Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Owning Your Own Power

I see people give away too much of their own personal power. While I'm not interested in power over other people, I see it as highly desirable to exercise your own power over yourself and your own life choices.

Mastery of our own power seems difficult for most people, but especially challenging for women. As women, we are socialized with the feminine archetype of the all-sacrificing, demure, other-centered mother who puts herself last. Most young women have trouble developing their own voice within relationships, advocating for what they need and want in an assertive way.

It always shocks me to be treating a bright, educated, talented young woman who allows herself to be verbally abused or otherwise mistreated in a love relationship. Many other young women are in relationships where they are so grateful to be loved and accepted that they pack away and sublimate their own desires, goals, and interests. It's as if young women believe we have to make a bargain, and give away part of ourselves to be in intimate relationships. You shouldn't have to do that, but first you need someone to remind you that you need to be yourself in close relationships, or it's not the right relationship for you.

How do you empower yourself?

1. You ask yourself what would you REALLY be doing or wanting if you were not afraid. Don't operate out of fear.

2. You keep working on your own personal goals, even when you are in a relationship. This might include career goals, more education, volunteer service, making and maintaining friendships, financial health, physical fitness, learning new things, developing your interests and passions, cultivating your spirituality, traveling, or learning a new skill. Remember, whatever happens in your relationship, you are with you, either way! Keep making you interesting, and keep growing.

3. Give up blame.

4. Take responsibility for yourself, your attitude, your mistakes, and your part in things.

5. Get some support. Most people feel more courageous when they are encouraged. Build your own supportive community. Find a therapist who can help you identify how to build yours. Consider deepening your existing support system by joining a support group, a meetup group, a women's or men's group, a book club, or a religious or spiritual group.

6. Give up playing 'victim'. Don't use victim language. Don't hope for a rescue, make some plans and set some goals. Act like you believe in yourself.

7. Learn to negotiate, and do it at work as well as in your close relationships. You may not be able to get what you want, but how do you know unless you try? Many partners and supervisors respect you more if you advocate respectfully on your own behalf.

8. Say hello to 'NO'. Boundaries have to be set and maintained with other people. Having limits gets you respected. Your yes means nothing if you aren't free to say no. Don't be a doormat. They get walked on.

9. Show some confidence. This isn't the same thing as arrogance. It isn't boastful or prideful. Humble confidence means you respect yourself.

10. Focus less on what other people think of you. People pleasing is overrated and exhausting.

11. Appreciate your unique qualities.

12. Work on accepting yourself, and speaking kindly to yourself on the inside. The power of our internal dialogue is huge. Become aware of what your inner voice is saying to you all day, and upgrade that criticism to encouraging, supportive self-talk.

13. Speak up. Say what you think, want, and feel. If you don't, you are going to be underrepresented in the relationship, and over time you may grow to resent the other person.

14. Don't sign up for any long-term relationship with a person who devalues you, demeans you, doesn't care what you want, or doesn't feel you are just as important as they are.

Recently, when I was participating in a large women's collective discussion, I noticed the dramatic difference between those we were fearful, and those who, in the words of writer and vulnerability researcher Brene Brown, were "daring greatly". Only you can decide to be you, undiluted by life's events and disappointments, and striving for a bigger life. Only you can play you at full strength. Don't settle for anything less.

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