“Power can be taken, but not given. The process of the taking is empowerment in itself.”
— Gloria Steinem
I hear a lot of talk today about “empowering” people. I don’t want to split hairs here but it’s important to recognize that no one can “empower” another person or group of people.
That applies even to people like me whose whole mission and purpose is to “empower the planet,” and whose company is called The Empowerment Partnership. I end every blog with “To Your Total Empowerment!” and I’m serious about wanting empowerment for my students and everyone I come in contact with.
All that said, even I don’t have the power to empower anyone. Why? Because empowerment is an inside job. It comes from within and has to be self-generated. It can be inspired. It can be kindled. It can be encouraged. But at the end of the day, true empowerment must be self-generated.
My definition of empowerment is undoubtedly different from the standard definition. Most people define empowerment as “having legal power or official authority” or “having permission” or “being given a certain ability or special opportunities.”
But when I talk and teach about empowerment, I’m describing a state of being where you are able to tap your own intrinsic power. You feel resourceful and capable of dealing with any situation. You feel aligned and at peace with who you really are. You feel quietly confident with no need to “prove yourself” or wield power over others.
In my work, I typically train and coach people who have all the basics for the standard definition of empowered. They’ve got the education. They’ve got the opportunities. They’ve got the cultural and economic foundation to be successful. What they lack are the tools to overcome their internal barriers, those unconscious limiting decisions and negative beliefs that sap their power. These barricades are invisible but totally effective in keeping someone powerless and preventing them from living a full and satisfying life.
Most of my students are adults. Like most adults, they’ve built up a sticky network of dis-empowering thoughts and beliefs. In my trainings, we work with techniques like the Mental Emotional Release® process (MER®) to unearth and release those negative beliefs. We use ho’oponopono (known as the Hawaiian forgiveness process) to clear up negative past experiences and relationships. After all of this release work, these adults are then ready to embrace more empowering beliefs.
As much as I love my work, wouldn’t it be awesome to instill self-empowerment in children at an early age so they didn’t have to unravel the dis-empowerment later on? It’s not just about telling them they’re great. It’s about helping them find out who they really are. It’s about helping them tap their own intrinsic power.
I saw a great YouTube video lately. A dad built his 5-year old daughter, Lyla, an obstacle course in the backyard. Ever since she was a toddler, Lyla loved watching American Ninja Warrior on TV. Her dream was to be a competitor on the show. So her dad first built an obstacle course in the living room using couches and boxes and ladders. She really got into it so he built her an outside course with tires and swings and planks. He even arranged her dolls and stuffed animals to be her crowd of fans and plays recorded sounds of cheering in the background as she runs the course.
Now even though Lyla is probably getting a good workout and developing some physical skills with the course, what’s more important is that she’s building up a totally empowered internal image of herself. She will be an American Ninja Warrior in anything she decides to do. Would Lyla get that same sense of self-empowerment in a gym that focused solely on skills training? I doubt it.
In my upcoming book on MER® called Empower Your Life Through Mental Emotional Release®, I reference a study that speaks to the importance of self-empowerment. The study was conducted in Jamaica by one of my students, Dr. Rose Johnson.
Many Jamaican children deal with violence, poverty and depression resulting in severe emotional and behavioral problems and underachievement in school. The Government has implemented several programs — improving teacher training, violence prevention programs, partnering with the business community and international agencies, etc.--but these “outside in” empowerment programs were not as effective as hoped.
Dr. Rose (as she’s known) worked with a sample of 107 students who were chosen due to their serious academic, emotional and behavioral problems. Most of these children came from broken homes and lived in the volatile inner city. Half of the students in the study were taken through MER® to release negative emotions and limiting beliefs. Without any other outside assistance, these students showed significant improvement in their school work and in their behavior. Follow up studies showed that these students either continued in school or were working full-time, unlike the students who hadn’t gone through the process.
By removing internal disempowering beliefs and tapping their internal sense of self-empowerment, these children were able to create new lives for themselves, even in the midst of difficult external circumstances.
We can (and should) give people legal rights, opportunities, skills and respect. But without that internal sense of empowerment, a critical piece of the puzzle is missing. To be truly free and empowered, empowerment must come from the inside out.
“Confidence and empowerment are cousins in my opinion. Empowerment comes from within and typically it's stemmed and fostered by self-assurance. To feel empowered is to feel free and that's when people do their best work. You can't fake confidence or empowerment.”
— Amy Jo Martin
To your TOTAL empowerment!
Matthew B. James, MA, Ph.D., is President of The Empowerment Partnership, the world's leading integrative personal development company for over 30 years. Author of several books, Dr. Matt has trained thousands of students towards excellent health and personal empowerment using Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), Huna, and Mental Emotional Release® (MER®) therapy. Connect with us on Facebook or visit his blog at www.DrMatt.com.