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  • Amina Aitsi-Selmi

The power of the victim: the cause of self-sabotage

Do you feel powerful?

Power is such a charged word.

I had a coaching conversation with one of my friends who is a senior manager in the energy industry. His company is relocating to a new city and he’s not enchanted.

The funny thing is, he said, he knew this was coming for a long time but did nothing about it.

And now he has to make a decision with little time to investigate alternatives.

As we explored what was going on, we discovered this:

He’s not so comfortable taking his destiny into his own hands.

Now, my friend is not a victim. He’s done extraordinary things: he moved from another country to the UK alone as a young man, gained a Master’s degree, then worked his way up the ladder in a highly competitive industry. All the while, he built a loving personal life and a vibrant social one.

But something held him back from acting on what he knew. He ignored the impending change.

He was too comfortable where he was.

And this kind of complacent comfort is exactly what can sabotage our best future.

Power stress isn’t just for leaders

Leadership experts often talk about the stress of leadership.

“Power stress” is a term coined to describe the by-product of the manifold pressures faced by leaders including the ambiguities of authority, complexities of communication in large organisations, as well as the loneliness that’s thought to be inherent in leadership positions.

The truth is, these stresses are not limited to “leaders” as defined by a job title or role.

Whether it be a CEO or a junior analyst, anyone who steps out of the known world to face the complexity of life, perhaps guided by a vision of what’s possible, will face “power stress”.

Conversely, anyone trapped in their own habits of thought and behaviour (including anyone in the highest echelons of leadership) is a victim – a victim of their habitual conditioning.

What’s the power in being a victim of your habitual conditioning?

Well, it’s a very powerful defence.

A defence against what?

Against the fear of change.

Being a victim to your habitual conditioning keeps you safe. It creates the illusion of comfort and stops you from taking risks. Why get your head our of the sand, when you can keep it there and live in a fantasy, right?

While this may be OK in times of stability, it’s self-sabotaging in times of change.


Because it also blocks you from who you could become.

Weapons of the weak versus the power of awareness

At medical school, I studied Social Anthropology for a year and wrote a paper on James C. Scott’s Weapons of the Weak. It’s an ethnography of all the small ways the inhabitants (rich and poor) of a Malaysian village expressed subtle resistance to an experience of oppression.

An observation that struck me was that the villagers weren’t aware of what they were doing. They seemed to be playing to an internalised cultural and social script. They were acting out their habitual, inherited conditioning.

And this is the case for all of us.

While we may display a little disgruntlement or even outright frustration with the changes that come our way, we may be far from fully engaged.

We’re not truly exercising choice.

You see choice comes from awareness of reality. But the price of that is fear of consequence.

For example, as I’ve seen in many clients, if you step out of your habitual thinking:

  • Perhaps you'll become more focused and have to face your real fears. Eventually, what you’ve been wanting for so long will unfold with more ease.

  • Perhaps you'll become more self-caring and all your codependent relationships will fall away. Eventually, you’ll be free for healthier communication and relationships.

  • Perhaps you’ll slow down and realise what you’ve been missing out on in life. Eventually, you’ll start living in the moment and enjoying everything you have.

As US presidential candidate Marianne Williamson put it: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.

The only true power is awareness. And it doesn’t depend on your job title.

Fortunately, my friend is super-aware. He took the situation as a wake-up call and used it as the impetus to engage more fully with what’s possible for him. He’s taken the bull by the horns and is creating new opportunities.

While it can be challenging to be more responsible for decisions about his future, the payoff is that he’s got his mojo back.

In his own words: he feels more alive.

Don’t wait. Live now.


Coming soon (Project Power 21 – Create the Career and Life You Want from your True Power).


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Dr Amina Aitsi-Selmi is a Transformational Coach and Consultant to here: For more information on services see here:

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