Central PA's LGBT News Source
By Dr. Terry Drew Kaaren
Our five-part series this year on self-care continues with a subject that has enjoyed increasing popularity in recent years. The topic is empowerment. The importance of self-esteem, and the lack of it that is so prevalent in the LGBTQ communities, is an matter from a previous column. In this issue we will build on the concept of self-esteem, the love and appreciation of oneself, and enlarge on it.
As with many concerns that become widespread over time, empowerment has turned into a buzz word. In doing so the subject loses some of its muscle. Women, minorities, and other historically marginalized groups, like the LGBTQ communities, are urged to empowerment themselves and the groups that advocate on their behalf. The problem is that empowerment is too often talked about without any practical direction on how to make it a part of our lives.
Traditionally empowerment had to do with some type of authority – such as a government, a boss or supervisor, or in traditional marriage, the husband – granting power to a subordinate. It is this original idea that can get in the way of feeling empowered in our own lives.
We see this same definition applied in business as well as in assisting communities that are in need. In these cases the employees or communities are empowered by others to care aaboutt a cause. Employees are given the training and tools to perform their duties in new, more effective ways. For communities, people may be taught basic principles, such as sanitation, family dynamics, or how to start a business.
This type of encouragement assists people to find hope in their own abilities to perform their duties or build a better life. With new skills and ideas the individuals or group have new appreciation of their own talents; they feel empowered, more confident; and, thus their self-esteem gets a tremendous boost. In many cases, people and communities that receive this kind of assistance are receiving encouragement of this magnitude for the very first time in their lives.
There is another way to experience empowerment, one that does not require the presence of others. That is the empowerment we generate from within. To do this, of course, we have to possess at least some self-esteem, and a quantity of admission, no matter how small, that we and our skills are valuable. How can we develop this type of self-empowerment?
There are three ways that can be identified as: Stop – Start – Bask!
First, we must STOP criticizing, analyzing and categorizing every little thing we do. People who fail at businesses or relationships are at least trying to build something. There are, however, women and men of all sexual orientations and persuasions who are so terrified at making a mistake they stay in the same nowhere job or relationship for years. They lack the inner power to make change, primarily because they are terrified of making a mistake. We’re human. We screw up. Get over it. STOP IT!
Second, we can START praising ourselves. Yep! That could mean some of those crazy mirror work exercises where you look your beautiful face in the mirror and say aloud that you are magnificent! “Yeah, right …” some might remark. I know. It may sound hokey and maybe a little inane, but to sincerely appreciate our reflection is to be willing to accept a compliment from the most important person in the world – us!
Our work, the way we dress, and the difference we make in the lives of others are also reflections of who we are as individuals on planet Earth. If you have difficulty with this, think about how you accept compliments from others. Do you shrug them off? Do you laugh and then make fun of yourself with a self-deprecating remark? The best response we can give to a compliment is two simple, sincerely-spoken words: “Thank you!”
Finally, we could all use a little more experience with how to BASK in the greatness of our accomplishments. For example, I was so intent on starting grad school I barely remember getting my undergrad degree, which was a pretty hard process for me for a variety of reasons. This is not about being haughty, obsessed with ourselves, or prideful. It’s about acknowledging our self-worth. This step is important because it allows us to empowering ourselves onto the next step on our path, whether that’s a new career, a relationship, getting in shape, or paying off our debts.
Take time today to encourage yourself the way you’d help out a friend who was in need of a confidence boost. You will be, of course, helping your best friend – YOU!
Terry is an author, speaker, licensed social worker and flight attendant. He is also the director of Spirit, Mind and Body Foundation (spiritmindbodyfoundation.org).