Disempowerment …

How It happens …Slyly… One feather/sting at a time:


Examples of Feather Plucking

I have worked as a psychotherapist for more than 40 years. During that time I have heard from many women who didn’t feel like “enough”. There are countless ways these feelings of “not enoughness” get embedded…

These are some of the stories I heard from clients (names changed):

Emily’s family did not value her art or creativity, as in “stop that doodling”. The family  story was if she continued “doodling” she would become a “starving artist.” She came for help, in her 40’s, now an accountant, depressed and unhappy with her life. She said that she had filled and all the “right boxes” but felt unfulfilled and apathetic about going forward in the status quo of her life.

Amy had brothers, who climbed trees and got muddy playing outdoors, stifled her play.  Amy constantly heard, “Don’t climb!”, “Don’t get dirty!”, “Don’t yell like that!”. All the while her brothers had wild, crazy fun. She told me she became fearful and never had a chance to develop her physical courage. She came to see me to become strong enough to break the family “curse.” She found herself repeating family beliefs and treating her girls in a similar fashion. 

Amy’s childhood situation reminded me of this ditty:

Mother: May I go out to swim?

Yes, my darling daughter,

Hang your clothes on a hickory limb,

But don’t go near the water.

You may look cute in your bathing suit,


But act just as you oughter,

Now and then you can flirt with the men,

But don’t go near the water.

(Lester Keith 1908)

Amy’s mother was active in the 1960’s revolution – what was she thinking? She had not made enough of the deep level changes that would have freed her and, therefore, Amy.

Judy had a gift of knowing and seeing beyond the present. She often burst into family conversations by saying “that’s not right, that’s not what I see, I see…” Shamed about being weird and different, and told to be quiet, Judy denied her intuitive hunches and tried hard to fit into others’ expectations. When I saw her, she seemed a mere shadow of a woman, thin, withdrawn, and depressed. With help, she found her courage to inch her way out of faulty beliefs to reclaim her feeling of being valuable, loveable and lost Feminine Power.

Are you wondering if the “it” (disempowerment) that I am talking about happened to you?

Did you experience any version of the following?

“Nice girls do not do that”: some version of: be “invisible”, “don’t make waves”, “don’t make us uncomfortable”, “In our family we don’t do…. or we always do”, and on and on. You fill in the blanks from your own experience.

Every family being different, however the damage of “don’t be who you really are” cuts to a little girl’s core of feeling valuable just as she is.

The message is really “don’t be who you are”. You start experiencing a loss of your authentic self, a loss of all you came to be. The message is loud and clear. Stifle some of the real expressive you, so we can feel more comfortable…So fit in!

When we first arrive, we are “Love” personified and open to all around us and we express the sense of knowing that we are valuable with gusto. Gradually to fit in we stifle our differences. We must, because we are truly helpless and our survival depends on our compliance.

Some degree of loss of self is experienced universally by all females. Maybe a fortunate 5% are born to enlightened, conscious families and get to continue loving themselves and as they get older experience their feminine power.

Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright (now deceased), in her book Fascism: A Warning, talked about how sly and pervasive fascism is until it has taken over a country. She likened it to a chicken being plucked one feather at a time.

Wow! I thought this is a metaphor for what happens to young girls in our culture. So persuasive and sly is the conditioning; disempowerment happens day by day… we do not know until much later what has happened.

Maybe you felt the sting of powerlessness but, because it is so familiar and you were too young to form the questions you needed to ask. You accepted the feeling as “normal” since it happens so often. We don’t even know what to call it. Powerlessness and systematic reduction of being authentic is simply normalized.

Most of the carving of our identities happens before the age of reason. We are too young to understand or express or ask. If we objected, who would listen?

A reason (not an excuse) is the fact that our caretakers were victims also. Later in life, we have a choice of accepting the status quo or healing the wounds. By choosing to heal, we choose freedom. To free up, we can pull out the feathers/faulty beliefs that were inserted in our unconscious, one by one.

Here are examples of less blatant plucking…

Women feel unsure and not appreciated but have a harder time confronting what they feel. What is harder to confront is the less obvious… the sly, sneakier devaluation that still hovers.

I heard a young woman being interviewed on National Public Radio (NPR), who said she was thrilled by getting hired to work at a big tech firm – a modern cutting-edge company. She expected egalitarian treatment and pay. That didn’t happen… she and some of her female colleagues were reclassified to earn less than men with the same qualifications.

She was excited to be working at her dream company – so much so that she let things slide for a while. She then took issue with the methods available within the company. The company agreed to make amends three or so years into her time there. It was then she realized that she’d always be playing catch-up to her male colleagues. She valued herself enough not to settle and left the company. She had the assertiveness to check out this sort of inequity; many women would not.

Like racial prejudices, such feather-plucking that causes disempowerment is often sneaky, but still there and often denied. She and other women are confronting the compnay over this behavior. Hopefully, the consequences of this disparity going public will be painful enough to nudge the consciousness of such employers.

We have come a long way… and we have miles to go. 

Why do we have trouble taking a stand for what we want/need?

It is extremely important that you stop and contemplate, to take some time to review where you are in life and how you are feeling about life so far.

What is your story when it comes to loving and valuing all that you are: Personal Power /Disempowerment? Take your time before you take any action.

Journal to dismantle your old story if you want to change it and to create a new story about empowerment and thus self-love and self-compassion going forward.

Journaling: is a powerful way to bring to the surface what is happening for you around your level of self-love, self-compassion as well as your sense of power in the world. How do you want to change? Will you create a new story?

After Reflection and Healing, write a new story.

To be continued step by step until you absolutely know that you are loveable.

Blessings, Laura

Laura B Young

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