The Keys to Self-Empowerment


The main key to self-empowerment is simple: keep your attention, time, and energy focused where you have power. (See also, Personal Empowerment Basics.) Knowing the specific ways to accomplish this provides the all of the other keys you will need.

Now, I’ve said the key to self-empowerment is simple. And that’s true. It is simple. However, that doesn’t mean the way to accomplish it is easy. The path to personal empowerment may be a straightforward one. But it’s daunting nonetheless. How do you do it? You stop trying to manage people, circumstances, and things over which you inherently have no power. Instead, you concern yourself only with the actions you can to take to protect yourself and advance your interests.

One-Down Positions

Relationship partners of manipulators and other disturbed characters can easily find themselves in a one-down position.  And this generally happens for 2 reasons:

  1. They tend to be conscientious and accommodating types. So, their good nature is ripe for exploitation. Moreover, manipulators play on your sensibilities, and often, your conscience. Partners of manipulators are often inherently too agreeable. So, in the face of their manipulator’s power tactics, they too easily doubt themselves and defer their better judgment.
  2. They tend to have invested all their time, energy, and attention where they didn’t have power. Perhaps they tried and tried to “understand” their partner’s behavior. (See also, Abuse Victims Try Too Hard to Understand.) Or, they repeatedly tried to get their partner to “see” the error of their ways. Maybe they even tried to “fix” the other person. At the very least, they probably spent a lot of time obsessing about what the person might do or how they might respond to things they say or do. And by focusing so much attention and energy externally – futilely, they only become frustrated, angry, and eventually, depressed.
Some General Empowerment Rules

My book In Sheep’s Clothing outlines several specific self-empowerment tools. (See pp. 110-162.) But there are some general rules for personal empowerment in our character disturbed age. They are:

  • Know the general character of the person you’re dealing with. That means:
    • You have to look beyond the veil of any masks a person might wear and judge only their behavior, especially, patterns of behavior.
    • You must reckon with the attitudes and ways of thinking about things that must necessarily predispose those patterns of behavior. People will tell you all kinds of things. Talk, is cheap. And it’s often dishonest. Behavior says it all. It’s the single best indicator of what a person really feels and believes.
  • Know the tactics people commonly use to manipulate and control others. Folks use these tactics not only to get their way but also to look good doing so.
Especially Important
  • You must refuse to allow your behavior to be governed by someone’s tactics. Rather, you must let your own inner truth guide your actions. Taking assertive action on your own behalf is where you have ultimate power. (See some of the specific ways to do this listed below.)
  • You have to rid yourself of harmful misconceptions derived from outdated, erroneous notions.  For example:
    • Don’t assume your manipulator doesn’t know what they’re doing. And by all means don’t make it your job to help them realize.
    • Don’t assume that fear, insecurity, unhealed wounds, etc. necessarily unconsciously drive everyone’s behavior. It’s an old axiom that only hurt people hurt people. But plenty of folks who’ve been hurt themselves don’t hurt others. And in our cultural climate, all sorts of pampered folks feel entitled to do as they please without due consideration for the welfare of others.
    • Don’t buy into the notion that you must share some of the blame for someone else’s inappropriate behavior. Besides, when it comes to a response that’s inappropriate, the reasons for it are simply irrelevant. Keep the weight of responsibility where it belongs: on the person misbehaving.
Some Specific Self-Empowerment “Tools”

In Sheep’s Clothing outlines 12 specific “tools of empowerment.” (See pp. 145-159). Among them are:

  • Accept no excuses. As mentioned above, when someone acts harmfully, the reasons they give for it are irrelevant. Therefore, you mustn’t let someone’s attempted justifications sway you.
  • Take action, and do so quickly. Most relationship partners of disturbed characters are too understanding. They endure slings, barbs, and other tactics until they can’t take it anymore. Real self-empowerment involves moving quickly to re-define the “terms of engagement.” It’s setting reasonable expectations and holding others to account. And it’s having a plan for action in the face of betrayal.
  • Confront twisted thinking and hurtful behavior directly but benignly. Don’t threaten or chastise. Just call out the behavior. And more importantly, enforce appropriate boundaries and limits. Make the message clear: “We can’t engage at all unless you heed these rules for a respectful, constructive interaction.”

You can find more helpful information on today’s topic in all my books and in several other articles here on the blog.

A new Character Matters pilot broadcast will record next week. Look for a link to the podcast here.



10 thoughts on “The Keys to Self-Empowerment

  1. Excellent post Dr. Simon. Had I been doing the above, I would not have been sucked into the relationship I had.

  2. This is an excellent article and one that, if followed, can help guide young adults through adulthood without the damage and chaos that a relationship with a character disordered person brings, would save a lot of agony and distress in one’s life.

  3. Dear Dr. Simon.
    I have been reading your articles, every one of them, for years.
    Over 4 years.
    I first discovered your blog, by the sheer grace of a friend of mine, who had lived my story many years ago and had read your book, ‘In Sheep’s Clothing.’
    She recognized what I still didn’t understand… That I was living with, and being destroyed by a character disturbed person.

    It is… today…. 3 years and 10 months since I left my abusive relationship.
    (Yes, for some reason I still count the time…I don’t quite know why… sometimes to celebrate and sometimes to still grieve)

    But today I wanted to thank you, an overdue thank you… long overdue.
    For every article… where there was always some sentence that helped me further the healing of my spirit.

    This article in particular, where you wrote that ‘the key to self empowerment is simple….keep your attention, time and energy focused where you have power.’

    I have kept this sentence in my mind from the first time I read it.

    I feel that I finally… maybe for the first time ever… understand how true this is.

    But also know that understanding it isn’t enough… it has to be lived…and put into action.

    These last 4 years of trying to heal have been brutal in so many ways.
    But to know that I could access your articles, any time, to remind myself of that familiar phrase of, ‘No, it’s not me. I’m not crazy.”… has been… simply…. life and spirit saving.

    And so I’m sure I speak for so many who also access this life-saving site and work of yours…. silently…. without leaving any comments…. but always leaving with some kind of tool that we can use to heal further.

    Thank you from the bottom of my heart… for your help, your support, validating that my experience was real, and not what the character disturbed person in my life tried to convince me of.

    For explaining to me, in every article, that what I was living was not unique, but it was very real.

    For helping me to understand what I was living, and giving me the courage to remove myself from what I not-so-fondly refer to as ‘crazy town’…

    And for helping me to fully understand and slowly, painfully accept…. that this experience did happen to me.
    This was probably the most difficult in this entire process…acceptance….and I’m still working on it…with your help…. every time you post a new article.

    And so this time…. I wanted to use the tools that I have acquired and be brave enough to express what I have been thinking over the last 4 years.

    I honestly don’t know if I could have done this without you.
    Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

    You have been a positive and participating part of my journey to healing and being a better and more authentic version of myself and the person I now know I can be.

    When no on around me understood what I was experiencing, and it was very easy to feel very alone, and self doubt of this experience could easily creep in, and have me believe that maybe I was ‘too sensitive’ or ‘overreacting’ or ‘it was all in my head’…etc…etc…. so many etceteras.

    I always knew I could come to this site for the validation that I needed to stay solid in the fact that I was not any of those things. I was in fact being manipulated, abused, and just plain being treated so meanly.

    Yes… There are people… who thrive on being mean.
    Plain and simple… being mean makes them feel good.
    I will never understand it… but with you consistent help.. I have come to accept it.

    God bless the internet for the platform … God bless you for stepping onto it.

    With sincere thanks from the bottom of my heart, and for being such a huge part of restoring my sanity and spirit.

    1. I completely understand, as I am actively living in a similar scenario with an adult child.
      My spirit and sanity are often rendered speechless and then silent after the attacks.
      This is totally beyond the comprehension of most of my family and not something I can discuss with friends whose children are all doing well. I take comfort in not being alone. Thanks!

      1. ennayeened,

        You are not alone. My adult child is emotionally and psychologically abusive. Your description of your spirit and sanity being rendered speechless and silent after their attacks struck a cord. I also relate to the sense of isolation from having no one to turn to who will understand. There’s an indescribable pain from having your adult child purposely try to hurt (bully to get their way), and in my case, annihilate you.

        She has chosen her destructive behavior and I have chosen to protect myself. She is an adult. If she will not choose to treat me with respect, she will not have access to me or my home. There’s no security in that relationship.

        I wish you peace.

    2. Shermana,

      So beautifully written and expressed. I second everything you said. Thank you for taking the risk to express it.

      1. Shermana, Healing,

        I agree, beautifully written…. It can take a long expanse of time to put into words what one has gone through.

        Hugs Kindred Spirits


    I have discovered today that because I took the First Aider Course. ( I passed)
    I will now get a small increase in pay.
    In the next four months I am GETTING no less than 3 pay rises
    I spent two thirds of my life, subservient, browbeaten and bullied. You are useless,worthless and no good my mother/grandmother used to say. Ridiculed and humiliated daily.

    To quote the title “The Keys to Self-Empowerment”

    1. Joey,

      Your journey gives those of us struggling that there is hope and that life can turn around when one separates themselves from character disordered people.
      Once recovered, life can be beautiful again.

  5. Off Topic,

    Today I surprised myself. I had an encounter with the X, the X whom I can I despise. While approaching the doors to enter the bank, there he was, ready to exit. So old habits die hard. He stood back, I opened the door and gestured for him to pass through, and he gestured me to come on through. I did the normal thing I’d do for anyone.
    Neither of us said a word to each other.
    After being together 30 plus years, and 2 plus years of fighting divorce, we do not speak to one another unless it’s absolutely necessary.
    Isn’t that shame, to end up that way? But he’s a beast and cannot be trusted, not for a nano second.

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