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In my 20+ years as a psychotherapist seeing 42 patients a week, I learned an immense amount of practical knowledge about working with strong and/or manipulative personalities. I also learned to see quite clearly the distinction between powerful personalities and powerful people. Believe it or not, there is a vast difference.

A strong personality is frequently someone who has a very high energy level with little to no training or experience in channeling that energy in a productive way. Often as a child others tried, with little success, to contain them or to fuel that energy into physical activity such as sports. In my office, frequently they spoke of feeling too big for their environment and misunderstood. They needed help fitting in and often help in leaving a relationship or job position or, in contrast, learning how to make them work. Their social skills were limited.

Simultaneously, I came to see that powerful people who were comfortable in their own skin radiated a presence that simply said ‘Hello, I am here.’ No agenda, no commanding or demanding presence, just offering a comforting sense that they knew who they were. They frequently radiated a certain peace. They were simply seeking additional growth, an objective perspective, or help in understanding how they got into a situation they now needed help with. 

There can be difficulty for some in understanding the vast distinction between these two. Sadly, it is rare for most people to feel powerful, to feel content with who they are and the life they have created. Consequently, in their mind’s eye, those who feel powerful are all in a world of their own, a world they can’t understand but only imagine.

Authentically powerful people, which we are all called to be, whether introvert or extrovert, are not intimidating unless you feel powerless. They don’t “have it all together.” They can humbly let you know they are working on this issue or that if they feel safe with you. This happens because they know they can handle whatever happens either alone or in their ability to ask for help. They have learned from experience that “this too shall pass.’  They have learned that no matter what happens, they will be ok. Most importantly, they trust themselves, not with ego but with a calm self-assuredness because that peaceful power often came about from facing life lessons that occurred rather than avoiding them or blaming others. Because of our humanity, they do also have moments of self-doubt, overwhelm, and confusion. Notice I said moments, not months, years, etc. The important distinction is that they visit those places but don’t live there.

This is a state I wish for every one of us.

However, when people fear being ‘too much’ or ‘intimidating,’ self-betrayal shows up because of the confusion between “too large” a personality and being authentically and peacefully powerful. It seems ‘humble’ to play small. Instead, take a risk and recognize that our lives are the byproduct of the decisions we have made and how we have dealt with all life has presented. Owning the power we each possess is needed for a big and powerful life. The important and immediate task is to own what we already possess, not imagine it is a gift distributed to only a few.


Dr. Dorothy’s life story of coming from an orphanage, being raised in the housing projects of South Boston, becoming a Catholic nun, an international airline stewardess, a wife, mother, graduate faculty member, Clinical Instructor at a Medical School, and so much more provides the perfect backdrop for her message of joy, humor, passion and faith as the necessary tools for life.