Powerlessness Is a Fraud[*]


Until the present period the nature of reality has been largely obscured for all human intelligences. Partly this is because we are able to observe directly with our senses only a comparatively narrow range of information about the reality which surrounds us. For example, relationships between very small objects, such as atoms or molecules, or the relationships between galaxies or other objects of that size, are not obvious to evolving human beings until they have acquired a great deal of information in the more easily available size ranges and have invented instruments to extend their senses into the microscopic and macroscopic worlds.

Obscuring of reality by the volume of the information coming from it or by the limited range of our inherent sensing systems is not the only, nor the most serious, source of ignorance and misinformation. More confusing and more of a problem until now are the effects of distress patterns distorting our interpretations of the information received. Almost certainly distress patterns were affecting us even before our flexible intelligences evolved. Distress was probably already being perpetuated byte familiar (to us) mechanism of acting out hurt, previously done to us, against someone else, long before we were humans. Possibly not once in all human history to date has an intelligent human infant had an opportunity to view reality for more thana few instants at a time without the intrusion of a restimulated distress pattern or patterned distortion of information offered by other humans.

Once distress patterns became installed in social structures(and this probably happened even before the emergence of formal societies) the nature of reality became systematically distorted. Community fears were perpetuated through “teaching” of the taboos, propitiations and other rituals associated with primitive religions. When exploitative societies came into being it became to an exploiting human’s apparent advantage to perpetuate the oppression of another human. The eco-nomic advantage to be attained by keeping, not only oppressed people, but the whole society locked into false pictures of reality which appear to support the oppression led to many social structures (schools, churches, propaganda ministries, etc.) whose function was largely in this direction.


It is plain that there must be a real reason why human beings(including those of us who have made a great deal of progress through the use of RC) have continued to be timid, ineffective and long-suffering in the face of mistreatment, social injustice, plundering and pollution of their environment, and repeated wars and economic crises.

It seems now that there is a real reason for this passivity, that the reason is one that we can do something about, is something that we have the tools to deal with. What has been holding up progress is a heavy layer of distress, installed very early on all ofus, whose content is that situations which oppress and threaten us are beyond our powers to change and that we must “adjust "to them.

What nonsense! We already know well that the essential nature of the human being is to be in full charge of everything, to take and keep the initiative, to benevolently master the environment. A fraudulent concept and feeling of powerlessness has been perpetrated upon us and locked in by distress.

Perhaps many Co-Counselors will feel that they were already aware of this. I was, too, but not really—not in the aware sense I am now.


The breakthrough came in a class I was leading. I had asked the class members to listen to me and respond afterwards to an impatience I felt about the slowness of Co-Counselors to take decisive action. I asked, since almost all decisive advances in RC theory had come when we rejected limits (complete responsibility, complete appreciation, etc.), why were Co-Counselors insisting on respecting some invisible barrier when it came to acting in the wide world?

I mentioned the economic crisis, the deterioration of the environment, and the continuing reactive drive toward nuclear over-armament and the danger of holocaust as reasons, not to panic, but, it seemed to me, to take decisive leadership in human affairs. “What is holding us up?” I asked.

I received responses of reassurance (that we were really doing just fine already) and also some resentment was expressed at what felt like invalidating criticism by me.


Then Liz Kunz spoke.

“I don’t hear what you’re trying to say,“ she said. (I am paraphrasing her words from memory.) “But I keep thinking that maybe you are trying to say something analogous to what I discovered by learning about sexism.

“I have always been a hard-working client “ said Liz. “I have discharged heavily ever since I got into RC. But when I learned about sexism it made a great deal of difference in my counseling. I had been discharging with my goal being to reach a place where I wouldn’t be hurt by the things that happened to me anymore. When I saw sexism for what it was and realized I could reject it and fight against it instead of going on enduring it and discharging on it, it gave me a big short cut. That realization will save me hundreds of hours of counseling work in my re-emergence. I wonder if you are trying to get at something like that?”

I became very excited. I shouted “Of course! Powerlessness! That has to be it! That has to be the distress that we have gone on respecting and treating as if it were reality.”

Once said out loud it was obvious. I even found that I had been using the word repeatedly myself during the last few months, in workshops and in writing. But to almost face it and be aware of it is not quite the same as really being aware of the situation. My thanks to Liz Kunz.

I propose, of course, that all of us in RC declare an end to any respect or tolerance for feelings or attitudes of powerlessness, that we treat them as the patterned distresses they must be and pursue them with discharge. Power to the Person!


This is one more of the crucial realizations that one-by-one emerged from the patterned confusion in which we began our re-emergence. Insight-by-insight we have gained a better and better concept of the reality of ourselves and the universe.

A good deal of the development of Re-evaluation Counseling theory and practice has consisted of shedding the obscuring notions and concepts which give a false picture of reality and attaining a more and more accurate picture of what the universe and its contents are really like. (A crucial area of this revelation has been what we humans and our inherent relationships are really like.)

If we view the development of RC in this light, we can see why we had to begin with timid and tentative conjectures. It was a bold step to think that since a few people felt better after they cried it might be good for all people to cry. We had to go against universal conditioning that people shouldn’t discharge and that one should interrupt and condemn their discharge if one wished to be helpful.

It was another step forward to think about (and eventually try) seeking discharge deliberately, pursuing it persistently in-stead of settling for what occurred accidentally or for as much as permissive counseling alone would bring.

Heavy, rigid traditions of hierarchy and dependency had to be challenged to realize that people could take turns at counseling each other and being counseled, that reversible Co-Counseling was long-range workable. In spite of many initial difficulties and appearances to the contrary, the underlying reality turned out to be that exchanging Co-Counseling is inherent in human capabilities and works exceedingly well.


Considerable intense work, mostly with one-way clients, had to take place before we could be sure that discharge could be exhaustive, that it could be persisted in to completion, that the distress pattern could be “cleaned up completely.” Such thorough, exhaustive counseling produced profound and permanent improvements and dramatically better levels of human functioning for the client.

These insights and practices emerged slowly. We often acted intuitively on each of these principles before we realized them as principles, i.e., our practice moved in that direction before we awarely generalized the importance of what we were doing. This has been true with each succeeding set of developments of our theory.

It was an important new realization that taking a turn before group attention could use the multiplied awareness of the group to discharge certain distresses faster and more thoroughly than with a single Co-Counselor. This had happened incidentally inRe-evaluation Counseling classes many, many times before it was recognized as a general phenomenon which could be planned for and taken advantage of deliberately.


Several such insights occurred in the development of our skills against chronic patterns. It was a turning point to realize that a chronic pattern was not just “heavy” but that it actually played all the time, constantly restimulated by the conditions of ordinary living. It was a further important step to realize that a chronic pattern could recharge itself and regain its dire effectiveness through dominating the individual between sessions as much or almost as much as it could be weakened or done away with by discharge during sessions. This made it clear that to eliminate a chronic pattern requires that a direction against the pattern be held between sessions to “starve” it of the restimulation which would otherwise keep it operating.

It was a fresh insight to realize clearly that a counselor’s “word from outside” contradicting the pattern could save the client much fumbling and misdirection in beginning discharge of the chronic pattern. Later still came the realization that one must be ruthless (though skilled and flexible) in attacking the chronic pattern of one’s client, but that, at the same time, one must be warm and loving and supportive to the client himself, or herself, and refuse to let any identification of the pattern with the person take place.


From the very beginning of RC, there were supportive, cooperative relationships within the group of Co-Counselors. Personal Counselors, which was for about 20 years the main vehicle for the development of Re-evaluation Counseling, functioned with a semi-volunteer staff, able to keep going because of the mutual interest and sense of companionship and purpose which was felt by the staff people and the Co-Counseling students.

As Co-Counseling began to spread across the United States and the world, the newer Co-Counselors began to reach for an organized relationship with each other and this culminated in the Guidelines of 1972, revised and kept up to date many times since then. It was a key insight that a “community” relationship between Co-Counselors could stabilize and expedite their re-emergence greatly by adding safety, variety of Co-Counseling resources, increased possibilities of consultation and responsible modeling.

The functioning of the RC Community has uncovered a good deal of the reality of inherent relationships between human beings. The RC Communities have functioned as pilot plants or experimental projects for realizing how good and supportive rational relationships between all human beings could be in the wide world.


The next important realization was slow in coming to clarity, though it was grappled with for several years. Challenging oppressive attitudes which we found coming into the RC Com-munities from the society around us finally brought the realization that attitudes of sexism, racism, anti-Semitism, and ageism, and the oppression of young people, etc. were directly interfering with the successful functioning of Co-Counseling and were denying the full benefits of Co-Counseling to many people in the oppressed end of relationships while preserving inhuman attitudes destructive to people in the “oppressor” roles.

This took a long time. At first reluctantly and now enthusiastically it has become the policy of the Communities to challenge oppressive patterns directly. A systematic effort on this has begun, and as workable techniques for discharging and re-evaluating on oppressive patterns have developed it is plain that we have revealed the true nature of another large portion of previously obscured reality and have exposed the usual attitudes in present societies as false, destructive, re-inforcing of patterns and rooted in distress. Thousands of Co-Counselors are presently excited and jubilant at realizing that their progress to re-emergence can be greatly accelerated by rejecting and disassociating from the patterns of oppression which they have been victimized by in the past. The until-now unchallenged reinstallation of distress by these patterns can be decisively interrupted, saving thousands of hours of discharge and years of time in re-emergence.

As we come to see what human beings “should have been like all along” and are really like inherently, as we begin to repudiate the notions of “human nature” and human society that we have previously accepted as inherent or necessary, (but which we now can clearly see are simply accumulated distress and the socially reinforced regeneration of the distress), new frontiers of progress open up before us.


All is going exceedingly well in the development of Re-evaluation Counseling.

All is going well in the growth and the maturing of the Re-evaluation Counseling Communities. The program adopted for the past year has been carried out and is being carried out quite successfully. The level of Co-Counseling is maturing. The Communities themselves are maturing well. Chronic patterns are being challenged with considerable success.

Oppressive patterns are being challenged in our counseling by the development of workable new techniques, by special workshops, special newsletters, and by joyous commitment against oppression of Communities and Community members who were often fearful of this development a year ago, but are enthusiastically pursuing it today.

The future looks extremely bright. We have much room for satisfaction. Yet, I think, and I think Co-Counselors will in general agree with me, that there is some reason for impatience with the present effectiveness of Re-evaluation Counseling in the world at large.

A significant number of Co-Counselors have absorbed the theory very well and have integrated it into their lives. They are successful in everything which they tackle. Yet the world as a whole, on the level of governments and national policies and on the content of most people’s lives, continues to pursue reactive policies of increasing hardship and want, of wasting the earth's resources, of pollution of the environment, and of a slow reactive grinding in the direction of nuclear war.


Why have not individual RCers as yet played a decisive role in turning the tide of human activity in the other direction? What is holding us up from decisive action, from speaking out clearly enough of the things that we know well so that large numbers of people will hear us and will act in a rational, human direction?

(What was Vachel Lindsay trying to tell us about in his poem, "It is the world’s one crime its babes grow dull...limp and leaden-eyed?”)

I think we can at last put a name to the obstacle. As in all previous theoretical breakthroughs the difficulty seems obvious once we notice it. Things I’ve said and written in the last few months reveal that I’ve almost said this many time. It may not even seem new to the reader and yet to realize it awarely is a new and decisive change.


The name of this unchallenged distress is “powerlessness.”

It shows up in every case of oppression. It dramatizes itself in every lack of initiative, in every insight not acted upon.

We have known for some time that the real nature of human beings is to take the initiative, to move aggressively on problems. We’ve known that the almost universal behavior of not moving decisively has to be something wrong. What can be wrong? If it is different from the inherent nature of human beings it has to be a pattern. If it is a pattern, then it has to be an extremely widespread, nearly universal chronic pattern. And it has to be an extremely heavy chronic pattern to explain the enormous amount of apathy and passivity present in the population.

Of course! All human beings that we have knowledge of(including the most advantaged) have gone through a long series of devastating experiences, while small children, of having their self-determination and their own decisions on the conduct of their lives thwarted, defeated, smashed, derided, and stomped on in every possible way.

All of us start out with a sense of being in charge of our universe, a full expectation of an immediately co-operative rational universe waiting for us, ready to carry out our wishes. An infant is not powerless. A human infant is possessed of a very powerful voice. In a rational environment that voice alone would be enough to see that prompt action is taken to carry out the child’s wishes. The intuitive feeling a child has of being in charge should correspond to reality.


But the environment into which the child is born is a very messed-up and patterned pseudo-reality. Expecting to deal with humans, the child instead has to deal with patterns. Expecting cooperation and love, the child receives invalidation and opposition. It is little wonder that by the time the child is grown, he or she feels deeply and chronically that “there is nothing I can do about it,” “you can’t fight city hall,”  “I just do what they tell me,” and similar expressions of discouragement, despair, apathy and surrender. This accumulation of defeating early hurts has to be the evil substructure of almost all patterns, both the patterns of oppression and patterns of individual invalidation.

If we can name it, we can find a way to challenge it and remove it. It will undoubtedly be called by many names in the future. I name it “powerlessness” for now. Remember the name. Use it. It is the next major adversary of our re-emergence, coming into clear view. Don’t let it sink back into unrecognized obscurity and domination of our behavior.

Certainly everyone of us has had many incidents of having the power to run our own lives denied to us by the adults around us or the forces of society. The distress in these experiences which has kept us apathetic or timid is waiting for discharge. The distress may be very heavy and it may take all our counseling skills to contradict it enough to discharge it completely, but we have many skills by now.

There are many possible techniques to be tried on this. To holdup to view our excuses for not taking charge of the world could bring discharge. To review the list of all memories of being powerless will bring the incidents to light, at least. We can ask, "What would our most admired heroine or hero do?” One way is certainly to ask our client to tell the story of the “powerless "incidents in the way they should have happened, as fantasies in which he or she kept the power. The general rules of safety and support, of balance of attention, of persistence with discharge to completion, will apply.


To challenge powerlessness will not distract us from the successful counseling we are already doing on our individual chronics or on the ending of internalized oppression. It will be found to be residing in them all. To see it clearly and to reject its claims to be reality will simply accelerate our re-emergence in every way.

We will need to furnish each other safety and reassurance in dealing with such universal heavy distress. We will need to keep our theory clear and in view. We will need to cheer each other on and never pool our timidities, discouragements or apathies.

If this can happen in the next few months (and I doubt if there is anything more crucial to our well being and re-emergence)then I think we will see large numbers of RCers in close communication and good contact with people in the wide world, moving decisively to end the perpetuation of distress, to end the threat of nuclear holocaust, to end the ongoing oppressions of unjust societies.


[*] First printed in Present Time No. 24—July, 1976

Last modified: 2023-04-15 09:24:12+00