I’ve always gotten the message loud and clear that, as a woman, empowerment is something I need. What I seem to have missed, twisted, or disregarded is what I should be doing with my power.
I know what I want to do with my power – create a beautiful, bountiful life. Yet, what I find myself doing most of the time is using my power to protect my power, leaving little of it to achieve my actual goal. And I cannot accept that the purpose I’m serving is wanting power for the sake of wanting power; it misses the point entirely and doesn’t sound like me at all.
Consider this definition of empowerment:
“The process of becoming stronger and more confident, especially in controlling one’s life….”
Where is the strength and confidence in being afraid of losing my power? If I do fear such a loss — and allow these anxious thoughts to overwhelm me — I’m not empowered at all. I’m weak and insecure, convinced other people have the power to seize control of my life, thus the need for me to fight for it.
I have this feeling other people can destroy me.
Yes, it is as horrible as it sounds. And yes, it is completely untrue.
I don’t mean physical harm (that comes with a rational fear of destruction, so naturally I never worry about that). I’m talking about the fear of mental and emotional obliteration inflicted by words, suggestions, or even just possibilities that feel threatening to me.
What qualifies as such a threat?
Anything that could strip me of control. I need that power to fulfill my purpose (as misdirected as it might be) and will avoid or fight whoever necessary to reach that end.
I feel threatened by men who talk to me like they’re smarter than me.
I don’t like it when women do this, but I don’t take it personally. When it comes to men who talk down to me, though, there’s this trigger that goes off – I need to feel like I’m equally smart or smarter than they are. Actually, what I need is for them to know it. That’s my real source of shameful satisfaction.
Trying to get there usually involves me lowering my voice to sound more commanding (i.e., masculine). I use knowledge and logic to the best of my ability, but am not above resorting to condescension, as desperate as it feels and likely seems.
I feel threatened by women who seem disinterested in me.
Their conversation with me feels fake or forced, as their eyes wander looking for someone more fun, important, or interesting to talk to. Again, I don’t like it when men do this to me, but I don’t take it personally.
Once I realize I’m dealing with a woman like this, I either punish her by going out of my way to avoid her in the future, or I try winning her interest with over-the-top friendliest in subsequent conversations. Neither option feels right or good.
Then there are the threats to my power that I feel from anyone and everyone else…
…that I’m not enough of this or that to co-exist in a conversation with them.
Here are some of the more extreme lengths I go to protecting myself on a regular basis:
- Waiting until dark to take out the trash so I can avoid running into the neighbors
- Ignoring unexpected calls and replying via text so I can communicate without having to speak
- Practicing speeches defending myself (and sometimes others) against criticisms, real and imagined – speeches people never hear, which is a real shame, as I spend hours on them
Because when I’m expected to engage in a conversation I’m unprepared for, I feel powerless.
I need to know a social situation is coming so I can prepare myself, getting psyched up to be “on” – seeming confident and okay – so that others don’t see my struggle, as that’s where the real danger lies.
If people sense I’m anxious, afraid, sad, insecure, or any of the other things that reek of vulnerability, I’m as good as dead. So most times I leave the house, it’s risky business, as there are endless opportunities out there for people to expose me … humiliate me … see the real me who just can’t cope and only wants to run and hide.
You’d think my world were filled with monsters, right?
Most of the men and women I know are very respectful of me.
My neighbors are (mostly) nice people; a couple of them are my friends.
The calls I don’t answer are usually from people who I want to want to talk to but can’t bring myself to expose to one of my self-conscious, untalkative moods.
As for imaginary conversations, they could be with pretty much anyone, but are mostly with people who are just being their imperfect selves and are oblivious to this one-sided war I’m waging.
Yes, I hear it too – what all of this is starting to sound like.
If anyone is a monster here, it is me, casting imperfect people in monstrous situations in my head.
But I’m not going to settle for that. The truth is the only monster here is my fear – the residue from experiences with imperfect people in my past whose monstrous behavior warranted my being afraid at the time, requiring me to fight or steer clear.
The only person who controls my life is me.
The problem is, I confuse control of my life with control of others.
I cannot control what other people say or do to me, and it’s not my job to.
I also cannot misunderstand the choices other people are making to control their lives – including how they speak to and treat me. Those choices are them controlling them, not me. They are just being themselves.
Fortunately, no matter what anyone I encounter says or does, I am in complete control of my response. That’s me controlling my life.
So, in a way, every time I try to avoid a social encounter that makes me uncomfortable – with men, women, family, friends, neighbors, or strangers – I’m missing an opportunity to take control. In the moment, it feels like I’m controlling the situation by avoiding it, but what I’m really doing is missing a chance to grow.
Am I here to hide or explore?
What do I like most about hiding from the world? There are no surprises.
What I do I dislike most about hiding from the world? There are no surprises.
That doesn’t sound like an atmosphere conducive to creating a beautiful, bountiful life. It sounds stagnant, and it is.
Why am I wasting my power preserving something that is the exact opposite of what I want?
Because I’m afraid, and I am so done with that.
I launched this website scared to death of putting myself out here like this, but I did it anyway. In fact, I went out of my way directing people here, actually inviting you to look at imperfect me. I had a hard time breathing through it, but, lo and behold, the miraculous happened – it did not kill me.
Since I launched, it’s gotten easier to publish with every new post. It still feels uncomfortable, but I don’t obsess over the most embarrassing lines in every piece. Most of the time now, I don’t even remember what they are.
Could it be that if I take this same approach in the real world, my experience will be the same? If I go out of my way to invite people to see and hear the real me – in-person – will it get easier every time?
Of course, this venue gives me an edge I don’t have “out there” – the ability to change anything I want before you see it. There is no such revision in a real conversation. What there is plenty of, though, is surprise, which I have a feeling beauty and bounty thrives on. So if that’s what I really want out of life, that’s where my power is going to have to go.
What purpose is your power serving? Do you find yourself using your power to protect your power? If so, how does it feel, and what would you like to do differently?