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Mastery: power and control

Power and control are central concerns for most people. The words “power” and “control” have negative connotations for some people, who associate them with dominance, aggression, or oppression, so I will use the word “mastery” instead. In this context, “mastery” means the ability to be in charge of your own life and make good things happen for yourself or others.

People experience mastery in a number of different ways, depending on who they are. Some ways that people experience mastery:

  • financial success or having monetary wealth
  • physical strength, speed, or skill
  • having a good relationship with people who are powerful
  • being loved, respected, admired, or well known
  • being able to care for others
  • being able to get others to care for you
  • dominating others
  • feeling self confident
  • being able to manage or control your emotions
  • being able to reason or think well
  • being able to predict what will happen
  • skill in a trade or craft

There are limits to mastery, regardless of the arena. No human has complete mastery over natural processes like weather, illness, aging, or death. We can’t have mastery over the thoughts and feelings of others, including the thoughts and feelings of that others have about us.

People have a variety of reactions when faced with limits to their mastery: anxiety, depression, hopelessness, helplessness, rage. We may deny our limits, attempt to prove ourselves masters of everything. We may simply do everything we can to not think about it, which can include self-destructive compulsive or addictive behaviors like drug or alcohol use.

The trick is to allow ourselves to realistically acknowledge the limits of our mastery without becoming overwhelmed by the feelings that this knowledge brings up. To paraphrase the Serenity Prayer, we must learn to change the things we can change, accept the things we can’t change, and – perhaps most importantly – recognize the difference.

A sense of humor is really helpful. Many people find comfort in spiritual perspectives. Others are buoyed by the knowledge that no one else has their unique combination of areas of mastery. How one addresses issues of mastery is less important than having access to approaches that work for the individual person.

If this is an area of challenge for you, I would love to support you and help you improve your relationship with mastery.

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