Love the word or hate it, “empowerment” holds a lot of… well, power.

It’s easy to understand why so many of us shy away from a word like this. Most importantly, the direct connection to “power” makes many of us rightfully uncomfortable. With so many examples in our fractured world of power being misused and abused, many of us want nothing to do with it.

And yet, we need it. Not abusive forms of power (like power-over), but helpful, healing, collaborative and change making forms of power (like power-with, power-to, and power-within).

We all have power, whether we want to acknowledge it or not. The question is, how are we choosing to use it?

We need to take our power back in healthy ways. We need to access forms of power that help to heal a fractured world. We need to access forms of power that help heal ourselves.

How might you reclaim your power? Perhaps you might empower yourself to:

• Set healthy boundaries
• Think flexibly
• Speak your truth
• Be vulnerable
• Try something new
• Forgive yourself for past mistakes
• Believe change is possible
• Believe you are amazing just as you are
• Let go of a relationship that’s no longer healthy for you
• Connect on a deeper level with yourself and those around you
• Start therapy
• Take a healthy risk
• Keep adding to this list

As you read through the following reflections by Dr. Rebecca Bailey, Jaycee Dugard, Margie McDonald, and Carmen Theobald consider what “empowerment” means to you.

Reflections on “Empowerment” from trauma therapist, Dr. Rebecca Bailey

The verb empowerment has different meanings for different people. It would not surprise those of you who know me to discover that I can be quite literal about the
meaning of words. With empowerment, I am a downright stickler. To empower someone means to give “power or authority, especially by legal or official means.” Yes,
the word has morphed, and for most people, it connotes something very different. A popular definition might be to support or encourage someone to find their own power.

To me, empowerment reminds me I have little control over others. My field is full of therapists, counselors, and coaches who see it as their job to empower their clients. I am honestly not so sure that is an appropriate or realistic goal for a clinician. What if you have little ability to influence the realities of another person’s life? Empowerment is clearly bound by social restraints and socio-economic realities. As a therapist, what control do you really have over the decisions or circumstances of another person? If you agree not much, then the challenge becomes to help the individual acknowledge the circumstances they are in and assess what choices they may or may not have.

Reflections on “Empowerment” from trauma survivor, Jaycee Dugard

I don’t think I really knew the true meaning of this word until years after I was rescued. Getting to know myself through therapy and taking horse riding lessons gave me a whole new perspective. During my captivity, my power was stripped away, leaving me at the whim of an ego-maniacal psychopath that was drunk on power. In my mind, Phillip was empowered. He felt he could commit many vicious acts of cruelty. I wonder who empowered Phillip to think he could do whatever he wanted whenever he wanted? All I know is he held all the power over me and my kids.

Later, when we discussed the word empowerment in therapy, I remember thinking, “Well, to me it’s all about having power, taking power, holding power over someone else.”

Delving deeper and getting to know myself better over the years, the word has taken on new meaning. It changed even more learning to ride a horse. Horses are powerful and can and have used power in many ways, yet they work side by side with us. It makes me think true empowerment does not come from domination. When I try to control my horse, I never get far. I get further when I take the reins with confidence and know I have the power and skills to go where I want to go. I wonder, though, where do we draw the line on empowerment? What if we all had power? When is it ok to know you have the power, but you don’t always act upon those feelings? I don’t know the answer to these questions, but I think it is something to think about.

Reflections on “Empowerment” from horse specialist, Margie McDonald

As a riding instructor and a horse trainer, I strive to teach my human students, and my horse students, how to conquer problems while solving difficult conditions and situations. The goal is to empower the person, or the horse, to overcome problems, conflicts, challenges, or fears. I do this by building confidence in the humans’ or horses’ abilities to tap into a set of skills and tools that have been developed in past training sessions. I want to help develop a student (human/horse), who is competent, educated, and resourceful enough to use curiosity as a way to lead to smart, creative, and positive outcomes. With patience and practice, the methods I
teach can bring the rewards of confidence, trust, and partnership to the relationship between horse and human. Empowerment means having the student (human/horse), be able to face a difficult situation, reach into their toolbox of practiced training methods, and be able to find the best answer to address the potentially uneasy and problematic circumstance.

The feeling of success of getting a horse to pass thru a scary situation or having an unconfident human break through and conquer a long-standing fear, is in my mind, empowerment. For me, success, trust, and accomplishment, equals empowerment.

Reflections on “Empowerment” from empowerment coach, Carmen Theobald

The more empowered I become, the easier it is for me to create a sense of safety and connection, both for myself and for others.

When I’m sitting in a place of grounded inner strength, I don’t have the need to put on a mask, armor up, or feel competitive. I can show up clear about who I am, willing to accept if I’m wrong or need to learn more, and also capable of setting the boundaries that need to be set.

This is particularly important to me as a white woman who has grown up carrying a lot of privilege. I want to be part of creating a healthier, safer and more connected world, and I know for that to be possible, I need to learn to see the world through many perspectives. That also means learning to see the tinted lenses that I wear, bringing more and more of my unconscious biases and ways of operating into my conscious self. The more empowered I become, the more capable I am of going through that learning process. By no means do I always get this right, but it’s a lifelong intentional journey that I’m committed to walking.

Now it’s your turn!
What does “empowerment” mean to YOU?

Dr. Rebecca Bailey
Author: Dr. Rebecca Bailey

Dr . Bailey is a leading trauma therapist who specializes in complex case scenarios. She has over 30 years of experience in the field and continues to be dedicated to the notion that authenticity, common sense, and kindness are the most important elements of effective treatment. She is a lifelong equestrian and animal lover who continues to believe animals, in particular horses, have much to teach humans about curiosity and compassion.