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Pastel drawing by Shelley Klammer
Shelley Klammer : Creative Self-Empowerment

Creative Self-Empowerment

By Shelley Klammer

A Cause for Celebration

I have been revisiting John Bradshaw's books recently with gratitude for his deepened understanding of the human condition. In his book Creating Love he writes that many of us have had our needs shamed especially in our need to be empowered.

To be truly creative and effective in our everyday lives we must cultivate our own empowerment and this means being honest with ourselves and others. It takes a true strength to express ourselves honestly. I use spontaneous expressive art to look at myself honestly — to look beyond the passive ego fantasies and illusions that I have had for my life.

In my paradigm as a woman I have felt that my personal empowerment has been a rather difficult and risky choice to make that may bring about jealously and rivalry from others rather than seeing empowerment as the basic human need that it is. Our choice to keep ourselves small, is often an unconscious feeling of "cellular guilt" about not wanting to express ourselves beyond what our parents felt was comfortable. This is a choice from an inner child point of view that many of us unknowingly make to our own detriment. So as we learn to meet out own emotional needs we will become more empowered in our self-expression.

When I watched my 15-year-old daughter this morning making her peanut butter and banana and jam sandwich for her lunch I was struck with how inwardly poised and empowered she looked. It occurred to me right then that she will go much further than me. Each generation is meant to go past the last emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually. This is how we evolve our family and human systems.

As I am learning how to be mature, poised, centered and empowered at age 43 — my daughter is soaking my energy field up like a sponge and is taking up the inner challenge to become empowered much earlier than I could psychologically consider the option for myself. She already is moving towards embodying what I have struggled for years for. I am struck suddenly with the truth that what I have healed inside of myself, I have healed for her.

To celebrate accomplishments in my inner and outer life — is to celebrate my own personal empowerment and hard won psychological and creative wholeness. This is something that I have previously had no context for. In the name of humility, as soon as I accomplish something I have a tendency to quietly tuck it away where I — and no one else can see it. It was a revelation for me to realize that I had an internalized belief that I should not express enjoyment about my own strengths and talents. Yet when I see my daughter's inner poise I am reminded that my own inner struggles to see myself clearly and express myself authentically are worthwhile.

Beyond Fantasy

To think that not too many years ago I felt tired and emotionally overwhelmed most of the time. As all of my illusions and fantasies about my life and myself began to crumble, I felt passive and lacking in inner strength. Thirteen years ago, coming out of a marriage in which I was financially dependent, I realized that I had been hiding away from life and from expressing myself fully. I had been a "nice girl" all my life. When I became a single mother, I realized that I had cultivated very few honest and emotionally supportive relationships in my life. In a very little girl part of myself I thought my "niceness" would save me and support me, but upon my divorce, I realized very quickly that my "niceness" was not a mature or realistic way to face my life, to earn a living, or to build real relationships.

As I came out of hiding, I found it challenging to be in the world without being triggered and reactive to every little thing anyone did or said. I was so used to a social realm where everyone was careful about what was expressed. Obviously my reactivity was a clue that I had a lot of non-integrated inner "stuff" that needed some honest looking at. Bradshaw calls it "original pain work." I remember my partner Ondrea telling me some truths that I did not want to face about myself and me simply falling asleep in the spot to avoid listening to her!

Pastel drawing by Shelley KlammerI share this celebratory pastel drawing with you to openly celebrate my years of determined, measured, deep inner looking. Much of spiritual and psychological growth is simply the ever-increasing ability to tolerate, embrace, accept and eventually integrate reality as it arises on the inside and the outside without deflecting into denial, distraction and projection onto others. Scott M Peck puts it this way, "Mental health is an ongoing process of dedication to reality at all costs." This, in itself is a hero's journey worth celebrating.

For myself — to reach this level of inner strength and self-empowerment feels like a real feat — an accomplishment worth celebrating. I am learning to pause and give myself some credit for all that I am and do in my very full life. For example at the present time, I work full time with a presence and inner poise that has been hard won and I maintain a home and family with a level of love that I am proud of.

I am also training to be a Registered Therapist in the evenings and on weekends. I have found a new found gift of grit and compassion that I never dreamed I would be able to sustain. I am now able listen to the honest stuff in myself and others stuff with the fullest of acceptance and presence — and without falling asleep!

As I am much more able to look at myself with self-honesty I invite more true relationships into my life and those not based on mutual honesty are falling away. A mutually honest relationship is not easy. It requires a fierce inner looking by both people. If I am bothered by anything in my relationships I do my inner work and I expect others to do the same. I meditate my way through the hard stuff. And I can joyously say that even as harsh things happen, I now feel clear, poised, empowered and emotionally balanced much of the time. My joy feels natural and authentic and is not a forced positivity — a veneer of niceness, or a chirpy cheerfulness that I have employed in the past to hide all that I do not accept about myself away from others.

Niceness is False Perfectionism

One of the biggest road blocks to truth telling that I have encountered is the cultural condition of niceness which is really just a cover-up for false perfectionism. I had a lively discussion with my daughter recently about the benefits and detriments of "niceness" as I know she has been especially steeped in the seeming benefits of the niceness pattern in her own life as a teenager.

I have long questioned the validity of niceness as it has been my primary way of not being honest in my life. It is one thing to be deeply kind, and another to be nice as a way to disappear and not express myself. In my own psychology I have used the pattern of niceness to "disappear", to solely focus on making the other person feel good, while revealing little of myself. Niceness is also a way of tucking away my "wins" and accomplishments so as not to "offend" or threaten others.

Collage by Shelley KlammerBach and Goldberg, authors of Creative Aggression put it this way:

The "nice girl" tends to create and atmosphere wherein no one can give any honest feedback. This blocks her emotional growth.

The "nice girl" stifles the growth of others, since she never gives any honest feedback. This deprives others of a real person to assert against. Others feel guilt and shame for being angry at the "nice girl."

Nice behavior is unreal; it puts severe limitations on relationship."

The transformational journey to self-empowerment requires a deeper looking to what we are ashamed of and what we are rejecting within so that we can connect with others honestly. I see a coming to rest in this collage. This is a body that has become solid and strong and steadfast with a depth of inner looking. True creativity and self-empowerment comes from honestly working with what is. •

© Shelley Klammer, 2010. All rights reserved.

Shelley KlammerShelley Klammer is a Registered Professional Counselor and an Expressive Art Facilitator. More »

7/10/10