Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Problem with Authority Figures? Six Steps to Overcoming Them


Mary Ann Robbat
Adapted from her new book, "Engaging Your Power"

Have you ever trembled in your boots when your boss called you into his/her office? Do you stiffen up and get ready for an argument when a cop approaches? When you walk into a job interview, do you get tongue-tied? These are all physical manifestations of some old belief about authority figures that's buried deep in your subconscious. This old belief sprang from a negative experience or pattern of experiences you had as a child. Back then, you didn't have the skills, experience, or knowledge to cope effectively with someone who was more powerful than you—and abused that power—so it was perfectly logical to be intimidated.

What's so interesting about problems with authority figures is that when we grow up, they no longer make sense in most cases. You may be very masterful in your peer group and you may even be an authority figure to others (a coach, parent, teacher, supervisor, and so on), yet those same ancient kneejerk reactions happen anyway. Until you identify and let go of the underlying belief that is causing you to cower or react in some other way, it doesn't matter how powerful you are. You'll still have those same unpleasant and unhelpful responses to authority figures.

The most important relationships we had with key authority figures in our lives—which could include parents and older relatives, childcare workers and teachers, doctors, law enforcement officials, coaches and mentors, clergy, and others—largely determine how we react to authority figures as an adult. If you had very few challenges from authority figures in your life when you were young, chances are you have few issues with authority as you've aged.

However, if as an adult you experience extreme physical reactions to authority figures, even though you know it's illogical or silly, you bet there was an issue when you were younger! Here's what you can do.

Step 1: Note your reaction.

What type of reactions do you have when you're with someone who you perceive has more power than you? Pay attention to physical reactions, such as lowering your eyes, racing heart, crossing your arms in front of your chest, or butterflies in your stomach. Or it may be more subtle, such as not wanting to take up anyone's time, shying away from speaking up, or always contradicting the authority figure. It's helpful to write down all the reactions you notice.

Step 2: Identify the main power broker.

Most people who have problems with authority don't have a difficult time naming the top person in their life who had the most influence on their adult behavior related to authority—usually a parent, older relative, or caregiver. Once you have that person in mind, try to remember how you felt around him or her. Once again, notice if there are any corresponding feelings in your body.

Step 3: Connect the feelings with a specific memory.

Try to recall a specific early experience with this person when you felt a strong negative emotion, such as shame, embarrassment, fear, pain, outrage, hurt feelings, frustration, or despair. Close your eyes, if helpful, and relive the experience from a child's point of view. More than likely, you'll feel the same physical sensation you felt in step 2.

Step 4: Identify your corresponding beliefs.

Close your eyes again and think about what you, as a child, believed would happen if you spoke up or defended yourself. For example, If I give my opinion, I'll be mocked. If I speak up, I'll be shushed. If I fight back, I'll get hurt or punished. Write down two or three things you believed very strongly as a child when confronted with the event in Step 3.

Step 5: Reframe your beliefs as an adult.

Take the statements from Step 4 and rewrite them from your adult perspective, so they become positive, not negative, statements. For example, If I give my opinion, others will have the opportunity to benefit from my point of view. Reframing and rewriting your old, unconscious beliefs in a positive light is a powerful way to begin changing your behavior.

Step 6: Make your new beliefs "stick."

For some people, it works to read their new beliefs every day for a month. Others repeat them aloud like mantras. Still others practice saying them silently right before a potentially threatening situation, such as asking a boss for a raise. Repetition helps you replace old, unconscious beliefs with new, conscious ones.

Take the time to work through these six simple steps and watch how your attitude and behavior around authority figures changes.

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Mary Ann Robbat is a widely esteemed energy healer, shaman, and coach, and runs the Robbat Center for Advancement of Energy Healing, which trains people in energy-based healing modalities. Her new book is Engaging Your Power: Using Your Divine Energy to Have the Life You Want, available at Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble. Learn more at www.robbatcenter.com.


  1. The person who wrote this seems to be someone viewing the problem from the outside and has little personal experience dealing with the serious chronic childhood trauma that causes issues with authority to persist into adulthood.

  2. This post was really helpful in identifying where my issues stem from. Not only that, it was the only article I have found that actually offered advice for how to HEAL. All I want is to be better.