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Power To Withdraw

Power is defined as, “the ability or right to control people or things.” When we express our power openly and honestly we afford all the people around us freedom. It’s healthy power because our openness and honesty extends to others the freedom to disagree. Power in this realm is dedication to truth.

When we’re not feeling strong we pick up other types of power, such as; the power to lie, the power to gossip, the power to wound and the power to withdraw.  We use the power to withdraw when we feel hurt, afraid or intruded upon. We withdraw in an effort to protect our hearts, to hide or to be inaccessible to the other person.

Lydia has been using the power to withdraw since she was a little girl. By nature she’s warm and friendly – until some invisible line is crossed. And then her family, friends and co-workers experience the coldness of her withdrawal.

Lydia was excited about the promised opportunity to lead an important project at work. She was understandably stunned when her boss suggested giving it to another person.

Instead of being honest, Lydia plastered a smile on her face and said, “Sure, no problem.”

Lydia felt deeply hurt and confused by her boss’s suggestion. She responded in the only way she knew how – she withdrew. Lydia became very quiet and polite, only talking when necessary. She was contained, rigid, reserved and aloof. Can you imagine how uncomfortable her boss and colleagues felt?

On one level withdrawing works for Lydia. It gives her a feeling of power and it gives her the illusion that she can protect herself from hurt. There’s just one problem – withdrawing closes your heart.

How can you protect yourself from hurt when you are hurting yourself by closing your heart? A closed heart cannot receive love. Is there anything more painful than that?

I asked Lydia why she gave her boss permission to turn the project over to someone else. She said she wanted her boss to see her as a team player. Lydia was afraid it wouldn’t go well for her unless she gave in. Secretly she hoped that her boss would figure it out and give her the project anyway. It didn’t work out that way.

I talked with Lydia about another power, the power to tell the truth. I wondered out loud what might have happened if she had used her power to tell the truth instead of using her power to withdraw. Without hesitation Lydia answered, “I’m sure he would have given me the project.”

Next I asked her, “What if you told the truth and he still didn’t give you the project?” Lydia became very quiet and thoughtful. With a look of surprise on her face she said, “I would have been disappointed but I think I would have felt better because at least I spoke up.”

“So,” I reflected back to her, “If you told the truth you would have been disappointed you lost project but you wouldn’t need to withdraw.”

Let’s make an important distinction here. Withdrawing isn’t the same as taking a time out to reflect. Reflection is time spent alone to help you discover what’s true for you. When you withdraw you are in essence rejecting other people. You are disengaging and sending a powerful message, “Take care of me or else.”

How wonderful to discover that we actually do so much better when we take care of ourselves. The best way to do that is to use your power to tell the truth.

Coaching Tips

  1. A simple, effective (not to be confused with easy) way to break the habit of withdrawing is this. When you want to withdraw tell yourself, “I give up the power to withdraw.” Try it. It worked for me.
  2. Two of the biggest symptoms of withdrawal are silence and hardness in the eyes. If you feel yourself moving into these body postures stop and reflect on what you are choosing in this moment.
  3. Withdrawing is usually a sign of hurt and hurt only happens when we care. The next time you feel hurt trace it back to your feelings of care. Then when you tell the truth, come from care.

Leave A Reply (2 comments So Far)


  1. Amy Mattison
    4 years ago

    Anne Marie
    I always so enjoy your words of wisdom. This great example is helping me to reflect on the ways that I may choose or not to respond this way. Your points for self-observation and learning are great. Thank you!


  2. Anne Marie Clear
    4 years ago

    Amy,
    Thanks so much for your feedback! You’re spot on too – self-observation is key. Without that we can’t even know what we might want to change or what our choices are.
    Warmly,
    Anne Marie

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Anne Marie

Anne Marie Clear

Anne Marie playfully refers to herself as the boundary queen. She loves helping women develop the skills, the confidence, and the security needed to successfully juggle all of the different relationships in their lives while taking good care of themselves too!