What Does It Mean To Be Empowered?
The first rule of empowerment is that you have to be willing to take responsibility for everything that happens to you. Yes, even the bad things.
Letting Go of the Role of Victim
You have to give up playing the role of the victim. This doesn’t mean that you will never experience trauma, only that you will stop identifying the traumas you experience as reasons for you to feel victimized. Why would you do that? Because so long as you are a victim of circumstance, another person, society, etc., you are powerless to change it. When you take on the role of victim, you give up your power to whoever or whatever you are feeling victimized by.
The need for this is seen most clearly in the national conversation around rape culture. Women keep pointing the finger at men saying that they have to fix this cultural construct. But there is no one talking about the role women have played in creating that construct, nor are we talking about what we as women need to do to support the change. We stand righteously in our victim roles and declare that men have to fix the problem – putting us effectively in the child position to men. This is telling men that we can’t protect ourselves, that we can’t fix the problem, and we need them as Daddy to come and make it all better. There is no power in this stance.
The Power Stance
The more powerful stance would be to acknowledge that the women’s movement has, over the last 50 years, stripped men of their cultural roles and left them without a perceived purpose to fulfill. Male culture defines its value by its ability to achieve goals. When you remove men’s purpose, you remove their goals, and subsequently, their ability to establish their value in their culture through the achievement of those goals. Add to this the fact that women have been asking men to change how they are in the world but then giving mixed messages about what that change is to be (we ask them to be more open to their feelings, but then judge them as weak if they show emotion, etc.) and we have set them up to fail over and over again. Plus, every time a woman is attacked, all men get blamed for it. Is it any wonder that we have an ever growing sense of dissatisfaction in the masculine?
Own Your Part In It
When you take away someone’s ability to establish their own value and tell them that they are not good enough over and over again, the end result is usually either a retreat into hopelessness or an attack stance where control and dominance is used to take back their power. Rape is not about sex – it’s about control. Culturally, we have created the perfect storm to increase the incidence of rape being “acceptable”. We didn’t mean to do it and I’m not certain it could have been done any other way, but we have to accept responsibility for the consequences of our actions. We helped to create this world. It’s not just the men who are at fault here. And it’s not just them that need to change to fix it.
Overwhelm Quickly Feels Like Victimization
As we have culturally taken on responsibility for the roles that were traditionally male (remember the Super Mom of the 70’s and 80s?), we have felt more and more overwhelmed. No amount of technology has helped. In fact, the sense of overwhelm has only grown over the last 30 years. This has made it easier for us to take on the cultural role of victim because we are feeling victimized by our day-to-day lives which leave us with nothing for ourselves. It’s easier to point the finger at men and say “you do this to us!” It is only our female sense of superiority to men (reinforced by commercials that show men as clumsy buffoons waiting for women to swoop in and fix things), that has left us with any sense of power at all.
But in taking on the role of victim, we have given up our power to change our circumstances. We have to step up and accept the parts of rape culture that are ours and we have to take responsibility for changing the parts that we can. This means that we have to learn how rape happens, how to avoid situations where it might happen, and how to deal with it if it happens to us. Railing at the world and saying “it shouldn’t be this way!” doesn’t change the fact that it is. Accept what is and learn how to walk powerfully in that world. Then you can begin to change it.
Use Your Gifts
We are women. We know how to work with words and communication to smooth the way. We study people every day. When we feel powerful, we will come at the situations we face from that place of power, knowing the end result we desire and working towards it, rather than from a place of fear where we only see the end result that we don’t want and then try to avoid it. That approach gets us nowhere.
Bringing It Home
The easiest example of this is to think of a teenager who is angry at her parents for grounding her. She was late getting home because she ran out of gas and so was out past her curfew. Rather than taking responsibility for the fact that she didn’t keep enough gas in her car to get home and resolving to always keep at least half a tank in the car so that it doesn’t happen again, she rails at her parents for not understanding that it was the car’s fault for running out of gas and making her late. When she stays in her victim, she doesn’t learn the lesson of thinking ahead and is likely to be in this situation or another one due to lack of foresight.
Choosing Your Experience
But what if it really IS someone or something outside of yourself that is victimizing you? Let’s take the example of date rape. You go on a date with what seems to be a perfectly nice guy until he gets you alone. At some point, it becomes clear that you are going to have sex with him whether you like it or not. After assessing the situation, you determine that there is no way out and your attempts to distract him from his course of action are not working. You will be raped. This is the time when most people would accept the role of victim and go into the experience from a place of denial and anger. But there is another path. You can accept that sex is going to happen (because it is). Yes, you don’t want it – that choice has been taken away from you. This is a fact. But you still have a choice – whether to have the experience of fighting your attacker and being overpowered and hurt in the process or to acquiesce to the sex and just have the experience of having sex with someone you are angry with. The latter will not allow you under our current laws to press charges later, but it will reduce the trauma of your experience. And it keeps you in the driver’s seat about choosing the experience you will have.
Defining Trauma and Victimization
But what if your attacker is violent and intent upon hurting you – can you feel victimized then? The thing to remember here is that victimization is a judgment that you place on top of the experience of being traumatized. Trauma can be identified as anything that throws you off balance. The more you are thrown off balance, the more traumatized you become. The more trauma you experience, the more you search for meaning in the experience and the more likely you are to put the judgment of victimization on top of the trauma. But until you can remove the judgment from the trauma, you cannot hope to overcome it. The goal in dealing with any trauma is to bring its impact down to the level of just another experience in your life. You do this by coming to terms with what happened, accepting that it happened, and allowing yourself to move forward.
Identifying With The Trauma
When you are claiming the role of the victim, you are attaching a part of your identity to the experience making it infinitely harder to move the experience into the background of your current life. This is the same reason why it is important to move out of the role of “survivor” as well. Because claiming that role continues to associate your identity with the experience which makes it an integral part of your current life – not allowing it to fade into its appropriate place of being one of many experiences.
Looking Into the Fear
So let’s come back to the situation where someone is intent on hurting you. Rather than engaging in the sense of being victimized, it is more useful to seek to understand the situation as robustly as possible. Take in your surroundings, look at your options, take in as much information as you can about your attacker. The more you can process about the experience in the moment, the faster you will recover from the shock of being thrown off balance by it. As much as possible, remove yourself from the pain of your body – it will heal – it is your spirit that you must protect. This is again about coming into acceptance as quickly as possible. Accept that you cannot change what is happening physically and work to choose your emotional response to the situation. This response will allow you two things: first, the ability to begin healing even as the damage is being done, and second, the ability to maintain a clear head in the midst of the attack perhaps giving you the ability to discover a way out.
You do not have to choose to feel victimized. It is entirely optional. And once you have worked through your inner buttons and triggers, it is far easier to make this choice on a more regular basis.
Owning And Overcoming Your Fear
Why did I take you through that visualization? Because it’s the example that most women give me as a reason for them to feel righteous about their victimization. Also because being raped is the greatest fear we have around exploring our sexuality. And when you face something head on and you know how to be in that situation, you are less likely to let the fear of it stop you.