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Waking Up From the Trance of Disempowerment

Dr. Milton Erickson said, “Most people walk through the world in a trance of disempowerment.” Erickson, considered to be the father of clinical hypnotherapy, succinctly stated the obvious. Personal disempowerment is chronic, with legions of individuals feeling they simply aren’t in control of their lives. If they’re not, their logic tells them, someone else is. That leads to what we call “The Blame Game.”

I (Chris) recall creating a comedic game show pilot by that name in an entertainment company I worked in years ago. Besides being funny, we thought it would open viewers' eyes to the folly of their own day-to-day blaming by having contestants play the role of a victim and gain points by blaming others for what they brought upon themselves One of our writers also wrote for Saturday Night Live and he mentioned our idea to one of his fellow writers there.

They couldn’t resist writing it up and sure enough, a skit soon appeared on SNL, effectively killing our idea. Our writer felt terrible. We felt worse. In fact, this instigated a closed-door meeting where frustration, anger, victimhood and… blame, filled the room.

Suddenly, my primary partner and I realized what was happening. We started laughing and couldn’t stop. Here we were blaming our writer, the SNL team, feeling like victims, all over a mishap regarding The Blame Game. It was too funny!

What did we do? We took ownership for not having clear enough non-disclosure rules and written agreements. We couldn't fix what happened, true. That was "water under the bridge." But we could prevent something like it from happening again by seeing ourselves as responsible for protecting our intellectual property.

They say that when you point a finger at someone there are three more pointing back at you. The simple remedy for the blame game is to stop pointing. Accept responsibility. Sounds simple but, as that story demonstrates, it’s easy to forget in the heat of some moment where things have gone off the rails.

Here’s another tidbit of information to remember. When we allow ourselves to slip into the trance of disempowerment, we try to solve problems from the most primitive part of our brain which knows how to do four things—and four things only: fight, flight, freeze, or faint. Unless you’re being chased by a sabretooth tiger or are truly in danger, those limited options simply aren’t going to help with the complex challenges of your normal day-to-day life.

Sometimes, as in our case, it takes regaining your sense of humor to wake up from the trance of disempowerment Erickson referred to. Whatever, “now” is always the best time to reclaim our personal power and give everyone else a break. Imagine how different the world might be if we all committed to doing that.

In helping our clients get a better handle on reclaiming their power (or “Powering Up!” as we call it), we’ve created in our book Thriving in Business and Life what we call The Power Scale. In each list below, you’ll see behaviors that can let us know where we are on the scale.


Victim (Surviving)

Casting Blame

Making Excuses


Bias Cycles Prevail



Constricted Views

Point Out Who's Wrong

Unhealthy Competition


Empowered (Thriving)

Taking Ownership

Lessons Learned


Seek Inclusive Views


Healthy Optimism

Expanded Awareness

Catch People Doing it Right

Healthy Collaboration


When you see yourself demonstrating behaviors in the victim column, it’s sure sign you’re slipping into a trance of disempowerment.

The cure? Look to the empowered column and begin to practice the behaviors that will snap you out of the trance and get you on the road to personal empowerment and whole-brained thinking.

Five questions that can help you reclaim your power when it seems to be fading are:

  • How do I (we) need or want this situation to turn out?

  • What else can I (we) do in this situation to help or learn from what’s happening (or what has happened)?

  • Who else can I (we) involve that might provide additional insight, resources or support?

  • What elemnts seem beyond my (our) control in this situation?

  • Who do I (we) know that might have influence over such elements?

By doing so we move from the mindset of a victim to that of empowerment.

And here’s a secret you may have already figured out . . . blame is not really about responsibility . . . whether we’re blaming ourselves or someone else. In fact, when blame enters the conversation, it is a sure sign we’ve slipped to the victim end of the scale. Taking responsibility for our role, however, can dramatically shift a conversation to one that opens new doors for learning and more creative solutions.

Here’s your Thriving tip for the week:

“Quit playing The Blame Game

by taking 100% responsibility for yourself

in every situation. By doing so you can

learn from what didn’t work and

improve on what did.”

Christopher Harding and Will Wilkinson

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