There are few things in this world that hurt more than a broken heart. The searing pain that pierces every cell in your body as you lie sleepless on your own bed of tears being tortured by the demons that are no longer lurking in the shadows, but are now front and center. All the ugly, evil thought-monsters of doubt and fear that were once covered in the warmth of true love are now pulsing through you, burning and scarring every ounce of trust and vulnerability you had left. This is the process we go through as we heal from the pain of a loss, perhaps the loss of love, which when compared to a death can seem so trivial. But at that moment when you realize love is lost, it feels like a death.
From denial, we move through the stages of grief, anger, bargaining, depression and eventually acceptance. Along the way to acceptance we find something really important: our voice. And we feel empowered in exercising our right to use it.
Suddenly no longer the "victim," you vow to never feel that pain again. You consider yourself battle-worn but victorious as you stand tall in the face of such a loss. You say emphatically, "I am healed, I have moved on, I am no longer defined by the hurt that loss caused me." But are you, really?
Have we really moved on or have we simply replaced one demon with another, even more menacing one. Have we hidden our victim behind the big bully of empowerment?
I recently sat down with my teacher and friend, Gini Gentry (author of Dreaming Down Heaven), and as I talked about a new man in my life, I said with conviction that I no longer feel the pain caused by the heartbreaks in my life. I am stronger and wiser because of them. I am alert and aware and ready to make sure they NEVER happen again. She smiled, cocked her head and looked at me with love and said, "Well, you certainly have great armor and your weapons are sharp, but your healing journey is far from over."
"What do you mean?" I asked, feeling a slight chink of doubt in my shiny new breastplate. And then she said two words that caused me to climb down from my trusty steed: "You're an Empowered Victim." Hmmm...what exactly is an "Empowered Victim"?
The Empowered Victim, she explained, is a more masterful victim, but still confused and still being victimized. An empowered victim is someone who has moved from thinking they are at the mercy of life (or their ex, in-laws, you name it) to a newfound voice, ready to stand up and fight but is still placing the responsibility of their experiences on others. Now, we're so aware of how we were victimized that we're on the look out for it. We track the data that surrounded the initial pain, compile it nicely into a catalog of possible future scenarios and are constantly searching for the red flags associated with having that hurt happen again. We're so much on the lookout, in fact, that we're apt to aim at the shadows before we even see who or what is in front of us.
When I reflected back on the moments when I was on alert, I felt empowered because I knew what to look for, but I was the victim because the fear of experiencing that pain still ruled my actions. So I was ready when my ex would call because I knew he was going to do something I predicted, and when he did, I could react with righteousness. But the truth is, it didn't hurt any less, it just hurt differently. Because not only did I set myself up with a very fancy shield and one very sharp sword of expectations about his behavior, I carried that weapon around, ready to draw at anyone else who might show me a sign that they, too, were worthy of being of being run through. I've bloodied a few good men by blindly throwing daggers instead of taking the moment to check in with my heart and make a conscious choice to fire or not.
When we determinedly look for something, we find it in reality or often through our perceived projections. We are quite adept at proving ourselves right. We are excellent at selecting the evidence needed to fulfill that which we believe to be true. And if we believe that we will be hurt and we put on our empowerment armor, chances are it's going to chip away pretty easily. Once you find your own self-worth, you no longer find yourself in the situations that cause you to be victimized. And if you do, you now have the power to choose. Being able to consciously choose your response is empowered; waiting around in the bushes to kill off any potential perpetrators is still a victim, even if you're the one with the sword and daggers.