As a couples therapist, I get to observe how people relate to each other when they are unhappy. Men tend to act out their frustration by either withdrawing or becoming angry. Women most often resort to a coping mechanism that is equally harmful: criticism.
We criticize our partners for not living up to our expectations, for not bringing in enough money, for not having the same feelings we do. We get more and more frustrated when we can’t get through to them, which leads to more criticism. Which makes them more angry, and more withdrawn. I’m not saying it’s all the women’s fault. Most certainly not. But when it comes to changing things, we can only control our own behavior.
I’ve been in the same boat. Years ago, when my husband didn’t get around to fixing up the house (for many reasons, but mostly because he works long hours), I kept pestering him with my needs for attention and my anger about his broken promises. That led to a huge crisis, and eventually a power shift in the relationship.
I learned that I am equally responsible for what happens with the house as he is. Yes, he knows more about structural repairs and whether to buy 2 by 4s or whatever else. But I can chose to learn. I can start talking to people about home improvement and estimated costs. I can take charge of some tasks in the house, and in the process understand the frustration of dealing with contractors and their broke promises. After many arguments and periods of standstill we finally got the project under control. And we both changed our way significantly in the process.
Empowerment does to mean cajoling and criticizing and pushing another person into making them do what we want. It means to grow into our own, to take responsibility for what can be done, and to let go of what can’t.
Many women obsessively want to change their partners because they are too dependent - financially or emotionally - to leave the relationship. Dependency is a state of disempowerment.
Many women resort to criticism and blame, because they don’t feel in control of their life. A lack of control, which often comes with feeling depressed and hopeless about your life is a state of disempowerment.
Many women hold on too long to situations they have no control in, hoping that things will change if they only work hard enough, or long enough. Being stuck in an unhappy relationship is a form of disempowerment.
This isn’t meant to make you feel bad about yourself, but to raise awareness of the many forms of feeling powerless. All change starts with awareness.
The ultimate remedy against disempowerment is to soothe your own self criticism with self compassion, and then to build your self worth. When you are in touch with just how valuable you are as a person, you don’t have to depend on people who aren’t reliable. You can accept others for who they are, because you can accept yourself. You can stand in your own power without constantly looking to validation from others because you know who you are.
Empowerment is a gradual process, and the feeling comes and goes. Nobody feels fully in charge every minute of the day. But if we are depressed or anxiety ridden, we have to work towards feeling in control at least more and more often.
A good way to begin to build self worth is to remember: what’s the most important thing about me? Maybe you are a genuinely compassionate person. Maybe you always look to better yourself. Maybe you are someone who loves to connect with others. These are amazing traits that you can always choose to remember when you feel low.
You already have the foundation to empower yourself.