Empowerment: Jordyn & Aspen – Mama & Me Family Portrait Session in Bend, OR
Up until about 2010, we didn’t have a tried and true scientific or measurable definition of empowerment. So here’s what I came up with. “The process of becoming stronger and more confident, especially in controlling one’s life and claiming one’s rights” (thanks, Google). Psychological empowerment has been described as a state of being: perceived control, competence, goal setting, feeling enabled, and beliefs about the availability of one’s resources and ability to perform (Spreitzer, 1995). Notice that this description doesn’t require achievement explicitly. It just requires that we show up and do the work. Take the birthing process, for example, since I’m in the thick of learning about each stage and coping mechanisms. Labor pain is the result of both physical changes and psychic responses. One study found that participants who were trained in a brief hypnobirthing course had no less anxiety or no difference in perceptions of labor than those who studied conventional childbirth techniques. Similarly, when variance in healthcare outcomes in birthing was measured against hypnobirthing and the Bradley Method, researchers found no difference nor provider recommendability one over another (Verner, 2015). Warning: “no difference” does not equal “no effect” — this just means that they were similarly effective. These studies say nothing about hypnobirthing’s or other birthing techniques’ effectiveness in reducing anxiety and relaxing a laboring mother, but it IS a testament to empowerment processes in general. They encourage us: do something, do anything. Step forward, educate yourself, ask questions. When researchers examined the difference between hypnobirthing techniques in labor against no preparation whatsoever, hypnobirthing increased tolerance of pain and decreased anxiety during the active (most painful) phase of labor (Nursalam et al., 2017). Anita (2017) concluded that in comparison with having no prepared techniques at all, many childbirth pain methods reduced labor pain, such as counter pressure, hypnobirthing, music, relaxation, TENS machine, aromatherapy, and even a “ginger drink.” And you can be sure I’m using my oily goodness during labor, and a few other techniques as well. So what are steps you can take to achieve an “empowered state?” Here’s what I found so far. Remember that study from 2010 that I mentioned earlier? Cattaneo and colleagues define empowerment as one in which:
“a person who lacks power sets personally meaningful goals oriented toward increasing power, takes action toward that goal, and observes and reflects on the impact of this action, drawing on his or her evolving self-efficacy, knowledge, and competences related to the goal.”
Holy moly. What does this mean exactly? It means that personal empowerment involves identifying an adversity that we find ourselves up against. What are you struggling with lately? In what ways do you feel powerless? Identify it. Name it — perhaps the scariest step. Aim to understand what you’re up against. Perhaps it’s nothing you’re up against per se, but an personal area of your life in which you feel less than powerful. Next, it involves developing your skills in addressing that powerlessness. Understand and take advantage of your resources, ask for help from those you trust or professionals, ask yourself exactly how much you feel in control of, and make empowerment a practice perhaps in every aspect of your life (take a yoga class, join a community group, etc). Create a list of personally meaningful goals with the intent of strengthening yourself in the areas you feel weakened. Throughout this process, you might redefine your goals, and that’s O.K. Then, examine your beliefs about your abilities: what are your strengths? What are your opportunities? These acknowledgements can help you assess your self-efficacy (your perceived ability to get stuff accomplished and overcome obstacles). Next, get all learned up. What is the social context of your perceived weakness? What are possible routes toward achieving your goals? What resources can you utilize? Now, take action. I lied, maybe THIS is the scariest step. By now you should feel somewhat motivated to MOVE FORWARD. Lastly, examine the impact of your actions on achieving your goals. There is no success or failure in the empowerment process, but it is important that you think about what that dichotomy means to you now that you changed a behavioral pattern, attempted to change an outcome, or set out to achieve something you weren’t sure you were strong enough to. What factors influenced the outcome? One last step is the refinement of your goals, as well as the refinement of all the other steps you took to strengthen those weaknesses we assessed above. Change your goals and alter your plan. Do not give up. Keep trying.
Anita, W. (2017). TECHNIQUES OF PAIN REDUCTION IN THE NORMAL LABOR PROCESS: SYSTEMATIC REVIEW. Journal Endurance, 2(3), 362-375.
Cattaneo, L. B., & Chapman, A. R. (2010). The process of empowerment: a model for use in research and practice. American Psychologist, 65(7), 646.
Nursalam, N., Pradanie, R., & Trisnadewi, I. A. (2017). Hypnobirthing Increase Pain Tolerance And Anxiety In Active Phase Labor. Journal Ners, 3(1), 54-60.
Spreitzer, G. M. (1995). Psychological empowerment in the workplace: Dimensions, measurement, and validation. Academy of management Journal, 38(5), 1442-1465.
Varner, C. A. (2015). Comparison of the Bradley Method and HypnoBirthing Childbirth Education Classes. The Journal of perinatal education, 24(2), 128.