Traversing the Inner Terrain

The search for the Authentic Self.

Power vs. Personal Empowerment

Which one gives you more control?

In the last blog we asked, "What is the difference between power and personal empowerment?" And today we are going to answer that question. Power assumes the right to control others. Personal empowerment assumes no such power, but recognizes complete responsibility for self and the choices made by self. Those sound like pretty clear definitions, but the urge to exert power over others might blur the lines between each. So, we need to clarify.

When a child in the family is allowed to dominate the emotions and behaviors of parents and other siblings in the family, that child has been given too much power. We are not talking about Super-children. We are talking about children who will ultimately grow up to be bullies. These children grow up believing that they should have power over others. That others should conform to their wishes. This is power—not personal empowerment. This person believes that the only way s/he will be okay is to wield power over others. Otherwise, he is vulnerable.

Whether a person is raised to be a bully or not, however, s/he may subtly bully others through manipulation and outright emotional blackmail. Emotional blackmail occurs when the blackmailer threatens another's most vulnerable emotion if certain requirements are not met—as in: "I won't speak to you if you tell so-and-so my business." The blackmailed is supposed to be so afraid of not being spoken to that s/he will give in. This can even be taken to another level by threatening to cut off the relationship all together. Many times this type of manipulation can be subtle, as in some of the following ways:

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  • Flattery is supposed to get you anywhere, right?
  • I sacrifice for you, and now you owe me.
  • Withholding information until certain information is given.
  • Gossip for power—I tell you about another to both make them look bad, and win your favor.
  • Withholding affection until you give what I want.
  • "I'm just trying to help" as another way of saying, I'm just trying to change you.
  • Maudlin expressions of emotion in an attempt to solicit the emotional response of another.
  • Little niceties offered in an attempt to gain favor.
  • Little "white lies" used in an attempt to deny our own authenticity—like when Aunt Ginny calls and asks us to come over for supper and we refuse because we have this other thing we just HAVE to do.
  • Pleasing others in order to make sure that I am always liked.

While we may say to ourselves that these things are part of the social fabric and are essential to getting along with others, like all other attempts to gain power over others, they deny us our own personal empowerment.

Personal empowerment does not need to have power over others, for it knows that regardless of what others do, self is still in charge of making self okay. So, if you withhold affection because I won't do what you want, then I can take care of my own needs for affection—i.e. by seeking it out from people who don't need to hold me hostage to it. Personal empowerment knows that happiness is an inside job. Personal empowerment doesn't wait on the world or the people in that world to respond in a certain way before it can garner peace-of-mind. Peace-of-mind comes from within. Personal empowerment does not wait for a vacation to learn how to rest. It does not wait on someone else to change in order to create happiness for the self. It can tell Aunt Ginny, "I have other plans" without explaining or feeling the need to carry Aunt Ginny's response around. Personal empowerment knows that Aunt Ginny is in charge of her own feelings and responses and that whatever spin she puts on my response to her request also belongs to her. Over all, personal empowerment knows where I stop and you begin. It knows that the only thing I can be responsible for is me.

Power, on the other hand gives responsibility for that "me" to other people. They have the power to make or break my happiness, which is why I need to control them. So, you see, power, is actually a form of powerlessness. Power says if I don't control you, then I can't be okay. Personal empowerment says, I know how to take care of my truest self, no matter what you do.

We tend to think, however, that personal empowerment implies some kind of hardness or coldness, so that we don't care about other people. We don't care what they think of us, we don't care if we hurt their feelings, we are cold people. No. On the contrary, personal empowerment is very vulnerable to the emotions and attachments of living. Yet, it knows that the self is responsible for these. Therefore, others do not create emotions in me, and I can't create them in others. And my attachments are based on a mutual respect and honesty-and if the other person is not going to be honest, I must still be honest with myself. Whatever the other person does is their choice and I will not attempt to control that.  I'd rather put my energy into taking care of what is true inside of me. In fact, the person who is empowered is one who knows that any attempt to control another person is all an illusion.  We cannot control others, at all, ever.

If it appears to be true that my manipulation made you do something, what I'm missing out on is the fact that for whatever reason, you chose to do that something. In other words, you agreed to do it. You chose it. And the person who is empowered knows this to the marrow of his bones.

The only problem is that there are many people who don't know this, and who operate as if it isn't so. And it is these people who think that they should be controlling others, and that if they don't they cannot be happy or attain whatever goal they wish to attain. And so, even the empowered person will run into people who will attempt to control her. But if she knows the truth-that she cannot be controlled; that she is 100% responsible for her own choices; that she is 100% responsible for her own happiness and peace-of-mind-then she will make conscious choices to own what is hers and let go of the rest. And she will create happiness out of whatever situation with which she is presented. It may take some time and effort, but she can do it, because she has all the power over her own life.

Andrea Mathews, L.P.C., is a Cognitive and Transpersonal Therapist, internet radio show host, and author of Restoring My Soul: A Workbook for Finding and Living the Authentic Self. more...

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