Cultivating Empowerment & Healthy Boundaries

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“The way you talk about yourself and your life – your story – has a great deal to do with what shows up in your day-to-day experience.”       -David Emerald

In his book, Willpower Doesn’t Work, author, Benjamin Hardy, makes this bold statement.

The environment around us is far too powerful, stimulating, addicting and stressful to overcome by white knuckling.  The only way to stop just surviving and learn to truly thrive in today’s world is to create and control your environment.”

He goes on to add that “controlling” our environment is NOT about exerting our WILL in order to do so.  Instead, it’s about choosing and influencing our external environment through getting right internally in our mindset, behaviors and choices.  In other words, controlling ourselves and how we respond and choose in regard to our thoughts, actions and environments.

Proof that willpower doesn’t work is where many find themselves right now.  I heard someone recently referring to the sensation they were feeling at this time as “Quarantine Fatigue.”  That makes sense if we’ve been trying to manage our changed situation the way we might, typically, take on a diet or exercise regimen geared toward losing weight because we don’t like the way we look or our doctor told us we must.  Applying willpower to “force” ourselves into new behaviors does not create sustainable change. And in this time where we are being asked to truly transform, this practice will leave us feeling depleted and frustrated.

This quarantine fatigue we may be experiencing is exactly what we’d see before falling off that diet or exercise regime or any band-aid fix we have chosen to address the REALINTERNAL shift we want to feel and experience – an exhaustion that literally comes from running out of fuel and “push.”

If we have been “waiting it out” and simply managing the current situation, hoping for things to “get back to normal,” we may want to consider things differently.  What we are seeing right now is not about the band-aid pivot just to attempt to control the environmental factors we are experiencing.  It’s about finding ways to truly and deeply integrate the shifts and changes necessary to make the new behaviors into a lifestyle and not a “diet” to help us survive a temporary blip or overcome a short-term obstacle.

There are many things I don’t know, but one thing I do know is we won’t be “going back” to the way things were.  We simply cannot.  There is only forward, and I believe the future is going to look very different.  It needs to.

What we are undergoing is asking us to take more personal responsibility, as individuals, for the choices and actions we take that create the experiences and circumstances in our lives.  As a collective, we are being commanded to work on ways to both support and challenge one another TO BE more responsible and accountable.

One of my favorite models for both awareness and personal accountability discusses the dynamics we tend to engage in when we, as humans, are under stress.

In the late 1960’s, psychiatrist, Dr. Stephen Karpman, created the Drama Triangle roles and discussed their interplay as a model to demonstrate the most common ways in which people interact (through ego) in an attempt to govern their fears and anxiety.

Later, showing how to consciously move beyond these drama roles, author, David Emerald, created the TED model to illustrate how humans can shift from states/roles of disempowerment to take positive control of their lives.  In his book, The Power of TED, through the use of parable, Emerald lays out how to gain awareness of the roles we are playing and how to choose and act from more empowering positions, where necessary.

The Karpman Drama Triangle model:

The Victim: The Victim’s stance is “Poor me!” The Victim feels victimized, oppressed, helpless, hopeless, powerless, ashamed, and seems unable to make decisions, solve problems, take pleasure in life, or achieve insight. The Victim, if not being persecuted, will seek out a Persecutor and also a Rescuer (sometimes placing the same person in both roles) who will save the day, but also perpetuates the Victim’s negative feelings and position.  The victim finds a false sense of “safety” in believing they don’t have to take responsibility because they can’t – the belief that nothing is in their control.

The Rescuer: The rescuer’s line is “Let me help you.” A classic enabler, the Rescuer feels guilty if they don’t go to the rescue. Yet their rescuing has negative effects: It keeps the Victim dependent and gives the Victim permission to fail. The rewards derived from this rescue role are that the focus is taken off of the rescuer. When they focus their energy on someone else, it enables them to ignore their own anxiety and issues. This rescue role is also pivotal because their actual primary interest is really an avoidance of their own problems and need for significance (playing the hero) disguised as concern for the victim’s needs.

The Persecutor: (a.k.a. Villain) The Persecutor insists, “It’s all your fault.” The Persecutor is controlling, blaming, critical, oppressive, angry, authoritarian, rigid, and superior. Uses power trip and domineering behavior to control others and situations in order to feel safe and significant.

Emerald’s Empowerment Dynamic model:

The Creator: States what they want and takes action. Understands that they are stronger than they think and that they need two things to grow and evolve in life – challenge and support.  Sees these important influences as necessary, and therefore gives them empowering meanings in their personal stories.  Acknowledges their strengths and what is going well – what they do have to work with – and owns the power to choose and respond.  Focuses on outcomes and the process of growth and thinks in terms of “I can do it!”

The Coach/Supporter: Supports and assists – does nothing for others that they can do for themselves.  Facilitates clarity by asking questions “how will you do it?  Models and demonstrates how to do something, doesn’t do it for the other person.  Encourages others to take the necessary steps for themselves. Is willing to listen without taking on the other person’s story and responsibilities.  Doesn’t feel “bad” or guilty for allowing others to do for themselves and make their own mistakes.

The Challenger:  States boundaries and calls forth learning and growth – provokes and evokes action that is conscious and constructive – “you can do it.”  Isn’t afraid of having the necessary challenging conversations and takes responsibility for what is theirs and asks the same of the other.  Is clear about expectations and provides choices.  Expects others to be in control of themselves.

The key is understanding what constitutes each disempowering role, how the roles play off of one another and what strategies can be used to shift into the roles and perspectives that allow us to act from a place of effectiveness and empowerment within our own mindsets and in our interactions with others.

In order to see lasting external improvement, we get to learn what produces temporary, and often ineffective, fixes.  Taking the time to see where the stories we tell ourselves manifest into the reality we experience is crucial.  Understanding where we play roles in generating what we experience is a necessary part of cultivating the empowerment we truly seek.

We only have the ability to create healthy boundaries in our lives when we comprehend and are conscious of these situational dynamics and our role in them.  Simply pushing for change isn’t enough.  We must become the change we desire.

In my recent trainings on Empowerment and Disempowerment Dynamics, I’ve been giving this simple exercise to the participants.  Try it out for yourself as a way to begin to use these models as a tool to create more of what you want in your life.


Think of a recent disempowering situation that you have experienced where you or another didn’t feel in control and it affected you (or them) negatively.

1) Using the disempowered roles of victim, persecutor and rescuer, ascribe one (or more) of the roles to each person involved in the situation.

2) What do you notice?

3) What would each person need to do to shift to the empowered roles of creator, challenger and coach/supporter?

4) What has this exercise shown you?

Taking control of the stories you tell and the roles you play within them in order to design the experiences you want takes awareness, dedication, practice and resiliency.  Using this powerful tool can help you to become more focused on what you CAN do to shift what and how you experience things and take more responsibility for your life, in order to create the sense of empowerment and fulfillment that you seek.

“Everything can be taken from a person, but one thing – the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances; to choose one’s own way.”  

– David Emerald, The Power of TED