Empowerment

determinationAll I have to do is say the word "empowerment" and I can feel something sparkle inside of me. Empowerment is the essence of being "ME" and everything that represents me. It is the essence of owning all that is me and giving me a voice.

Disempowered: not having a voice, feeling unheard, not valued, my contributions don't matter, oppressed, invisible, and stifled are the feelings I swarmed in as a child--well into my adult years. These feelings were compounded again and again by trauma and physicians telling me that "there is no cure" for my symptoms or diagnoses. I was a statistic and numbers drove interventions. As I was prescribed antibiotic after antibiotic well into the hundreds by high school, I was getting more and more sick, but I still remained at the mercy of professionals telling me what I needed or should do.

sharingI was introduced to the concept of empowerment when I started my graduate program in social work. Social workers live and breathe empowerment--it is even a part of our ethics and values. Therefore, the idea of giving someone a voice and valuing their contributions, opinions, and choices not only became part of my training, but also part of how I was treated by my peers, supervisors, and mentors. Empowerment isn't linear, it works in both directions--you give it, you receive it.

Suddenly a sparkle inside of me started to grow as I experienced how good it felt to be asked what I needed, what was working or what wasn't, and how my strengths contributed to my life outcomes. I saw how applying empowerment principles when working with my client made them feel--I saw their symptoms and sense of well-being improve by merely giving them a voice in treatment. I was trained to NEVER view myself as more knowledgeable than, better than, or to know more than my clients. After all, they were in charge of their lives and they certainly knew more than I did about what it was like to be them!

If there is one guiding value that I hope everyone takes away in this lifetime it is this:

YOU ARE AN EXPERT IN YOU

owl 2No one can ever know more about you than you know about yourself. Why then, do we surrender what we know about ourselves--our intuition, gut instincts, known history, and beliefs--to medical institutions, physicians, and statistics?

No one has a greater investment in the outcome of your life than YOU do

COMMIT TO THE STUDY OF YOU

In my case, empowerment meant taking back ownership of my body, my treatment, the interventions I chose to participate in, my beliefs about health, and the freedom to choose healers and physicians and fire them just the same. I put myself in the driver's seat of my treatment. I am the consumer and I am in need of a service from someone who has studied particular aspects of life more than I have. But as a consumer, I too, have much to contribute to the process. I know what has worked for me in the past, what I fear, what I don't believe is right for my body, what has harmed me, and the life history that is intricately woven into my mind and body to create who I am today--the health and the illness.

I have an Empowerment checklist that guides my treatment with physicians and healers:

Empowerment Checklist

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  • Interview my physicians and healers to be sure they are a fit for me
  • Be sure healers ask me for my input about treatment
  • Be seen as a whole person, not individual parts
  • Feel safe enough to say NO if I don't want a certain type of treatment
  • Ask me what I think about illness and why I believe I am sick--get to know me
  • Ask me what I need to get better
  • If a power struggle is a result of me expressing my needs, then this physician is not a fit for me
  • Work with me rather than against me: I should feel supportive and heard
  • Please don't treat me like a statistic--I am my own statistic
  • Treat me like I am an expert in myself--ask me what I know
  • Physicians and healers may fire me, and I empower them to do so

pilotApplying the principles of empowerment calls for great responsibility. I must be proactive in my life and this means my true self must show up and guide the way for me. Empowerment and passivity don't work well together. I have to get to know me so that I understand what I need, and I need to pay attention to how I respond to treatments and what feels right or wrong. My SELF must be willing to accept the following actions:

  1. Self- teaching: I need to be willing to learn new things, understand illness and how it relates to me, learn new techniques to further my healing, teach my body how to heal with patience
  2. Self- awareness: I need to face my life, past and present. Getting to know the SELF is really important because you cannot know what you need if you don't know who you are.
  3. Self-Trust: building a connection to your body that is one of collaboration and teamwork is important. Learning to trust your body to give you answers and to know what is best for you is the ultimate empowerment. When answers don't come from the outside, you can look to the inside where all the answers exist. Listening and trusting go together. Healing takes time and much patience. Trust the process as it unfolds. Don't get in the way of your own healing by rushing the process.
  4. Self- empowerment: I have to rely on myself to ignite my empowerment. I cannot depend on others to do this for me. I am in charge of my body, my healing, and my life.
  5. Self-limits: I have to learn my limitations and respect them. More is not always better. It is important to be careful to not overdo- it and to find comfort with being exactly where I am in this moment without judgment. I cannot push my body beyond its current limits, and the mind often moves faster than the body... let the body catch- up.
  6. Self-advocacy: I have to stand- up for myself and be committed to creating the best healing formula for me. When I need something it is up to me to make my voice heard. I need to be willing to challenge status-quo when it is necessary for my best interests.
  7. Self-Change: I need to be willing to make changes for the better and to expect that changes will happen at a pace that isn't always within my control. Growing is part of healing and growing never stops it simply changes throughout all of life. Improvements towards health can always be made.

Be willing to open an idea, consider it, and make decisions accordingly. Healing and change begins with empowering yourself to be open to all possibilities


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