Empowering Others


As an Employment Counsellor working with recipients on Social Assistance, quite often I deal with individuals who have lost their self-esteem and self-efficacy. With that drop in confidence, things which in the past they may have done with conviction and assurance, they now do with trepidation or not at all until giving permission to. Have you made similar observations?

One of the most rewarding aspects of my own position is reminding people of the power they have, pointing it out when it makes an appearance, and reinforcing the good that can come from seizing that power of thought manifested in actions.

You see when you apply for social assistance, you are required to produce information normally kept in private such as your identification, financial records, how much rent you pay, who resides with you, your accumulated debt and creditors. With every piece of paper you turn over, along with those documents goes some of your self-respect, your dignity, your privacy, and your self-perception. This is why many people say something to the effect of, “I never thought this would happen to me”.

Interestingly, another comment made in the early days of being on assistance is, “I don’t intend to be on this long”. What this really translates into of course is the assertion that the loss of autonomy and self-reliance is not comfortable or desired, and employment represents a recapturing of independence and a bolstered self-image.

So what about empowerment? Empowering others immediately at first meetings reduces the chances of slipping too far into financial dependence and discourages attitudes and behaviours that will be self-destructive. Someone who has been out of employment for an extended period will more often than not use language that betrays this loss of power, and their actions differ from when they had confidence.

So why is empowering others important, and why should we who work with the unemployed remind ourselves to try with every interaction to empower others? For starters, it’s significant to bear in mind that for a time, many unemployed form their opinions of themselves based on their interactions with others. If someone is told they are completely dependent on others to do things for them; such as making a resume or applying for a job, they may actually start to believe they lack this skill and will stop revising and targeting their resumes because they doubt their ability to do so unaided.

The irony of this for someone who is helping them construct a resume, is that the job seeker reverts to using a resume made for them for many jobs, including those the resume isn’t entirely relevant for. This can frustrate someone providing the help, and mistakenly have them thinking the person lacks the ability to do this for themselves; but in reality they have the ability, but it hasn’t been recognized and nurtured. What’s become reinforced is the dependency on some professional to do everything for them.

So empowering someone in the example of providing help with a resume, may be to sit down together for a longer initial meeting than one might expect otherwise, and not just making changes, but explaining the thought process behind the changes being made. When shown the process and the reasons behind it, and validating the good aspects of the resume first presented, the client is more apt to draw some confidence in their own ability and make concerted efforts to do for themselves what otherwise they would not.

Unemployment often means isolation from peers, but isolation from daily routine and isolation from the person they once perceived themselves to be is of even greater significance. One fellow I worked with recently over eight days in a computer class started off knowing absolutely nothing about computers except what he saw others doing. It was like learning an entirely new language. He had an extensive background however in the music industry, repairing amplifiers, mixing sounds etc. At sixty years old, here he was learning how to use a computer. Every time he remember to correctly name a computer part, clicked or double-clicked on the right icon, or remembered the first time how to get to his newly created email, I reinforced that learning by praising him in front of the class. His confidence grew, he sat up straighter, and at the end he thanked me extensively and said he had the confidence to do for himself what he was asking others before to do for him.

The steps to regaining employment and self-reliance may be many, but one of the smallest kindnesses that you can do for someone is to empower them to do for themselves. Initially, it’s faster and often easier for we the helpers to just do things for them. However, and I include myself in this as well, when doing something quickly for others, you and I might be doing this for our benefit not theirs. This could be because of tight scheduling, having to see multiple clients in short periods of time or other reasons.

When you can therefore, remind yourself about the immense impact of empowerment and as you are able, give this to those with whom you work with enthusiasm. The small sparks you may create then have the possibility of igniting something wonderful in others.

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