Let’s talk about empowerment.
Before I dive in, let me make it clear that the examples given are not gender specific. They are only examples of behaviours that can be seen in anyone. I just want to make my points and I’m not picking on anybody, okay?
It is important to remember – always – that other people have only as much control (or power) over you as you give them.
Consider the example of a husband who “won’t let” his wife see certain people, wear certain clothing or go somewhere that doesn’t meet with his approval. Therefore, he says, “You’re not allowed to see Suzy.” Perhaps Suzy is single, beautiful and has lots of men around and the husband is afraid his wife will leave him for one of them.
Or perhaps Suzy doesn’t like him and she’s not afraid to show it, so he’s afraid she’ll convince his wife to leave him. All of his controlling behaviour (which is emotionally abusive) is about a fear of being abandoned. If he can keep his wife on a short leash and under his control, he will never be left alone.
Where the Power Really Lies…
Whatever his reasons, he attempts to control his wife by saying she’s “not allowed” to see Suzy. The ball is now in his wife’s court. She’s actually got more power than she realises. She is now the one with all the control. She’s the one who decides if she’ll go along with what he wants (thereby giving her power back to him), or if she will keep the control and do what she believes is right for her.
If she chooses to keep her power and see the forbidden friend, Suzy, she could remind her husband that she is a grown woman and is entitled to make her own decisions and see anyone she likes. She could remind him that she does not make his decisions for him, nor does she tell him who can be his friends.
Whether it’s about friends or clothes or make-up or anything else, the bottom line is the same. She could tell him that the more he tells her what to do, or not to do, the more it will push her away because he is being disrespectful of her.
I’m not suggesting that such a response is going to make him happy, or that he’ll suddenly back down. He might, but if she’s given him the control all along, and then suddenly she changes the “rules”, it’s more likely that he’ll step up his efforts to make her be the way she used to be. He’ll probably become more forceful and use intimidation tactics to get her to comply with his wishes. Sometimes this can become physical, but that’s a much bigger topic for another day.
In that instance, she has to be like a parent to a stubborn child and remain firm and consistent. If she isn’t, as soon as she caves, he learns that he just has to keep pushing and eventually, he’ll get his way.
Is His Behaviour Her Fault?
If he yells at her because he doesn’t like the meal she prepared, his bad temper and rude response are his responsibility. If they’re talking while he’s driving and he misses an exit, then screams, “Look what you made me do! This is all your fault!” she must realise that he is the one driving. Therefore, it is his responsibility that he missed the exit.
Whether you’re dealing with substance abuse and other addictions, or any other behaviour that is not conducive to a harmonious relationship or home, the principles are the same. It all comes down to having clear boundaries.
What the Heck are Boundaries Anyway?
One of the easiest ways to understand what it means to have good boundaries is to remember that what other people say and do is their choice. You have no control over what they say or what they do, and no one has that control over you either. You always choose your actions, your words and your responses. If you choose to do what someone else wants, needs, demands or expects of you, it’s your choice. Once you understand this dynamic, it gets easier to stand up for yourself and not allow yourself to be manipulated.
You might want to blame that person for your choice – “He made me do it!” But the truth is, you chose to do it. You could have refused. No one picked up your arms and legs and made your body move like a puppet, no one manipulated your mouth and larynx to make you speak. You could have responded differently. You did not have to get angry when he called you a rotten name and tried to provoke you. When his behaviour was way out of line and he hit you or insulted you, you didn’t have to give up your power by feeling like a victim.
The Power of Choice
Every single thing you say and do is your choice, and it’s the same for everyone else on the planet. You may have been trained to believe that another person’s words or actions are your responsibility, your fault, or under your control, but not everything we believe is the truth. Hidden in plain sight, right in the middle of “belief” is the word, “lie”. You may have been trained to believe that you must give up your own thoughts, needs and feelings for others, but that is false. You get to choose. If you want to give up your own needs, that’s one thing – and that’s fine. But if you feel like you’re doing it because of what someone else wants, remember that it’s still up to you.
Knowing what you need and how you feel, and honouring those needs and feelings by speaking your truth is what it is to have good boundaries. Respecting yourself in this way is what empowers you. It puts you in the driver’s seat, where you know you’re in control of yourself and your life – and that’s the first step to finding fulfillment and happiness.