Rules of Empowerment When Dealing With a Chronic Illness
It is important to talk about empowerment when talking about living with a Chronic Illness
What is Empowerment?
Sometimes when we are chronically ill, it can feel very powerless. That sense of loss can be so overwhelming that we feel that we have no power at all. Being empowered is having a strong sense of self and maintaining a sense of self no matter the circumstances, even if the circumstances require that we adapt. It involves having the confidence and self-assurance that one is worthy and valuable. Valuable enough to be better than good enough. Valuable enough to see oneself as great. Valuable enough to strive for excellence and expect excellent outcomes. Feeling empowered leads to having empowered thoughts, which leads to saying empowered things, which leads to making empowered conscious choices that impact positive outcomes in life.
When one is empowered, he/ she understands the value of his/ her inner sense of self, his/ her feelings, his/her thoughts, and his/her actions. When one is empowered, he/she understands his/ her own ability to affect change in the world and affect change in his/her own life! This does not mean that external circumstances do not exist. As a person living with a chronic illness, it can feel very out of control and very powerless. Making empowered conscious choices does not invalidate how unfair it seems to live with these situations. It just means that you make a conscious decision to act. An example is searching for a doctor that you feel is the best fit and do not stay with a doctor who does not advocate for your health.
Sometimes there are barriers or walls that keep us stuck. Maybe it is a childhood event, past memories, low self-esteem or low self-worth. This can produce what I call, “internal messages”. Internal messages are unconscious messages that we carry with us that may block us from moving forward with change. They can be so unconscious that we don’t even realize that our behaviors are motivated by these beliefs. Many of us carry these messages from childhood and don’t even realize it. For instance, how many of us heard, “I’ll give you something to cry about!” when we cried as children? We may have internalized the message that crying is bad and ultimately being a person with emotions is bad. However, stopping yourself from emoting can leave you in a powerless place. Being void of feeling can leave you detached and even disconnected from your own self. I have come to value how powerful tears can be as a form of expression and freedom!
These barriers can be broken and the walls can be torn down! Once these issues are brought to light, through self-reflection and having a voice, we can start coming out of a stuck place! The subconscious made conscious can motivate us to make empowered conscious choices, including making the choice to live an empowered life.
Well, some people say that people might have a “power trip” or use “empowerment” as an excuse to be overly grandiose or unrealistic. I would like to address that issue: Self-inflation and grandiosity are not keys to true power. When a person inflates oneself at the expense of others, I call this a false sense of power. For instance, (outside of the context of healthy competition), if we cannot celebrate and bless the success and growth of other people; we need to take a look at our own lack of personal power. Being empowered means having such a strong sense of self that you would want to inspire others to be better than good enough. If it is a trigger for you to see someone else have a sense of empowerment; there may be room for you to explore these matters further. We should never accept being treated poorly by others. And in this case, you should present in a way that expresses your personal power. However, “barking too loud” is not true empowerment. There is a humility involved with knowing that you are a truly empowered individual. You don’t have to be better than everyone else to prove who you are. We don’t have to judge others or make comparisons. I call the grandiose seeming empowerment a false sense of empowerment. It is the attempt to appear powerful. I encourage all of us to develop and maintain a TRUE sense of power.
With that being said, Vision is a very valuable aspect of self-empowerment! When you have vision that is driven by a sense of purpose, passion, and excellence; anything can happen! Now, this is when it is OK to be somewhat delusional. I call it “healthy delusions”. There are times when no one else is going to believe in your vision. I encourage all of the people I work with to create a vision board. This is an excellent project for those of us who are dreamers. Take a poster board and some magazines and other relevant materials. Go through materials and cut out all words, images, pictures, etc. that inspire you. Jack Canfield (Chicken Soup for the Soul) says, “When you have inspired thought; you have to trust in it and you have to act on it!” This is the first step to acting on inspired thought. Place things on your board that pertain to all areas of your life that you would like to visualize greatness in: Health, Body, Finances, Success, and Love! Look at the board every day and visualize!
Dr. Karen’s Empowerment Principles
Personal Empowerment is a Lifestyle and is acted out through conscious choices and conscious behaviors. Though the lack of empowerment or the presence of empowerment may be motivated by subconscious thoughts and feelings; once aware, one can use these very powerful principals to activate external changes in their lives and take back a strong sense of personal power. Taking back power starts with developing and maintaining a strong sense of self!
- True Power is internal. True empowerment comes from the stance that we can make conscious relevant choices in our lives despite our circumstances, rather than the idea that our circumstances have control over our lives. These choices include self-advocacy, relationships, health care.
- Know your rights. You have the right to receive excellent medical treatment and to be treated with the utmost respect and care
- Surround yourself with empowered and empowering people
- Bless others and their success. Celebrate with a person who is in remission
- There is power in charity and giving if you have abundance, but not at a cost
- Focus on what you want. Daily visualization is SO important.
*Make a Vision Board. Put images on this board that motivate you. Use magazines and other visual tools.
*Look at vision board daily and think about what you want
*It’s OK to get your hopes up. Being positive is not contrary to being realistic
*”Visualization is daydreaming with a purpose” ~ Bo Bennett
- Empower yourself through self-advocacy and keeping people close who are going to advocate for you
- Life can seem unfair sometimes. But, ultimately, you have the power to make the empowered conscious choice to see the glass half full and not half empty
- Having optimism does not mean denying your feelings. Empowerment involves being able to be mindful of and process ones feelings. Miller (1997) states “The true opposite of depression is neither gaiety nor absence of pain, but vitality-the freedom to experience spontaneous feelings. It is part of the kaleidoscope of life”
- Mindfulness is being present in the moment. So, when you are sad, it’s OK to FEEL sad. Crying is sometimes liberating. It is you being in touch with your true self which involves a strong sense of self. Staying in that place, though, does not give you power. So, when someone tells you a joke and you are happy, FEEL happy. It does not serve you to say, “I am too sick to laugh. I have to stay mad, angry, and sad all the time!” I have known people to do that. This is not true mindfulness and therefore not true empowerment! Denying your feelings, good or bad, painful or joyful is not empowering. Be mindful of those feelings (Miller, A., 1997).
- You can be mindful and also positive. Maintain positive affirmations (Canfield, J., 2007)
- Forgiveness of yourself and forgiveness of others brings you internal peace and heightens your sense of self. It allows yourself to let go and move forward, thus creating empowered changes into your life. I know it is very hard to forgive doctors who have neglected you. Perhaps you received the wrong diagnosis or no diagnosis at all. Maybe the doctors didn’t believe you. Dismissive behaviors may have also been exhibited by family and friends. It is natural to feel anger. However, holding on to lifelong resentments, ironically, gives your power away to others. Take your power back by releasing those feelings! In the same vein, do not hold a grudge towards yourself! You are not perfect. It’s OK. And you are not the reason you are sick! It happened and it is not your fault no matter what anyone says!
- NEVER GIVE UP!!!
Narrative Therapy for Trauma (Telling our Stories for healing)
- There is power in your voice!
*Narration: The details of your story never change but the way you tell the story can change. You will begin to tell your story as a survivor/warrior and not a victim. You have been victimized and the details of the story are the same. But the way you tell your story changes as you become more empowered. This is true with trauma and healing. Tony Robins, motivational speaker, talks about the power of the way we tell our stories. He tells the story of Steve Jobs (RIP). When Steve Jobs was a child, a neighbor was being mean and told him, “you were discarded and not wanted” because little Steve was adopted. His adoptive parents, however, told him, “You were CHOSEN”. He internalized what his parents told him and that is how he told his story from then on. That became his story and he reached the level of aspired greatness!
* You have the right to tell your story as many times as you need to and to be listened to
* You deserve to be heard!
* False Power involves aggression. True Power involves empowered vocalization with confidence
When dealing with the frustrations of communicating with doctors, family, friends, and caretakers; claim your personal authority by not being aggressive or shouting, but by vocalizing in a secure and empowered way (Cloutier, L., 2009) You do this by accessing both deep authority and warmth in the voice. (Cloutier, L., 2009).
- Expressing gratitude keeps you empowered! (Byrne, R., 2012)
o Keep a tangible symbol for gratitude (i.e. gratitude rock)
o Write 10 things you are grateful for every single day
o Express gratitude to family and friends who bring positivity to you
- Feel worthy of help, support, and love! Fundraisers asking for help and support are not a sign of weakness. Feel deserving of receiving.
- TAKE ACTION!!! When you have inspired thought, ACT! (Canfield, J., 2007). For instance, one of our on-line friends has decided to create a reference book for doctors to educate them about adrenal insufficiency in Cushing’s patients post-surgery.
Empower yourself with friends and family
- Direct them to relevant materials so they can understand more about your illness and process (i.e. spoon theory article, which can be found at http://www.butyoudontlooksick.com)
- Ask them to do research so they can know more and be helpful
- Remain truthful to yourself and them. For instance, it’s OK to tell them that you are too tired to talk on the phone or go to a family outing. Empower yourself by expressing your true feelings and experiences. Sometimes, we only admit the feelings that we think will be accepted (Miller, A., 1997) (p. 18).
- Maintain relationships with those who are in your corner and want to help. It’s hard to accept that not everyone wants to deal with what is really going on with you. Sometimes we try to work so hard to get them to support us. However, if you are working harder than the other person to get support; it is not really a supportive relationship. Empower yourself by keeping people close who DO support you!
- Practice telling your story to someone today. Tell your story in an empowered way. Journal about how that made you feel.
The truth is that we have been victimized by our illnesses. It feels horrible and traumatic. Many feelings of being traumatized in the past may come up. Many feelings of victimization may come up. However, we do not have to BE victims! This is what it means to turn adversity into opportunity. YOU have survived SO much! And YOU have survived your journey with a chronic illness. YOU ARE A SURVIVOR! Recognize just how resilient you are and give credit to your strengths!
Miller (1997) states that “We cannot change anything in our past…However, we can change ourselves. We can repair ourselves and gain our lost integrity by choosing to look more closely at the knowledge that is stored inside our bodies and bringing this knowledge closer to our awareness…We become free by transforming ourselves from unaware victims of the past into responsible individuals in the present” (p.2)
Repression or suppression of pain and other feelings is not equal to staying empowered. Empowerment involves becoming aware of the pain from the past, acknowledging it, and working through it. You have survived it. Tell yourself that!
Here are some empowerment quotes to help inspire and motivate you:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us, it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others” ~ Marianne Williamson
“When you have inspired thought, you have to trust it and you have to act on it!”
“I don’t feel like an inspiration. I just feel like someone who is living life, taking it day by day. This fight with Cushing’s has taught me so much. But, especially, it has taught me that I don’t have to curl up in a ball and die; I can make the empowered choice to fight for my life and live with gratitude and love every single day!” ~Dr. N. Karen Thames
“Success is not measured by never falling. It is determined by always getting back up!” ~ Dr. N. Karen Thames
“It is through adversity that our strength is developed” ~Bishop T.D. Jakes
“It has been proven now scientifically that an affirmative thought is hundreds of times more powerful than a negative thought” ~ Michael Bernard Beckwith
“We’ve got to have a dream if we are going to make a dream come true” ~Denis Waitley
“If you limit your choices only to what seems possible or reasonable, you disconnect yourself from what you truly want, and all that is left is a compromise” ~ Robert Fritz
“All your dreams can come true-If we have the courage to pursue them” ~Walt Disney
“Just take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase. Just take the first step” ~Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” ~ Confucius
“Your time is limited; don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living the result of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other people’s opinion drowned your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary” ~ Steve Jobs
“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
“It’s not the size of the dog in the fight but the size of the fight in the dog” ~Mark Twain
“Obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it” ~Michael Jordan
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts” ~Winston Churchill