For a long time, I lived the belief that to create the life I wanted, I needed to work harder. This meant less sleep, long hours, and even “forgetting” to eat so that I could get the job done.
There is a place for rolling up your sleeves and doing the hard work that is called for. This is an ability that many people lack and because of it they stay stuck in one area or another in their life. But for me, I’ve overused this ability to my own detriment.
I started out my adult life with a trial by fire – no resources, no direction, and a baby. I was fortunate enough at the time to call on this ability to work hard and not quit. Because of this, I put myself through school and developed my business, along with a number of other accomplishments.
Whether it was true or not, my ability to work hard became linked to my ability to get results. In other words – hard work meant survival. But it goes further than that. There were a number of other beliefs that were strengthened at the same time, including:
Again, there are whole segments of people who would benefit from some deeper understanding of hard work and sacrifice. But above all else at this time, I needed to remember self-care, support, sustainability, and nourishment. Cultivating the psychological and energetic capacity to embody this shift in the way that I show up to life, has been critical in the unlocking of my personal power and stepping into my calling.
I circled through this territory time and time again. But I was so deficient in my understanding, that try as I might, I could not get these things to stick. Until one day, I found myself cracking. My patience was thin, more and more situations were bothering me, I wasn’t enjoying the people I usually enjoy, I was super thin and really tired. Because of this I was making bad choices and errors in judgment. It is scary that when you are in a place of leadership, so few people are willing to call you on your dysfunction even when it is staring them in the face – but this is a topic for another day.
Long story short, I was swimming as fast as I could and sinking from exhaustion. I had learned along the way that I needed to ask for help. So, I asked for help and got a cosmic level dose of instruction. Some amazing support came my way – just enough to stop me from sinking. However, I also received an enormous heap of challenges, and this was the true teaching. Opposition can show us exactly where and how we need to grow. Here, I was shown the internal mechanisms that were putting this all in place.
I don’t like to repeatedly bang the drum of a certain brand of oppression – throw all my “problems” into one bucket and blame it for everything. Life is much more complicated, and I would rather not make my life story about victimhood. However, that is very different from turning a blind eye to some of the realities of the world we live in.
And for me, this particular issue is about the oppression of the feminine force within us all.
I learned to survive from doing rather than being, so I was not standing in my genius.
I learned to identify my value with my looks, so I never got to know my own beauty.
I learned that care of others was more important than care of myself, so I lived in a place of depletion.
I learned to ask permission to stand in my power, so I was never fully in it.
I learned that the wisdom of my body was inferior to the knowledge of my mind, so I neglected my truth and covered up my wisdom.
I learned that it was ok for others to use my hard work and life force and call it their own, so I let them take without giving until I was exhausted.
And, yes, I believe that this is symptomatic of the long-standing historical oppression of the feminine force and its wisdom – and it affects most of us in some way. Historically, women have been the home-makers. They clean the house, tend the fire, and cook the food. But the wisdom of any oppressed group survives. It just goes underground. It gets preserved and encoded in the simple acts of every day. So look closely, for the greater healing is here:
Clean the house.
Tend the fire.
Cook the food.
So, I started cleaning my house. I put boundaries in place and moved unsupportive people to more distant places in my life. I looked at the places where I was out of alignment with myself and my deeper truth, and I made shifts to get back on track. I repeat as is necessary. And, yes, I literally clean my house.
I started a desire journal and wrote at least one thing each day that stoked the fire of my life. I added in one activity that was just about enjoyment for each day. I paid closer attention to where I lit up and what brought me joy, and recognized this as my divine intelligence.
I looked at what sustains me, what supports me, and what allows me to thrive, and to this day I continue to make choices to bring this into my life. I am taking time to see what will truly nourish me, and make sure that I have put it on the table.
As I do these things, I heal. I love myself more. I find it easier to stand in my power. And as I make these shifts, I uncover a new way of working where I am cared for, supported, and can create more with less effort. Today is your opportunity, and I invite you to gently allow the feminine force within to come alive.
One very important aspect of working with the shadow comes from the work of Cliff Barry, who has separated the shadow into four different quadrants—four different aspects of the shadow—to help people understand the energies that are often in shadow for us. His belief is that these energies are essential parts of who we are and they are either working for us or against us. If we become more aware of them, then we will be able to have them work for us more than against us.
One of Cliff Barry’s shadow aspects is the predator; one component of this is the perpetrator–victim dynamic. Even within the area of shadow work, this is a broad area of inquiry and discussion, so we will just touch on it here. First, let’s take a look at how this dynamic is created.
If at some point in your life you were unable to protect yourself, take care of yourself, or you were hurt by an outside force, whether a person or an institution—then in this experience you intimately learned about being a victim. What is less talked about is that victims through their experience learn about being perpetrator as well. This is not to say that they are perpetrators but rather that they understand both sides of the coin. Through being victimized we understand the realities of perpetration.
Victims usually vow never to be like the person who hurt them. And this sets up a shadow dynamic. They either act out the perpetration while denying its effects. For example when someone experiences abuse and then perpetrates it on someone else. Or, they turn the abuse on themselves.
In situations were the person replicates the perpetration they experienced, they often do this because the pain is so significant that it is unmanageable. So, they use a variety of methods to minimize the pain disconnecting them from themselves and the results of their actions. They often make a vow to themselves, usually unconsciously, never to be in a powerless position again. Often this person thinks along the lines of “I don’t want to be the victim.” But because, they believe that the same situation will in one way or another play out again –it is usually all they know- it is supportive of their survival not to remain in the victim role.
Someone who has not been through this kind of experience might wonder how a person, after experiencing such a horrific experience, could go and do the same thing to others. The reason is more complicated than can be explained here, but for our purposes the dynamic is that the victim is simply trying to take back power in a situation where they felt powerless so as to avoid the pain of that event.
Conversely, sometimes the victim will say something like, “I will never do that to another person.” But, because they have not resolved the dynamic, they play it out inside themselves. For example, they might be horrified at the idea of hurting another person, but they might be cruel to themselves on a regular basis. In this version, the perpetration is turned inward toward themselves, which might manifest as a strong critical voice, self-sabotage, or even a lack of self-care, all of which may or may not happen consciously. Very often, this person, even though they try their hardest not to let this inner perpetrator out, will inadvertently do just that. This can sometimes cause them to be even harder on themselves and continue the cycle.
Even if we are not aware of a shadow dynamic, it still is expressed—we just don’t have control over the expression.
To learn more about the Victim–Perpetrator Shadow Dynamic, watch this video: Free Yourself From the Victim Perpetrator Dynamic
When someone close to us is acting in a way that is difficult for us, our response is often defensive—we react to their behavior. We feel like we need to do something about it—for example, we might believe we need to draw a line to make it clear that other person has done wrong in some way, or make a correction to their behavior.
This comes in part from our need to protect ourselves or from our desire to make sure that whatever we don’t like doesn’t keep happening. While putting boundaries in place and communicating with other people in this way is an important skill—particularly when dealing with certain people—there’s also another way of approaching disagreements that can be very helpful.
This other way is to ask the person to join into the experience that you want to have with them. This requires us to be aware of what we would like to have happen in the moment when it is not happening as well as to be emotionally clear enough to act on this knowledge.
There is often an assumption that, when someone does something that we don’t like, they did it intentionally, they were not able to see something, or they just disregarded our needs. But most often, other people are simply not aware of what it is that we want or need. And many people have not become skilled at saying what it is that they do want and need.
When you are in a situation where someone in your life is not acting the way you would like, try inviting this person into the type of experience that you want rather than challenging, defending, or putting a boundary in place, and just see how it goes.
If, for example, I want to work on communication with someone and they’re not giving me the type of communication I want, I could respond by saying something such as, “Well, you’re not communicating with me, and that is a problem for me.” It is clear in my response that I do not like the behavior and also that I am feeling defensive. Because of my response, the other person might become a bit defensive themselves, and we will likely bounce our hurt and defenses off of each other.
Or, I can come into the situation and say something like, “What would really feel good to me is more communication, and this is what it would look like to have that.” With this example, I have gotten rid of the layers of defensiveness and simply invited the person into the way of being in our relationship that I would like most.
While not everyone will be able to rise to the occasion, when it does work, you will see just how powerful this method can be. It might actually become an essential new aspect of your repertoire—a new way of relating to others, a tool that helps you get back on track and create more of what you want in your life.
For more tips and tricks on how to create your life in an empowered way, check out my youtube videos here.
What does it mean to be empowered? A wonderful teacher of mine, Alisa Starkweather, taught me that to be empowered means to know that you have a choice. I think that this is a fabulous starting point. Having a choice means that we are able to choose how we act and react in any situation. Outside circumstances will no longer dictate our responses! Feeling this sense of choice is the root of empowerment.
Being empowered means overcoming victimhood, which has become an epidemic. Victimhood is the opposite of having a choice. It is the experience of believing that someone or something else is doing something to us and that we have no control over the situation.
Sometimes it is incredibly difficult to feel that we have a choice. However, as we grow and develop, we learn how to find the choices that are there. This is what it is to be empowered: to know that we have the ability to choose what we want in any given situation.
Victim mindset represents the pervasive believe that we do not have power in our lives. Once in the victim mindset, we look outside and say “You are doing this to me, therefore I have no control.” This belief ensures that we remain a victim.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t situations in which people are actually victimized and, because of circumstance, have only bad options to choose from. Those situations are not the issue at hand. Rather, this level of victimhood is a foundational way of orienting to the events of your life. When we interact with the world as a victim, we look to the world to treat us differently rather than realizing that it is within our capacity make changes and determine how we want to move forward in our life.
Like many things in life, it is important that we allow a lot of compassion, forgiveness, and acceptance for this part of ourselves. We can’t move past our victim mentality without giving it the attention it needs. You can’t beat the victim up and tell them to get over it. That’s not that’s not the way that it works. Our first steps are to learn to see, appreciate, and love this part of ourselves. Every single aspect of ourselves has a teaching. Every aspect informs us about ourselves, about life, and about others.
By accepting our inner victim and relating to it as a teacher, we take our first steps toward leaving this way of life behind. We start by asking the important questions: “How does being in the victim mentality inform me about myself? How does it help me become the person I want to be?” We will always have this part of ourselves but we do not need to be acting from it all the time.
To take even more steps in the direction of empowerment, recognize that you have choices. If you find yourself in a situation that you don’t like, see what you want out of the situation instead. Tuning into an alternative vision of the situation is the first part of being able to choose something different. There isn’t one way that you need to do this. It is a process of learning. But here is a starting point:
Step 1 – Ask yourself “What else could happen here?”
Step 2 – Choose to move in the direction of the action or experience that is desired.
We grow out of the victim mentality by first recognizing that we have the power to choose to move in an affirming direction and then making that choice. The beauty of this is that whether or not we succeed in creating an entirely different circumstance, we have already begun to reclaim our power.
Are you interested in exploring the ways that victimhood is affecting your life? Dive deep in my free workshop titled “The Power of You: How to Overcome Despair and Thrive”, or click here to read about my Breakthrough Intensive.
It’s a part of our human experience to have defenses—though quite frequently, these defenses create problems for us. They change what we are able to get out of our relationships or what we are able to receive and develop in our lives, leaving us to wonder how we can work with them to be most productive in the way that is best for us.
Being defensive is a totally normal human response. However, often, if someone says you’re being defensive, the immediate reaction is to feel like you have done something wrong and should not be acting that way. In truth, that response is often the other person’s defense. If they call you out, then they have the upper hand.
The first step is just accepting the fact that it’s OK to be defensive. When you are, it is an opportunity to learn. Our defenses show us how we have been hurt or what needs of ours have not been met in the past, usually in our childhood and then even more throughout our lives afterward.
How and when we get defensive shows us how and why our defenses developed. They show us what it is that we need in order to better care for ourselves: underneath every defense is a lot of information about how we can actually grow and develop.
If you find yourself getting defensive in a situation, you can ask yourself, “What is it that I am afraid of?” (The “Biggest Fear” quiz on my website can help you get clarity about your greatest fears. See the end of this article for the link) In truth, we have an assortment of fears that lead to our being defensive, but as the quiz will show you, there are certain fears that are more intense than others. When we recognize what they are, we can do something about them.
For example, when we recognize that we have a need for safety or a fear of losing contact, being controlled or betrayed, we have gathered important information. We know that this has happened repeatedly in our life and is something that needs our attention.
If we have a need for safety, for example, the way to decrease our defense against this is to learn how to create safety for ourselves. That’s the healing step forward.
After we have cared for ourselves in this way, we ultimately transcend the problem and can truly be free. That’s is how you heal from learning about and taking care of your defenses.
But to start the process, we must give ourselves what we need, regularly and consistently. If we engage in this deep level of self-care, we’ll be able to really heal from what has happened in the past. There are a number of different ways that we can attend to these wounds. We can learn to provide what we need for ourselves and we can learn how to receive it through the support of the people around us.
Once we are clear that we are being defensive, why we are being defensive, and then provide for that need, we’ll see ourselves getting softer, more open, and more flexible. Our strength will return to each situation that would have previously been challenging so that we’re able to respond in a way that is less defensive and more connective.
And, in the end, when we do this, it gives us more of what we want.
If you’re curious to discover what is hidden behind your defenses, take my quiz!