A Research Paper By Jilean Beharry, Destiny Coach, TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO
It has been observed that at the heart of abuse is a feeling or state of disempowerment. There are certain similarities among victims, namely a feeling of hopelessness, lack of choices, self-doubt, a failure to take responsibility for their happiness, and a significant other who controls the relationship. Research has shown that abuse is about power and control.
If victims could feel or become empowered, it would go a long way in bringing the cycle of abuse to an end. At the essence of Coaching is the belief that the client has his/her own answers to lead an optimal life. The coach provides the support, however the client controls or leads the process. The client is empowered by accepting the responsibility for where sessions go, what is discussed, action steps, and ultimately their lives.
The intention of this paper is to explore elements in the Coaching process that facilitate the empowerment of individuals. It will highlight Coaching’s benefits and underscore the ill effects of having disempowered people. At the heart of this paper is a desire to contribute to the effective empowerment of people by offering Coaching as the process of choice, especially as a tool for the empowerment of those who have undergone abuse in all its forms.
What Is Empowerment?
The WHS Concise English Dictionary defines empower in the following way:
- To give power or authority to
- To give the ability to; enable or permit
Empowerment, therefore, is the act of giving power to, authorizing, or giving the ability to, enabling, or permitting. Philip Rochford (2010) in his book “Reflective Empowerment” describes empowerment as the strength within you to be and do what you visualize.
It is a state in which the person is at home with their identity and has cultivated a healthy relationship to the world and to their choices. By “healthy”, I mean vital, useful and enriching. As such “empowerment” is synonymous with taking responsibility, avoiding the identity of “victim” and of what some people like to call “integrated” living. Effectively, empowerment gives them CHOICE. (O’Reardon, 2007)
Central to empowerment is the concept of choice. Choice or free will is one of the most powerful gifts we have been blessed with, yet too often, our failure to exercise our power of choice keeps us disempowered. We are servants to whomever or whatever we submit our will to, hence the term “giving up our power.”
What Do Empowered People Look Like?
The fruits of empowering yourself are an enhanced life and your improved contribution to others, your environment, and your community. (Rochford, 2010) Transactional Analysis (The Ok Corral (Franklin Ernst, 1971))
A disempowered person resides in the three quadrants in red. An empowered person resides in the green quadrant. The concept of Blame is related to empowerment. Effectively, a shift from Blame to Responsibility is a shift from Disempowerment to Empowerment. Blame= Loss of Freedom + Disempowerment
Perhaps, we don’t fully understand our power and don’t believe we can choose the life we really want… When you play the Blame Game, you do not have to take responsibility for your life. (ICA, RVSB)
Coaches shift others from Blame to Responsibility by bringing awareness of who they are, their values, and their dreams and lavishing them with acknowledgment of their strengths and accomplishments, so that they begin to see their worth.
We should never blame our present condition on the lovelessness and abuse of the past. We must carefully examine how our attitudes and reactions have contributed to our psychological suffering, in other words, we must face reality and accept responsibility. We’re not responsible for the wound, but we are responsible for its healing. (Reid, 2010)
Empowered people take full responsibility for their lives. They are “OK” with themselves and by extension others. They are able to accept themselves with all shortcomings, values, skills, etc., and feel comfortable, confident, and valuable. They live in alignment with their values and respect their personal boundaries. They know that they are free to make decisions about life that support personal well-being and happiness, and do not hesitate to do so. It is clear that happiness is a personal choice and they will not permit others to determine what their lives should look like. Empowered people are not swayed by the opinions and attitudes of others, but chose how they want to respond. They stand by their convictions.
An empowered person loves and cares for self, and by extension will be able to love and value others in a healthy way. He or she will not attempt to control or manipulate others because his or her sense of self-worth comes from within and not without. He or she understands that change starts with him or her and accepts responsibility for actions, behavior, and own life. Empowered people pursue their dreams and lend support to the fulfillment of others’ dreams. Empowered people empower people.
How Are People Empowered?
Empowerment is triggered when you have the freedom to do what makes you happy, and the power to get it done. (Rochford, 2010) (Here we see an almost immediate symbiotic relationship between Coaching and Empowerment by their very definitions.)
According to Rochford, making excuses for your condition, and not accepting that it is your responsibility to change things keeps us disempowered. If you want things to change, you have to change.
Central to empowerment is the concept of CHOICE and Personal RESPONSIBILITY.
Responsibility is not just a way to act, it is a way to view our entire lives. It is a perspective that we can choose to empower us…We can change the situation from one where we are powerless to one where we are powerful. Responsibility= Freedom + Empowerment (ICA, RVSB)
With empowerment, accountability and responsibility rest with the person empowered… Empowerment means clarifying required outcomes, not dictating inputs… . Control is not what we should seek if we are truly empowering. (Applegarth. Posner, 1997) Making decisions makes us confident. It is making a choice. (ICA, CONF)
Harmful Effects of Disempowerment
Disempowered people carry with them a feeling of hopelessness. Doubt and fear prevent them from moving beyond their circumstances or from taking steps that would free them from the boxes they have permitted themselves to be placed in. Often, they allow their lives to be influenced strongly by the dictates of others and fail to exercise their power of CHOICE to make changes that support their well-being. Disempowered people make others responsible for their happiness, thus making them susceptible to abuse in all its forms, which in turn causes them to feel more depressed and hopeless. They play the Blame Game. They seldom draw personal boundaries and stand up for themselves because they so crave the approval, affirmation, and validation of others. They often unconsciously regard their own values and desires as less important than others, especially when the perception is that those people are more “whatever” than they are.
Edmund Burke said,
All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.
This saying holds true for the disempowered person and society in general. Disempowerment is an enemy of positive action, change, and creativity, and it perpetuates the cycle of abuse, where the disempowered are perpetual victims.
What Is Coaching?
The ICF defines coaching as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential. Coaching honors the client as the expert in his/her life and work and believes that every client is creative, resourceful, and whole. (ICF website) Coaching raises your awareness and encourages you to take control of and responsibility for your life. (Richardson, 2006, p.7)
How Coaching Works to Empower Clients
Coaching’s forward focus facilitates the transition from unhealthy positions to healthy ones where the client is able to move from a place of blame to a place of accepting responsibility and making different choices. This is done by creating awareness through powerful questions, effective feedback, and re-framing perspectives. Coaches do not give advice (Advice Trap). This enables the client to take responsibility for his or her own life, rather than depend on the coach for answers. Coaches encourage through acknowledgment. Where there is trust, there is great strength (Richardson, 2006, p.131)
Coaches trust that clients want to solve the problems of their life and work. Coaches encourage reflection on values and ethics. Coaches model ethical behavior and lead by example. (ICA, COTH) Coaching is built on the belief that the solution is within the client. (ICA, CRAW) This in itself places the onus on the client for the outcomes. One of the most empowering things a coach can do for a client is to let go of his or her, agendas and opinions. People have been conditioned to be told what to do, often to their detriment. An effective Coaching relationship should empower a client such that there is no need for an “ongoing” coaching relationship.
The Process of Empowerment Through Coaching
Intention to Change=> Commitment=>Coaching Conversation in a Trusting, Non-Judgmental Space=>Awareness=>Choices/Possibilities=>Action=>Empowerment.
How Coaches Can Disempower Clients?
An interview with a student coach reveals how even in a Coaching relationship, a client can be disempowered. Lavon’s feelings of disempowerment came about in a coaching session where she was told by an “expert” coach that there was no scope for her vision and passion and that it was already being done by many coaches including herself. Further, people would hire experts, naming a few, including herself before they hire Lavon, a “beginner.” Lavon said, “I felt very disempowered and as if someone had stolen a piece of my soul.” When asked whether Lavon thought that the coach was supportive, non-judgmental, and non-imposing, this is what she had to say, “No. Though I think she really was trying, and she did do many of the right “coach things”. For the 90% that may have been perfect in coaching rules, 10% was not and that actually ruined the session for me. It proved to me that we have to do our very best to keep our personal opinions and ideas out of a session if it is going to truly benefit a client” (Personal Skype Interview, July 3, 2012).
In many situations, our purpose in initiating a conversation is to get the other person to change. (Stone.Patton.Heen, 1999) Although, in a coaching relationship, there is an underlying understanding that the client does desire some sort of “change,” the coach’s agenda should purely be to support the client in a non-judgmental way.
We can’t change someone else’s mind or force them to change their behavior. The paradox is that trying to change someone rarely results in a change. On the other hand, engaging someone in a conversation where mutual learning is the goal often results in a change. (Stone.Patton.Heen, 1999) The coaching conversation is one such conversation in which the coach remains curious and asks exploratory questions which serve to bring awareness to the client and clarity and understanding for the coach.
Empowerment Through Coaching
Coaching can be likened to a man in a dark room, with many things around him that can assist him in his life, but he can’t see them. Coaching through powerful questions helps him to turn on the light of awareness, so he can see clearly. This awareness brings vision and insight, and he can now see the choices available to him. The coach’s unobtrusiveness gives him the space to move around in the room and explore, yet the coach is there to support him in his choices. His newfound vision excites, energizes, and empowers (imagine being blind, and then being able to see, how exciting that would be) and with each new discovery, he feels more in control of his life. The more coaches decrease, they give their clients permission to increase.
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