodiment of shit.
It is very easy on these days to cast myself as the victim in my own tragic saga, and the tightrope of victimhood brings with it the potentially cataclysmic tumble into the void of self-destruction. As such, I have strategies in place to drag myself from the maw of oblivion and plant me safely back on terra firma. One of these ways is to change my socks. This tiny act of self-care brings me instantly back to my sense of self-compassion, self-control, and self full stop. By literally peeling off the grubbiness of the day replacing it with something better I completely alter my mindset, and it is in this act that I am reacquainted with the most powerful of things that we all take for granted: the awareness of my ability to choose. Not only to choose, but to choose the healthier, more beneficial, positive action.
Changing my socks doesn’t give me power; it makes me conscious of the power I already have over my own mind, my own mood, and my own actions. With that awareness I can step forward (literally) in the best possible state of being, because I’m connected to my sense of self, that which I can control, and my capability to control it. Life will persist in its arbitrary dispensing of misery, disaster, and drudgery no doubt. And there will be many things over which I have no control, but I will be wearing clean socks, so that’s a very good place to start.
Trauma is by a consequence of its overwhelming nature a hijacking of the victim away from their sense of self, their sense of safety and their sense of control, so any act that brings them back to these things is radically powerful. For a trauma survivor tiny acts of self-love are pretty fucking punk.
For me this is changing my socks; for you it could be picking up the phone in a moment of crisis when the idea of typing seven numbers is a herculean task. It could be uttering two words, ‘I disagree’ to a service provider whose decisions are being made about you rather than by you. It could be sharing your lived experience with just one person to plant a seed of hope where previously there was none, and in this further grow your own personal healing. It could simply be saying ‘no’ – perhaps for the first time in your life, because you’re learning to value your energy and your right to protect it.
Anything that returns us to that sense of the power we hold is an act of power in itself, however seemingly minute. For these are expressions of our belief that we are valid, we are wholly enough, and we are worthy of occupying space. For any survivor of trauma, the smallest acts are often the bravest because they are the first steps on a journey: one of rediscovery, reconstruction, and change.
So, I’ll leave you with this final thought. The word ‘empowerment’ comes from the Old French prefix ‘en’ meaning ‘in, into’ and the root ‘power’ which means ‘ability, strength, might’. I think that sums it up bloody perfectly. To be empowered is to be in our power by recognising that power exists within us. We have the ability and the strength within our minds and our actions to change our realities in this very moment, minute by minute, by the choices we make. This is not to say the external world will not put limits on these choices, nor that we can’t or shouldn’t reach out for support, guidance, and advice along the way. What it does mean is when we begin to believe we are powerful, the world will have to sit up and take notice. Give yourself permission to believe it and perhaps begin by changing your socks.
An earlier version of this article was published on Resilience Learning Partnership.
HBC is tier facilitator.
Psychreg is mainly for information purposes only; materials on this website are not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Don’t disregard professional advice or delay in seeking treatment because of what you have read on this website. Read our full disclaimer.