Empowering ourselves and others.
When you think about empowerment how does it make you feel? Do you feel empowered in your life to make your own choices? How can we empower others around us?
We all may want to feel empowered, and be empowered by others and feel a sense of pride in our choices and how we live our lives. Perhaps, like myself, you may find it easy to empower others around you but never yourself, you know good at giving advice but never truly able to take your own advice. For myself I guess I never truly understood the meaning of empowerment, or the feeling of being empowered. The word itself has the word ‘power’ in it, therefore one would assume it relates to our internal power, and for a long time I have felt powerless, hopeless, lost and ultimately disempowered. When we empower ourselves it is about giving our choices a voice, and not allowing others voices to take our choices away, and in the mental health sector empowerment is used as a key part of recovery in person-centered and holistic approaches. During my studies, for my diploma in mental health, was when I first was faced with the importance of empowerment in relation to mental health wellness. Beforehand I rarely thought of or understood the importance of empowerment, since graduating I have gone through waves of feeling hopeless, to then feeling empowered on my own journey of recovery.
“Individual empowerment refers primarily to the individuals ability to make decisions and have control over their personal life”- World Health Organization (1)
So what is empowerment? The definition of empowerment is ‘authority or power given to someone to do something’ and ‘the process of becoming stronger and more confident, especially in controlling one’s life and claiming one's rights’.
Empowering yourself is no easy task, it starts with knowing yourself, setting boundaries and also by making the ‘choice’ to do something. For me personally, when I feel empowered I feel in control of my life and my own choices, it fills me with a sense of achievement and pride in what I am doing, what I am choosing to do. Sometimes we may be given advice from friends and family, with good intentions of course, but this may disempower us to make our own choices and leave us feeling like we should take their advice. There is nothing more disempowering than giving someone advice that they did not ask for, which is ultimately hard to do. However when a friend gives you advice, it is our choice on whether we take their advice or not, and this is where setting
boundaries is important to self-empowerment. With self-empowerment comes a place where we assert our rights, and we can choose to refuse or deny advice given without feeling guilty. The reason why giving advice, especially when someone did not ask for advice, is disempowering is because giving advice to someone is telling someone how to live their life. And by telling someone to do something that you believe would be helpful, and although this comes from a place of good intentions, it is like stating that you know better than they do how to live their life. Remember empowerment refers to someone's ability to make decisions and have control over their personal life, and by definition empowerment is a process of growth, and gaining confidence in having control in one’s life.
So how can we empower others around us? To have self-empowerment it is about making our own choices, setting boundaries and feeling in control of our own decisions. From what I have learnt from my studies, to empower others around us, is about resisting giving advice and instead asking questions so that the individual can find their own voice, their own strengths. In relation to the person-centered and holistic approaches in the mental health sector, empowerment of others is about
being respectful, non-judgmental, focusing on someone's strengths and abilities and ultimately respecting the decisions someone makes about their own life (2)
. When we ask questions instead of giving advice, we are empowering the other person to make their own decisions, find their own solutions and ultimately make their own choices. However if a friend asks for your advice then of course give your advice, and they can make their own decision to deny or accept your advice, thus remaining self-empowered with their choice.
It is important to be mindful that in regards to empowerment and empowering others, that everyone is beautifully unique, and has their own life to live. I never used to think that giving advice was disempowering. Before I studied the concept of person-centered and holistic recovery practices, I never thought that offering advice is almost as if you are encouraging someone with your own opinion on how to live their life, perhaps that advice would work for yourself, but as we are all, as I mentioned, beautifully unique, only we know how to live our lives.
Empower yourself by making choices that fill you with confidence, set boundaries with family and friends and find personal power in transforming the “I SHOULD” to the “I CHOOSE”.
Empower others by asking questions, really listening to what they are saying, trying to resist offering advice when it is not asked, and respecting others choices, without judgement, but with compassion, love and kindness. (1)Microsoft Word - Community Empowerment Final.doc (who.int) (2)What is empowerment? - Principles for effective support (nsw.gov.au)