Disentangling Empowerment

by Lesley

Barrier Busting

Disentangling Empowerment

Definition of empower (verb): to give someone official authority or the freedom to do something.

Empowerment (noun) is therefore the result of the above action; fairly ambiguous I’d say.

Then there’s the adjective, empowering which gives has a different slant altogether; Something that is empowering makes you more confident and makes you feel that you are in control of your life. Ahh, this is what we’re looking for! Thanks to the Cambridge online dictionary I am marginally more able to define what for some, has become indefinable.

You see, where most people get caught up is in what may be empowering to one may not be the same for another – and this may be so, depending on whether we are aiming (or it is received) to fill the ego, or praise that person for possessing a skill.

And herein lays the problem: empowering someone means to increase confidence and ‘make you feel that you are in control of your life’. Ok, so imagine these scenarios;

Scene 1

A person in a relationship drinks alcohol to excess, regularly causing family discontent and arguments with the partner who doesn’t partake to the same extent. Where and with whom do we begin the empowerment process? Is it the alcoholic or the partner?

Here are the facets we should be looking at; the alcoholic may in some way already be feeling in control of their life. This may be their chosen path – albeit unacceptable to others. Would it be appropriate to empower this person to take more control, perhaps re-enforcing beliefs that do them no favours?

I hear you say ‘no’ we should empower said person to give up drinking to excess and avoid almost certainly damaging their life further. But this may not be their choice; while it may be ours we must respect the right to choose. Perhaps we can provide the tools to change but not enforce our own beliefs.

The partner may feel love towards the alcoholic yet their habitual or destructive  drinking patterns will most probably be having a detrimental effect on them and the relationship.

Empowerment for this person might be to help increase their capacity to cope or to have the confidence to change the situation completely by leaving the alcoholic, preserving their own mental, emotional or physical well-being.

Scene 2

A young couple recently married, one of whom is extremely jealous of the other – continuously questioning and often exploding with rage at their perceived freedom privileges; these ‘privileges’ may entail visiting family or perhaps just going to work in an ordinary environment where they’re in contact with members of the opposite sex.

Empowering the bully in this situation could amount to abuses being perpetrated against the victim, again by re-enforcing beliefs of being in control (whilst justifying inappropriate or unacceptable actions).

Empowering the partner may include discussing the possibility of standing up to the bully or include conversations about removing themselves from a potentially dangerous arena.

In both scenes the people involved must possess the desire to change something in order to change anything.

There’s one last thing I’d like you to consider. For the last few years “empowerment” has become a buzzword for the British government. It talks about ‘empowering communities’ or ‘Community Empowerment’ but what does this really mean?

Does the government truly inspire confidence in people or is it merely a catchphrase to enlist people in an impossible task – given that a fair amount of the population have little resources to provide the ‘change’ they are seeking and a proportion do not have the desire to do the changing bit anyway?

Furthermore, is it not arrogant to attempt to enforce an ‘I know better than you’ campaign, feigning an attitude of care for the individual and community when all around us communities are being dismantled to make way for corporate or capitalist ventures?

Is the government really devolving its power? I think not!

Which brings us in timeously to our next word; dis-empowerment = stripped of confidence. Many who’ve become second or third generation unemployed suffer this as there appears to be no hope on the horizon, especially of late as more cuts are announced.

This lack of confidence creeps in like a thief in the night, robbing families of pride and self esteem. The unfortunate knock-on effects can be truly devastating; latching on and spreading like a cancer as today’s society and social ills requires that to ‘get ahead’ we must take something or someone down; dis-empowering others to stay that wee bit ahead of the next person.

Do you get the sense yet that something is missing?

By now I’m hoping you’ve got the gist of where I’m heading. Maybe it’s time to look at what confidence actually is too…

This is the Cambridge Dictionary Online definition of confidence; the quality of being certain of your abilities or of having trust in people, plans, or the future.

Shall we back up a little? Here’s what we had earlier in the post

And herein lays the problem: empowering someone means to increase confidence and ‘make you feel that you are in control of your life’.”

There is no mention whatsoever of increasing skills to improve confidence. These may be basic tools enabling a person to live a full life including social skills like communication or very natural methods of bringing the best out in that person, perhaps in a different environment whereby he or she can build upon their abilities.

Neither is there any mention that a person has to work through personal issues to reach a place of confidence. Negative influences and traumatic experiences are known zappers of confidence so in the most severe cases, therapeutic intervention may be required.

Finally there is a huge absence of the word ‘balance’ in all of these definitions. Dictionaries are full of words but few explanations so many people are left to their own perhaps limited, view or imagination for description. It appears that these words are often used but seldom understood.

I don’t usually define myself as a Life Coach, I prefer the term Empowerment Instructor. I use my skills to bring out the very best in my clients. Sometimes that may entail delving into something which dis-empowered them in the past, or dealing with an ongoing current issue but we always emerge in the present with something very positive, a skill which many learn by utilising simple processes.

Learning to self-empower through balance is the key to the preservation of any one person. Finding ways to bring your thought pattern back into a positive frame without doing damage to yourself or anyone else, is of utmost importance, no matter what befalls you.

In life we only have so many choices; in other words ‘shit happens’ and we probably won’t want to deal with it, but deal with it we must! There is absolutely no point in asking ‘why me?’ as it takes us straight to victim mode, spiralling downwards without ‘passing go’.

The return to ‘normality’ becomes very arduous and is sometimes impossible as we dis-empower ourselves over and over, re-running events or focusing on the worst case scenario – floundering in our own despair as we seek answers to our dilemmas. And what the hell is balance anyway? How do we know where balance lies – complex perhaps and dependent on many things? Am I steeped in semantics or is this dis-entanglement necessary for understanding?


Balance (noun); a state where things are of equal weight or force.

Maybe ‘on balance’ sheds a different light as it offers its meaning – ‘after thinking about all the different facts or opinions’. Again there seems to be something lacking as there isn’t a reliable yardstick to measure with. That is, until there’s a shift in perspective from one place to another.

Some call this enlightenment. It may just be a ‘light-bulb’ moment, a sudden realisation. Does this mean that it’s spiritual? (Adjective; relating to deep feelings and beliefs, especially religious beliefs.) Not for me it doesn’t and this has become a common debate amongst friends.

I hold no deep religious beliefs, despite being raised a Catholic. I chose at an early age to challenge the church’s doctrines, leaving in my teenage years, returning as in my twenties then leaving again to find my own path, minus the dogma.

I see clearly what religion does to people. It gives some of them the ‘authority’ to abuse with impunity. Wars are fought and lives are lost over religion and religious beliefs. The poor subsidise the rich.

I’ve researched many and identify with parts of some but mostly I’ve found that each one has an element of extremism; here there is no place for balance. I have no time for being drawn into any religion, yet I see and can agree with some of the principals which are mostly the same across the board.

I do however have deep feelings related to mankind which have arisen from experiencing different cultures, different ways of life, learning what I can in my own environment and training myself to think outside of my own box with the greater good of all as my guideline, not personal gain. Sometimes this too has been out of balance.

Without balance then we are only massaging the ego; filling it up with beliefs which are unfounded – beliefs which inflate a sense of self without the necessary skills to feel truly confident.

So how can we be empowered? My answer to that is to fill yourself up with as many different experiences as possible, do something which scares you and realise there is much more to you than even you first realised…

  • See the beauty in things around you and soon you’ll be seeing the beauty you add to the world, just by being here.
  • Learn to trust in the simplest of things.
  • Challenge yourself when you feel strong to do something you once felt incapable of doing.
  • Go beyond your self-imposed limitations and notice that once-firm beliefs are no longer what they seemed.
  • Accredit yourself with limited-belief-busting abilities.
  • Feel the joy of self actualising… and enjoy the journey!

Empowerment in my eyes is an ‘enabling‘ word – occasionally as simple as enabling one person to feel self-worth or have a sense of value.

Achieving your potential as a human being is no easy task, but it is one we should all undertake.

We are able to shine far more brightly if we believe we can.

Who are we not to?

About Lesley

Lesley Rodgers has written 146 posts on this blog.

Personal Development Consultant and Confidence Coach. Lesley is also a committed Human Rights Activist with her heart firmly lodged in 'community' and collaboration.


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