by Michael J. Formica
When I speak with clients, we often discuss the notion of “feeling” empowered. In reality, personal empowerment is not something we feel, it’s something we do. Our sense of empowerment is a reflection of the increased personal value and self-worth that comes out of our experience of having real influence in one or more areas of our lives.
Let’s say we feel motivated to talk with our partner about better balancing household responsibilities, or perhaps boundary-setting with a co-worker. Unless our conversation actually leads to greater balance or better boundaries, we discover we were never actually empowered to influence the change we anticipated. Empowering ourselves and creating change, which ultimately leads to the increased sense of personal value and self-worth we call the “feeling” of empowerment, involves some very specific steps.
The most important of these steps can be called gathering evidence. If I were, in fact, to have that conversation around better balancing household responsibilities and still find myself the only one emptying the dishwasher, the evidence suggests I’m being ignored. On the other hand, if I find I‘m emptying the dishwasher less frequently, my actions have gathered some measure of success. Taking action and meeting with success empowers us, feeding our sense of value and self-worth. If, initially, we don’t meet with success, we have nothing to fear: every obstacle is an opportunity.
In order for us to gather evidence and measure change, we need a starting point. This means setting a goal. Once we’ve established that goal, we take a specific action. Later, we examine our evidence to determine how we’ve impacted the situation, looking at what’s working, what’s not and what might work better. This may mean we change our strategy to get more positive outcomes, which might take a few tries, but that only gives us more information to work with.
Finally, the ultimate measure of personal empowerment is witnessing real change. In the case of our example, it may be a greater balance of responsibility with our partner, or clearer boundaries with our co-worker. On the other hand, it may be that we don’t get the full measure of the change we are seeking. Either way, we have effectively engaged our empowerment by taking action that positively impacts our sense of personal value and self-worth.
By making a conscious effort to have an impact on the world around us, we create a dynamic feedback loop supporting and expanding our sense of value and self-worth. This also gives us valuable information about where we may be unable to make an impact, providing an opportunity to redirect our energies more productively.
The spiritual teacher Ram Dass often says it’s vitally important for us to recognize ourselves as human beings, not human doings. In the case of personal empowerment, the being is in the doing. It not only raises the level of our experience, but deepens our sense of who we are and our place in the world.
Michael J. Formica, MS, MA, EdM, has been a practicing psychotherapist, counselor and coach since 1988. He is founder of LifeWorks Compass LLC, in Doylestown, and blogs for Psychology Today and Huffington Post’s Healthy Living and GPS for the Soul sections. Connect with him at 215-622-5798 and MichaelJFormica.com. November 2014.