“The process of spotting fear and refusing to obey it is the source of all true empowerment.” – Martha Beck, author
“I had to draw a line in the sand…and I did!”
Manfred was a tall, dark haired man with bright brown eyes, a soft manner and an engaging smile. He had worked in the public service for a long time and was planning his retirement in a few years. And, after 20 years, Manfred decided to leave his marriage.
He said he still loved his partner, Manea, but didn’t like the way she treated him. And, he said, what made it worse was he didn’t like himself for putting up with her mistreatment. So, he decided to get his own place…at least for a while, and maybe permanently.
Manfred and Manea has three adult children, one married with a child and the other two in college. They had been close to their children, but Manfred’s recent withdrawal from the family home, had put a strain on their relationships with their children. They were confused and upset about their father leaving their mother. They struggled not to take a side as their parents “misbehaved.” To manage their frustration and anger, they joked about this with heavy doses of ridicule.
I asked Manfred how specifically Manea treated him that was so upsetting to him. He responded with,
“Ken, it has been going on for years…probably our entire marriage. Finally, I had enough. I had to draw a line in the sand…and I did!”
“Manfred, tell me about the moment when you decided to draw the line in the sand. What happened?”
“…then she threatened me that unless I agreed to go to a session…”
“Ken, we have been struggling for some time and I was getting more and more frustrated with her bossing me around all the time. One Saturday morning over breakfast, about six weeks ago, she decided we needed to go to marriage counselling and she had found this therapist who could help us fix are relationship…and especially me!”
Then he continued,
“And, then she threatened me that unless I agreed to go to a session… she had already booked…she was ‘considering’ leaving me.”
“Manfred, I want you to go, and be in that moment, right now! Close your eyes for a moment to help you get there.”
“Ken, that was weeks ago, I can’t be there again.” he replied.
“Manfred, your memory retains whatever information it needs to survive. So, just recall whatever you can about that moment and that will lead you to the rest of the memory. It is all connected together synaptically in your brain. All we have to do is find it by looking carefully. I’m certain it’s there, go find it.” I said carefully.
“I remember now, she had on her red Christmas pyjamas…”
Manfred sat back in his chair and closed his eyes looking for the details of his memory.
I said, “ Manfred, recall where you were sitting on that morning at that breakfast. Were you in your regular place at the table or perhaps, another one?”
“I was in my regular chair facing the refrigerator.”
“OK! What time of day was it you were having breakfast on that Saturday? What was the weather like at that moment, the season perhaps?” I asked.
“We had slept in, so it was later than usual…about 10 am, and it was snowing and stormy outside…very cold.”
“Great! What was Manea wearing at that moment she was talking to you?”
He paused, then he said,
“I remember now, she had on her red Christmas pyjamas I had given her.”
“Excellent! Now, I want you to be in that moment when you perceived her to be bossing you and trying to make you do something you didn’t want to do.”
“OK! I can see her face…her frustration and her anger. Her face is reddening with resentment!”
“Power can be taken, but not given. The process of the taking is empowerment in itself.” – Gloria Steinem, activist
“… I’m standing up for myself…”
“Manfred, at that very moment, being there now, how are you coping with…dealing with…that perception of her bossing you around?” I asked him.
“I’m telling her, No!…I’m not going to a therapist she found on the internet. I telling her I’m not interested in her solution to our problems. I’m telling her we need to find a therapist together if I am to go at all!”
“OK! Now Manfred, being there in that moment, right now, how is it serving you to be able to say these things to Manea? How is it an advantage to you to have the opportunity to say these things to her? Look carefully!”
Manfred paused again…but briefly.
“Well, first, I’m standing up for myself. I’m telling her what I really think!”
“…I felt so strong, powerful and in control of me…I was being true to myself…”
“OK! What else is a benefit to you that you’re noticing now?”
“Second, I’m telling her I’m separate from her…I have my own opinions, beliefs…and even dreams!” he said, surprising himself with his own insightfulness.
“Manfred, did saying those things to Manea feel good at that moment and even reduce your frustration and anxiety?”
He looked directly at me while he said, “Yes! It felt great, Ken!”
“Did it also strengthen your spirit in some way, or perhaps, increase your motivation or energize you?” I asked.
“Ken, I felt so strong, powerful and in control of me…I was being true to myself…that’s why it felt so good.” he said, an empowering glow emanating from him, like an athlete who just finished first…for the first time.
“… no one ever asked you to consider your life events from a scientific perspective.”
“Manfred, can you see now, that at that very moment, while it was painful for you it was also, empowering and pleasurable as well…you got to respect who you are and say how you want to be treated by Manea…there was a duality of pain and pleasure, simultaneously?”
“I never noticed that before. But, I can see it now! It is clearly right there, isn’t it?”
“Yes, it is Manfred! And, what if that duality is there at every moment of our life?”
“Do you mean, it is a constant, not just in my life, but yours and everyone else?”
“That’s what the hard sciences tells us is going on all over our universe.” I offered.
“How come I have never noticed this before, Ken?”
“My best guess would be because no one ever asked you to consider your life events from a scientific perspective. No one reminded you that the same laws that govern your cell phone govern your relationships.”
“To feel empowered is to feel free and that’s when people do their best work. You can’t fake confidence or empowerment.” – Amy Jo Martin, author
“…this pain / pleasure duality enables us to learn and evolve…”
“Are you saying this pain/pleasure duality is a good thing?”
“Yes, this pain / pleasure duality enables us to learn and evolve…to survive, Manfred!” I suggested.
“But, why is it happening to me, and why now, and why with Manea…there are so many why’s!” he said, his confusion erupting.
“That’s the perfect question to ask, Manfred. Why you and why now? You have described how you got to practice self-empowerment in your exchange at that moment with Manea. Why did you need that kind of practice…of empowering yourself?”
Then I added,
“In my experience, nature ensures we have just the experiences we need to ensure our future. So, since you survived that encounter with Manea, you got to practice something you need for your future and which was probably missing from your past, Manfred.”
“Would you explain that a little more, Ken?”
“… gave you much needed practice in standing up for yourself for your future?”
“Certainly. You have been practicing empowering yourself with Manea because you struggled with empowering yourself in the past. You needed more practice at it for your future. Is that true, Manfred? Are there other people in the past who you wanted and needed to stand up to… but you didn’t?”
Manfred looked away from me and stared into the middle distance. Then he said,
“My mom browbeat and dominated me my whole life, Ken. I never felt very effective in asserting myself with her. And also, in my previous relationship before I married Manea…it was the same thing. It was why I ended that relationship!”
“So, can you see how that moment with Manea gave you much needed practice in standing up for yourself for your future?”
“Wow! And, this is a natural process…a law of nature? That means Manea is actually helping me grow…is that what you mean, Ken?”
“Yep! And, it’s a two way street…you’re helping her grow as well, just in ways she needs for her future…that’s the purpose of your relationship.”
“Wow…again! Ken, I need to understand this better. Can we do another example so I’m sure I am getting this?”
“We sure can!” I replied.
“… she hugged him, and pushed him away, equally to ensure his survival and success.”
And, so Manfred’s learning journey continued. At the completion of his work, Manfred had developed a renewed appreciation for Manea. As he uncovered the pain and pleasure of each moment of conflict with her, he realized she was part of a lifelong journey he had been on to learn to value himself.
Manfred identified several other people besides his mother who he was also using unconsciously to re-establish the self worth he was born with. This enables him to see clearly how Manea, his mother and the others were simply learning events in his life journey.
Manfred reestablished his connections with Manea and they continued to rebuild their relationship to one of more mutual respect and gratitude for each other. To paraphrase one of the many insights he spouted during his learning was that Manea was the ‘perfect partner’ for him. Adding she hugged him, and pushed him away, equally to ensure his survival and success.
“Autonomy leads to empowerment. We work hard to maintain a balance between collaboration and cooperation and independence” – Bobby Kotick, businessman