What is empowerment?
Empowerment means different things to different people. I would say that, in general, it means that we are in a position of power such that we have a say in the way things happen in our lives. It means that we can act in ways that will bring the good things we desire into our lives or, if that isn't possible, act in a way that limits the amount of negativity that happens when bad things enter our lives.
It's about being able to make a choice between "I CAN do this" and "I WILL do this."
Contrary to popular belief, the truth is that no one can empower you for you. Empowerment must come from within. The good news is that it doesn't need to require hours of psychotherapy to find it. It starts simply with language.
Yes, really. How often do you put yourself down? How frequently do you begin sentences with, "This may sound crazy/silly/stupid, but . . ."? Do you realize that every time you use words to create a scenario in which you are disempowered in any way, you are actually putting yourself there, both to yourself and to other people?
Reality is transmitted from me to you via words, or verbal constructs.What that means is that when I say, "I'm being stupid today," I am not simply venting. "Stupid" has a whole list of connotations (associations) with it. It means we're not functioning at our best, or perhaps that we are intellectually inferior or not good enough. And when you pass that construct to the next person by speaking it out loud to them, they too receive the image of your being inferior in some way. That can stick on you and become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Another way in which we pass on disempowerment is through stigma. Think of all the terminology you hear about mental illness, for example. How often do you hear people call one another "crazy"?
"You must be crazy to grocery shop at 2 in the morning."
"He drives like a maniac."
"My professor is crazy if he thinks I can finish this calculus test in 15 minutes."
Are people with mental illness "crazy"? No, but we sure like to construct a reality in which they are that way.
There are other examples we see even our doctor's offices:
The mental patient in room 4 hasn't taken her medicine today.
That schizophrenic is doing well; he is holding down a full-time job now.
The bipolar sometimes needs some extra time on tests.
The words "schizophrenic" and "bipolar" are adjectives, not nouns!
It is inappropriate for anyone to call anyone by their disease or health condition. You are NOT a health condition; you are a person who lives WITH a health condition. So, the above sentences can better be stated as:
The patient in room 4 hasn't taken her medicine today.
The man is doing well and holds a part-time job in spite of having schizophrenia.
The student who lives with bipolar disorder sometimes needs extra time.
Which version is more empowering?
I am using a mental health context because that is what I know both personally and professionally. However, this is true in every medical context you can think of.
Someone is not DIABETIC. Rather, they LIVE WITH DIABETES.
Would you ever call someone who lives with cancer a TUMOR?
These words, these descriptions and names, are the way we relate to the world and the way the world relates to us. It is perhaps unfortunate that, as humans, the way we come to know things is to categorize and classify them. As such, there will always be labels. But, guess what! WE get to choose the labels we will allow to be attached to us. And we also get to choose whether we will give them power over our lives.
What are some labels you've put on yourself or that others have put on you? It can be related to anything-- an illness, a lifestyle choice, a characteristic like nationality or skin color, or anything else. How would you turn those labels around and adopt a perspective that is more empowering for you? What is YOUR new language of empowerment?
You can respond to this blog. Let's discuss!