Counselor's Corner: Accepting powerlessness and limitations

 Fred Cavaiani

This past Sunday I sat in my easy chair and watched the Lions. The last time I watched the Lions I was in Colorado with my son and watched as they won in the last two minutes. This week was another close game. I was filled with fear and anticipation during both games. Yet I felt so helpless because there was nothing I could do to get them to win. My only relief is that they did win both games. Yet on this November 10, 2013, a light bulb of wisdom came upon me. It is something I have realized for many years but this Sunday during the game it became very clear. We are all powerless over the outcomes of many situations. We are also powerless over the limitations of other people. I cannot change other people’s personalities. My wife and children and friends have their own personalities, their own assets and their own liabilities. And so do I. I cannot change how other people see things or the outcomes of other people’s actions. I cannot change other people’s attitudes or judgments by being angry or frustrated at them. I cannot control sporting events. But I can change my attitude towards events, people and places. 

It is not who wins or loses in life that is the problem. It is not who succeeds or fails. It is not how much money I have or do not have that is important. It is not who is a Democrat or a Republican or who is the president or the pope. It is how I adapt, embrace and adjust to who is around me and what is happening around me.

Once I realize that I am not the God of the Universe, life gets better. Once I realize that you do not have to change for me to be happy, I experience some peace and freedom. Everyone is influenced by many experiences, events and people. People have open attitudes or closed attitudes. Governments, political parties, religions all have attitudes and opinions that I can agree or disagree with. Yet our differences are not important. What is important is how I comfortably react to who you are and how you see things. My peace and harmony is not dependent upon you having to agree with my thoughts or opinions. It is dependent upon how well I show care and compassion toward you and accept that you are the way you are. 

Sporting events can teach us many positive attitudes. They can also teach us many negative attitudes. After most games, players and fans can embrace each other with harmony and respect. Sometimes this doesn’t happen so well but often it does. It is a lesson of competing, living life to the fullest and at the same time not taking things so seriously that we remain enemies after the game is over. 

We are all going to struggle with losses in life. Parents, friends and relatives will become sick and die. We will eventually have physical diminishments and limitations. Life will never be perfect. But I can embrace and accept what comes my way with the realization that I don’t have control over the outcome of events. But I do have control over how I accept the limitations, powerlessness and diminishments of life. In this acceptance I free up emotional and spiritual energy to experience life in a deeper and more positive manner.

One of the worst storms in history just happened to the people in the Philippines. How does one explain this? What does one do? There is only one choice that works. To embrace what has happened so I stop fighting the pain and I can have the energy to adjust and adapt and accept help from God and from other people.

Whenever I keep fighting what I have to experience I am not open to growth. My resistance to accepting the limitations of life and other people stifles me from experiencing wisdom and peace. 

Years ago I worked with bereaved parents at a local hospital once a month. One evening a man came to our group who had worked with Dr. Elizabeth Kubler Ross M.D. a famous psychiatrist from Canada who had worked with the dying for many years. This man had lost three children on three different occasions in life. When he walked into the room I experienced a peaceful presence. He talked gently and softly. He had embraced his pain openly and humbly. It was like the Presence of God had entered the room. I have never forgotten this moment. This man knew the meaning of powerlessness and helplessness. But he also knew the power and peace and energy that came from embracing, accepting and dealing with the struggles and joys of life.

Powerlessness and helplessness become hidden gifts to help us look deeper at what life is really all about. 


Fred Cavaiani is a licensed marriage and family therapist and psychologist with a private practice in Troy. He is the founder of Marriage Growth Center, a consultant for the Detroit Medical Center, and Henry Ford Medical Center. He conducts numerous programs for groups throughout Southeastern Michigan. His column in the Legal News runs every other Tuesday. He can be reached at (248)362-3340. His e-mail address is: and his website is


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