Childhood Disempowerment

Disempowerment is a word I often use to describe what happens to us as children. We are born with internal power and yet our bodies don’t allow us as babies and even young children to exercise this power effectively in an adult world.

We can use our voices, some body movements and facial expressions to communicate with our caregivers as babies. But unless those caregivers are able and willing to act on our communication we are powerless to get what we need.

As we get older our ability to communicate in different forms increases. And again, it is up to our parents and other adults to help us meet our needs and desires. If our needs and desires conflict with what adults want they may be disregarded.

To some degree or another we all experience this disempowerment during childhood.

When we grow up and become parents, the feelings of disempowerment we experienced as children often come up in a different form. We may face a child with a very strong will and sense of self. And when this child is not willing to comply, we may react with frustration and anger.

Beneath the frustration and anger, is often a feeling of disempowerment.

We may feel like we have no control over the child. And we feel like we should have some control.

We may even feel like we are a “victim” to our very powerful children.

I am interested in exploring the disempowerment we experienced as children because when I feel powerless as an adult in my relationships with Martel and Greyson, those feelings are almost never about them, but about my own childhood. They are merely a

mirror for the healing and work I need to do as an adult. These feelings of powerlessness, or even hopelessness, are almost always tied to my childhood experiences.

They bring me back to feeling small and being unable to change the circumstances around me, in spite of my feeling responsible as a child for doing so.

I distinctly remember a time when my parents had been fighting pretty intensely when I was probably 7 or 8. I don’t remember the details all that well, but somehow my mother and I ended up on the outside of our front door and my father had locked the door and my older brother was inside the house with him.

It was nighttime. I remember banging on the door and screaming. I felt this intense powerlessness, fear, and protectiveness. It may have only been a few minutes, but I remember the pain in my hands from hitting the door, screaming and feeling as though nothing I did was changing the fact that my mother and I were locked outside and my brother was inside with my father.

These intense feelings of powerlessness and fear have come back to me often as a parent and a partner.

However, they are never connected to a situation in which there is any real danger.

I remember one night Rob and I were arguing and I yelled at him to leave the room. He wouldn’t leave and my feelings of fear and almost hysteria were increasing exponentially.

I was that 8 year-old girl banging on the door but no one was listening and nothing was changing. It wasn’t because Rob was in anyway endangering anyone in our family.

My reactions were not about what was happening between Rob and I, they were about what happened when I was a child.

My desire to explore our feelings of disempowerment as children do not have to do with rehashing the pain of childhood, but to help us connect to the ways in which we can be brought back to those feelings in an instant.

These feelings connected to disempowerment, when triggered , can be a huge barrier to being in the moment with children and others, in ways that are clear of our past painful experiences.

Instead of being connected to the present interactions between Rob or the children in my life, I am reliving the past.

With the children in my life, when I feel disempowered and triggered, I also inflate the power they have beyond what is the reality of the situation.

I then put myself into the role of victim as opposed to owning the systemic power given to me as an adult and parent in our society. Perhaps even more harmful is that I impose on them a responsibility for my feelings.

It can be painful to address those issues that keep us from being present with the children in our lives. We may want to forget them. We may want to push them deep down so we are not bothered by them.

Inevitably what we are not willing to face will come back to us in some form or another.

The amazing journey of being a parent is that those things I haven’t been willing to face have become a learning opportunity.

Those instances where I feel discomfort and frustration as a parent open the doorway to the work I need to do to heal my past.

Rather than be the teacher I thought I would be to Martel and Greyson, they have been my teacher. They have brought me back to understanding that I can be whole.

We can regain the sense of internal power we lost as a child.

And we can ensure that the children who share our lives don’t lose that connection to their own power.