Now that we have dissected the meaning of empowerment to death, how do we become empowered? Let's look first at what may stand in our way. What are the obstacles to empowerment? What do we need to change or work around?

One of the major obstacles to self-empowerment is our social conditioning. We have been conditioned to give our power away. We have been conditioned to regard established authorities as having absolute knowledge, as icons not to be questioned. One good example of this has been the social view of medicine and medical practitioners. We have been trained to take doctors' advice as gospel and not to question or take an active role in our own health care. This is the view of "M. D.'s" as "medical deities." This attitude, happily, is changing. We are learning to take responsibility for our own health. We are learning that we can question, and still respect, authority while respecting ourselves.

Another way in which our conditioning blocks empowerment lies in the very way we are trained to think. Just as we are trained not to question authorities, so also are we trained to think that things must be only one way. I think of this as one-dimensional or "totalitarian" thinking that does not allow for originality or variances or even shades of gray. Just as physicists are discovering that scientific laws are not hard and fast, that matter or objects do not always act as scientific laws would prescribe, so too are old, rigid concepts having to become more flexible. Thus, women are no longer necessarily dominated by men. Nor, in fact, we now realize, does there have to be domination of any type.

The "one-dimensionality" of our cultural conditioning leads us to see ourselves in a very narrow light -- as only being or doing one or a few things -- or only socially prescribed things. Thus, women should act only in one way, and men should act only in one (other) way. Seeing ourselves as only one thing -- and thus not seeing other possibilities for ourselves -- is very limiting. Seeing ourselves as only white or black or Native American, as female or male, as Christian or Jew, as American or Russian -- limits our potential. To be empowered is to see and develop our potential. How many times have you been surprised to find that a doctor also writes poetry or that a well-known actor also paints well or that your auto mechanic may also sing? We become empowered when we move past the obstacles of limiting, one-dimensional cultural conditioning to fuller, more "whole" views of ourselves.

To become empowered, we must break past the old thinking that we must be or act in a certain, preordained, socially prescribed way (e. g., that women should please others and that men should dominate). We must move past rigid thinking that we have all the answers and that there is nothing new under the sun to a new state of a sense of wonderment. Thus, we must deprogram our cultural conditioning and have an open mind.

Another obstacle to becoming empowered is low self-esteem. If we don't love or even like ourselves, how can we trust our own thinking? Self-doubts, low self-esteem, lack of trust in oneself -- all block our becoming empowered. If we don't think highly of ourselves, we certainly don't truly develop our independence.

And connected to low self-esteem is the other obstacle, lack of self-knowledge. It is hard to empower ourselves if we don't truly know ourselves.

Paths to Empowerment

by Diane Brandon

Obstacles to Empowerment

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