We hear a lot about empowerment these days. Becoming empowered is regarded as a desirable state to attain -- and definitely a desirable state in which to live one's life. But how do we attain that state; how do we empower ourselves?
What is Empowerment?
First of all, how do we define empowerment? I believe we first regarded empowerment as desirable as a reaction against "giving one's power away" or being "powerless." To be empowered is to have control over one's life. (It does not, however, include having power over others' lives.) To be empowered and to have control, or power, over one's life includes having control over all facets of one's life: it means thinking for oneself and taking responsibility for one's life, as well as being active instead of just passive; it means moving past dependence toward independence. It does not mean, however, that we become so empowered and independent that we become islands: to be happily self-empowered, we gain autonomy in our lives, while still feeling a connection to others and our environment. A curious balance between independence and connection. Being connected to others may entail compromise in our relationships. There is a difference, however, between compromise and giving one's power away or sacrificing oneself.
What we are talking about is knowing our own Truth. Knowing our own Truth, knowing who we are -- Self Knowledge -- and trusting in it is powerful stuff. And once knowing our Truth, to then live our lives by it.
To be empowered is to know one's Truth, to think for oneself, to be independent while still feeling a connection, to be active as well as passive, to take responsibility for ourselves. A person who is self-empowered has integrity, with all his parts integrated. A true "whole."
Obstacles to Empowerment
Now that we have dissected the meaning of empowerment to death, how do we become empowered? Let's look first at what may stand in our way. What are the obstacles to empowerment? What do we need to change or work around?
One of the major obstacles to self-empowerment is our social conditioning. We have been conditioned to give our power away. We have been conditioned to regard established authorities as having absolute knowledge, as icons not to be questioned. One good example of this has been the social view of medicine and medical practitioners. We have been trained to take doctors' advice as gospel and not to question or take an active role in our own health care. This is the view of "M. D.'s" as "medical deities." This attitude, happily, is changing. We are learning to take responsibility for our own health. We are learning that we can question, and still respect, authority while respecting ourselves.
Another way in which our conditioning blocks empowerment lies in the very way we are trained to think. Just as we are trained not to question authorities, so also are we trained to think that things must be only one way. I think of this as one-dimensional or "totalitarian" thinking that does not allow for originality or variances or even shades of gray. Just as physicists are discovering that scientific laws are not hard and fast, that matter or objects do not always act as scientific laws would prescribe, so too are old, rigid concepts having to become more flexible. Thus, women are no longer necessarily dominated by men. Nor, in fact, we now realize, does there have to be domination of any type.
The "one-dimensionality" of our cultural conditioning leads us to see ourselves in a very narrow light -- as only being or doing one or a few things -- or only socially prescribed things. Thus, women should act only in one way, and men should act bnly in one (other) way. Seeing ourselves as only one thing -- and thus not seeing other possibilities for ourselves -- is very limiting. Seeing ourselves as only white or black or Native American, as female or male, as Christian or Jew, as American or Russian -- limites our potential. To be empowered is to see and develop our potential. How many times have you been surprised to find that a doctor also writes poetry or that a well-known actor also paints well or that your auto mechanic may also sing? We become empowered when we move past the obstacles of limiting, one-dimensional cultural conditioning to fuller, more "whole" views of ourselves.
To become empowered, we must break past the old thinking that we must be or act in a certain, preordained, socially prescribed way (e.g., that women should please others and that men should dominate). We must move past rigid thinking that we have all the answers and that there is nothing new under the sun to a new state of a sense of wonderment. Thus, we must deprogram our cultural conditioning and have an open mind.
Another obstacle to becoming empowered is low self-esteem. If we don't love or even like ourselves, how can we trust our own thinking? Self-doubts, low self-esteem, lack of trust in oneself -- all block our becoming empowered. If we don't think highly of ourselves, we certainly don't truly develop our independence.
And connected to low self-esteem is the other obstacle, lack of self-knowledge. It is hard to empower ourselves if we don't truly know ourselves.
Another major obstacle to being empowered, which is also connected to low self-esteem, is old uncleared issues. Issues that are not resolved cloud our thinking and block our energy flow. They affect our behavior as behind-the-scenes, unconscious motivators and do not allow us to be truly in control of ourselves -- or empowered. Being empowered means being clear, thinking clearly, seeing clearly, and acting accordingly.
Fears are also a major obstacle to empowerment. Our fear holds us back and robs us of will. It is an energy that closes in, instead of expanding outward. It is a block to the free flow of energy. To be empowered is to be clear, to have one's energy flowing freely. Fear prevents us from being truly self-reliant and clear-sighted.
Passivity and dependence are also blocks to empowerment. To be empowered, we must be independent, we must be active. Again, this does not mean blocking other people out; one can be independent and connected. Being self-empowered means being somewhat self-contained, having integrity (wholeness, independence) in a natural, free-flowing way. Being passive and dependent entails giving one's power away.
Lack of knowledge is also an obstacle to empowerment. To be empowered, one must be as self-reliant as possible. It is hard to be self-reliant without knowledge. Wise men have talked about the importance of knowledge over the centuries. Contemporary near-death-experiencers have also stressed its importance. As we add to our knowledge, we add to our storehouse of data upon which to draw. As we add to our knowledge, we are better able to think for ourselves. Lack of knowledge leaves us in a weakened and impoverished condition which is not conducive to empowerment. As Francis Bacon said, "Knowledge itself is power."
Similarly, lack of self-development is an obstacle to empowerment. If we have not developed parts of ourselves, we have less on which to rely in ourselves. As we develop more facets of ourselves, we know ourselves better and become more self-reliant. Our confidence is also boosted, and we become more whole. We thus are able to empower ourselves more and in more areas.
These are some of the obstacles to empowerment, and many of these factors are interrelated. Certainly low self-esteem, fear, dependence, and uncleared issues are inter-connected. As we move toward clearing one, others are also affected.
Paths to Empowerment
Given the obstacles to empowerment, some or all of which may affect any of us to varying degrees, how do we move toward empowerment? How do we remove the obstacles?
First let me say that we all have our own paths to follow. The path I have followed may vary greatly from your path. In looking for it and in following your intuition, you will find your own path.
That said, I would like to suggest some possible steps or directions. Some of these may be painfully obvious. Some may feel more appealing to you than others. We all come to things at the appropriate time. If it feels appropriate, try it. Remember that empowerment is a process that gradually unfolds.
In order to break down the walls of "totalitarian" thinking investigate alternative modalities and disciplines. The more we are exposed, with an open mind, to non-mainstream ideas, the more we start to discover our own truths.
Try going to an alternative health practitioner instead of a "regular" (allopathic) doctor. Try a wholistic physician, acupuncturist, massage therapist, herbalist, etc.
Read about various cultural philosophies and religions: Native American, Indian, Egyptian, Mayan, African, Taoism, Hinduism, Islam, folklore, etc. There is wisdom everywhere. What feels right to you? Remember that what feels right now may later feel wrong and vice versa. (What feels right or wrong now may be the result of issue-related button-pushing, but that is a digression we won't go into now. Rick probably thinks this article is already too long!) Try to keep an open mind as your explore. The more you explore alternative modalities with an open mind, the more you are deprogramming your mind and allowing it to grow in new ways. Digest what you are exposed to. Don't accept everything as gospel. You will gradually find yourself developing your own ideas, one solid step toward being empowered.
Gaining self-esteem is a process also, and there are different ways to try to facilitate it. One conventional approach is therapy or counseling. This is a valid approach and needn't be rejected automatically out-of-hand. If you choose to investigate this modality, try to choose your therapist or counselor carefully. Try to find one about whom you feel good, one with whom you feel a rapport. Try also to find one who facilitates your process of self-discovery, rather than one who controls you or encourages you to be dependent on him/her or who brings his/her issues into your sessions.
Guided imagery meditation or regression sessions may also help to build self-esteem by working at root causes. Energizing self-discoveries may be gained in this way.
Developing your talents and abilities can also boost self-esteem.
Remember that you are a unique and valid individual. Remember that we all have our talents and something to contribute. Remember that we all make mistakes and forgive yourself. Remember that the deepest beauty is that which is inside. Try to incorporate these thoughts into daily affirmations.
Knowing oneself can be a difficult process. We tend to be trapped in our own egos and our self-perception tends to be colored emotionally by our needs, self-concept, and degree of self-esteem. Try to find that objective place in yourself, the place unaffected by subjective or temporal concerns -- the observer.
Observe yourself in difficult situations and with different people. What do you see? How do you react?
Learn how your mind works. Watch yourself think by drawing upon your internal objective observer.
Explore meditation as a vehicle for observing yourself. Look into self-hypnosis.
What do you feel empathetic towards? What repulses you? What pushes your buttons? Why does it push them? What are your talents? What engages your interest?
Clearing Your Issues
Clearing issues is another process that may be a convoluted and divergent path. Again, counseling or therapy may be an option, as well as regression therapy and guided imagery meditation.
Bodywork that helps identify places in your body where issues and memories are stored may help in clearing them.
Bringing past issues or problems to consciousness that are not yet cleared also helps as a precursor to clearing them. Awareness and self-knowledge are closely entwined.
If your issues entail substance or other abuse, consider joining some of the support groups.
Identify and gain access to self-help books (John Bradshaw, A Course in Miracles, etc.). This can facilitate your own self-discovery.
Watch what pushes your buttons, especially anger and fear. Try to go into your objective observer (through meditation, self-hypnosis, etc.) and learn why your buttons are being pushed, what is the root cause. Sometimes conscious knowledge can help you move past the issue. (Not to be confused with denial, where there is no conscious awareness or acceptance of the issue.)
Look for patterns in your life. Do you find yourself over and over embroiled in similar dysfunctional situations or with similarly dysfunctional people (to use psychological terms)? Again search out the root cause.
Know that you can clear your issues. Know that you can feel clearer and happier and more content. Know that others have journeyed this path before and that you can, too.
Fears can be conquered. One of the first steps is to recognize fear for what it is. Ofttimes a fear may be cloaked or disguised as something else. Basically, however, love and confidence/being positive open us up. Our energy flows freely outward. Fear closes us in and holds us back.
Many fears are related to issues. Clearing issues can reduce fear. Fear also may be of the unknown, related to fear of not being accepted or loved, as well as fear of death. There is also the fear of not having enough, which is related to not feeling secure in ourselves. As we work on self-esteem and gain knowledge, this fear is reduced.
When you find yourself holding back, try to identify what is causing you to hold back, what the fear is. Identifying the core issue can help. This can be done through the modalities mentioned above.
Try going into your fear, a little at a time if necessary. True empowerment comes when we are "fear-less," when we are clear of fear.
Realize that your fear is just that -- a fear. Your fear of the fear and your holding back are more insidious than what the fear concerns.
When you go into a fear, feel the fear. Let it wash over you. Watch where it leads you. It will reach an end at some point. Watch yourself come back to normal, with the fear receding.
Whenever you feel fear and have identified the root cause, focus on love. Try to mentally wrap the fear in love, completely envelop and enclose it in love. Breathe into the fear, deep cleansing breaths from the abdomen. See the love growing in size and the fear shrinking.
Remember that nothing can harm you unless you first allow it in on some level.
Gaining independence may be accomplished by some of the modalities mentioned earlier: counseling/therapy, meditation, regression, affirmations, etc.
Dealing with fear can also help. Dependence often is related to low self-esteem and fears -- of being alone, of not being loved, etc. We may feel we are not capable of taking care of ourselves. Love in the past may have meant giving up one's power over oneself, an infant's dependence on one's parents.
Independence can be liberating and exhilarating. It is also related to self-development. As we develop more of ourselves and clear our issues, we come to rely more on ourselves and thus become more independent.
Developing Yourself and Gaining Knowledge
The more we develop ourselves and learn and gain knowledge, the more empowered we become. To this end, think of yourself as a multi-faceted person. Try not to feel that you can only do or be one thing. Being a renaissance person can help you become empowered.
Is there something you've always wanted to do or learn? Allow yourself to explore it.
It is interesting to note that recent research now reveals seven areas of intelligence, as opposed to the only two previously recognized: math and verbal. The other five areas are: bodily, spatial, introspective, musical, and interpersonal. Anyone can inherently have any of the above abilities or any combination of them. It has further been found that, if one is not utilizing all of his/her abilities, he/she does not feel fulfilled or satisfied.
We are all more than we are brought up to believe we are. Realize that you can do things you may never have considered. We all have untapped potential. As we develop ourselves, we also gain knowledge of ourselves. Our self-view expands.
Expanding your knowledge is also a component of empowerment, and, conversely, empowerment is a by-product of knowledge. Consider the case of someone who has just been diagnosed with a serious illness. This person can sit back and be powerless and fearful of the unknown, giving his/her power away to a medical practitioner. OR he/she may take power by researching the illness and gaining all the information and knowledge he/she can and thereby knowing what he/she is dealing with and what modalities and avenues to explore.
Remember that "knowledge is power." -- both external knowledge and self-knowledge.
Developing Your Intuition
One of the strongest ways to become empowered is to develop your intuition.
We all have an internal "voice" that guides us. We know when something feels right or not. Learn to listen to your internal voice, or, if you will, your "internal BS meter."
Learn to discern what your voice is, what it feels like, how it speaks to you. Your intuitive voice will be clear and not emotionally colored. It will feel sure. It will also usually be persistent. It may be experienced as a "feeling in the gut." It may come as an image, feeling, words, etc. However it is experienced is appropriate for you.
Learn what your voice is like and befriend it. Trust it. In trusting it, you are trusting yourself. Your intuitive voice is one of the greatest gifts you naturally have that leads to self-empowerment.
Remember that we can all increase our empowerment. Learn more about yourself. Trust yourself. Believe in yourself. Accept your uniqueness as an individual. Learn what your own truth is and honor it. Remember that we are here to learn and grow. Add to your bank of knowledge and abilities. Explore your world with confidence and with an open and curious mind. Know that you have your own path in life and respect it. Respect yourself, as well as others. Glory in your independence and empowerment. And, as Shakespeare wisely said, "to thine own self be true." That is true integrity - and empowerment.
This article was first published in the November 1994 and January 1995 issues of "Connexions."
Diane Brandon is the Host of "Living Your Power" on the Health & Wellness Channel of http://VoiceAmerica.com and the new show, "Vibrant Living" debuting late May 2008 on Webtalkradio.net, as well as an Intuition Expert & Teacher, Integrative Intuitive Counselor, and Speaker. She is the author of "Invisible Blueprints" and several articles on personal growth topics, as well as a contributing author to "Speaking Out" and "The Long Way Around: How 34 Women Found the Lives They Love." Her private work with individuals focuses on personal growth, working with dreams, and personal empowerment, and she has done corporate seminars on intuition, creativity, and listening skills. More information may be found on her websites, http://www.dianebrandon.com and http://www.dianebrandon.net She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org