Admitting Powerlessness

One manifestation of co-dependency in my life has been the recent realization that I am, to a certain extent, always going to be dependent on others in some way. My independent nature rebels at this. I let myself get extremely frustrated when these imposed dependencies are not honored (to my way of thinking) for whatever reason—even after I've asked in a healthy way. Prior to recovery, I resorted to control and manipulation, thinking these techniques were the answer.

But even in recovery, asking in a healthy way is no guarantee that my dependencies upon others will be honored. I still have to exercise patience and discipline when the answer differs from my expectations.

Here is the perfect metaphor for the type of real-life dependencies I am talking about:

My whole experience of putting up a web site, dealing with hosting companies, IP addresses, e-mail aliases, and DNS files has been a refresher course in Step One. Over the past several days, I've had to interact with four different Internet companies, mostly by e-mail, trying to extract information from them or get them to do something to keep my web sites operating. I usually have to submit e-mail requests or open web-based problem tickets and then patiently wait, wait, wait for the answers to arrive in my e-mail inbox.

On top of it all, somehow, through the process, I managed to break the e-mail function.. It still isn't working correctly. Because I dislike being dependent upon anyone or anything, Life keeps teaching me the same lesson again and again. When will I learn?!

For co-dependents, the Twelve Steps begin with an admission of powerlessness over others. The end is the beginning. We usually begin a serious Twelve Step program when we've reached our wits end with somebody. We begin by saying "pretty please" and end up resorting to cajoling, manipulation, pleading, throwing tantrums, and getting others involved who don't want to be involved. And we get the same result—nothing. At least not what we wanted or what we expected.

We are powerless over others. We can cry, scream, throw a pity-party, and jump up and down as much as we want. And usually the other person will just stand there and watch.

So we are then forced to look ourselves in the mirror and confront reality. The only person we can really control is the person staring back at us. The person inside our head.

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Our power is within. Our response to life's turmoil dictates whether we continue playing the co-dependent role or whether we wake up (Step Two) and become Undependent. Undependent is deciding to take care of ourselves. Undependent is letting go of our expectations in love. Undependent is admitting that we are important instead of being a doormat, accepting all the blame, or cowering in fear of the other person's disfavor or withdrawal of love.

Sure, we can have reasonable expectations of others. They may even be obligated to us in some way—but we still can only control how we respond when life gets unmanageable or unbearable. When others don't honor their commitments to us. When others are addicted to a substance. When others don't care how we feel or what we think. When others ignore our pleas.

We respond peacefully by going back to Step One—admitting, once again, that we are powerless over others. Our lives became unmanageable again because we gave our power to another person or to a situation that is not going exactly our way.

As a co-dependent, I've come to realize that I am very selfish and very giving—sometimes at the same time. I am a walking paradox. I give and give and give until I'm sick of giving. Or, as someone suggested to me this week, I take it and take it and take it until I'm sick of taking it. At either end of the spectrum awaits the monster named Unmanageability. When I see him lurking at my doorstep, I know that it's time for a change. A change in me and how I respond to the people and events in my life.

I am co-dependent by nature, but I give away or reclaim the power in my life by my choices. I must remember that life is not always about me. Nor is life always about the other person. Life is about building healthy, rewarding, balanced relationships with people whom we honor and who honor us in return. Life is about giving and taking and finding ways to live wholly and serenely with the trials life hands us.

Dear God, thank You for the power of powerlessness. Amen.

next: Snow on the Mountain

APA Reference
Staff, H. (2008, December 24). Admitting Powerlessness, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 13 from

Last Updated: August 7, 2014

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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