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Empowered Adult Perspective

An empowered adult perspective is a state of consciousness distinguished by characteristics grounded in responsibility, and attained through the fundamental principles of restorative practice. We lecture our children on how they must learn to take responsibility and we are sometimes baffled by their inability and often downright refusal to do so. Yet how often do we contemplate our own capacity to take responsibility for harms we cause in our daily life? Are we taking responsibility for our own passivity when we are called to be proactive, or conversely, for our rigidity when the situation calls for flexibility and compassion? How are we, as adults, modeling adulthood and responsibility for our children and others who look to us for leadership? What are the characteristics of this perspective? What are the obstacles and habitual tendencies that sabotage this perspective? And how do we shift into a truly empowered adult perspective in the face of challenging circumstances?
The empowered adult perspective is present when we take personal responsibility in the present moment, and we prioritize relationships by deciding that they are more important than being right. When our actions have contributed to suffering in any way, including self harm, we hold ourselves accountable by the steps we take to repair harm and to heal the sense of isolation and alienation that occur in the relationship and the community.
Awareness of when we are thinking and acting in ways that undermine the adult perspective is the key to accessing it. We know that we are not in our adult state when one of the four following defense mechanisms are present: Needing to be right, resentment, justification, and blame.
Being right is a defensive strategy that temporarily protects our sense of self and our sense of dignity in relationship to the outside world. Ironically it does not contribute to our sense of confidence, security or self worth, nor does it create peace or contribute to conflict resolution. Everything is true, in a particular context – broaden the context and it ceases to be true. So, we work to broaden our context – not to make ourselves wrong, but to see the right in other perspectives.
Resentment distinguishes itself by the perception that we have been harmed by the actions of another, and when we succumb to this mind set we take the role of victim, and simultaneously relinquish our power and our capacity for agency with regard to the outcome of the situation. In other words, we project our own sense of deficiency onto someone else, relieving ourselves of responsibility, and unfortunately, consciousness and truth. Someone once said that it is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.
Justification is creating a false reality to match our perspective rather than adapting our perspective to match the truth of the situation. This is where our inner lawyer comes in. With all due respect to lawyers, this perspective is great at getting us off the hook. Sadly, in relationships, no one wins when we give ourselves a pass, especially us.
Blaming is a way of protecting the self from vulnerability of the situation – we feel exposed and naturally want to cover up. It results in the isolation and alienation of both parties. The lure of blame and the constant availability of someone to blame is all too attractive – this failure has to be someone’s fault. The tendency to want to blame either oneself or another is very strong. With regard to self-blame, we must distinguish between the impulse to blame ourselves as a way of self-punishing, and the adult act of taking responsibility in a way that restores our sense of confidence and capacity.
When we find ourselves in any one of these four states, it is important to note that we are eighty percent of the way there. The Psychotherapist and founder of Gestalt Therapy, Fritz Perls, used to say that, “awareness in and of itself is curative”, meaning that as soon as we become aware of our tendencies, in the present moment, we have disidentified from them to some degree, which empowers us to take our power back from them. By making our habits conscious, and naming them, we see them for what they are - psychological constructs created when we were children as defense mechanisms against a complex and sometimes scary world – as defense mechanisms that are not only no longer needed, but are more harmful to our capacity to show up in the world in a real way than they are helpful or protective.
Once we are aware of our defense mechanisms and their effect, we can be open to seeing where we can take responsibility and shift our concern to the relationships at stake. By shifting into a truly empowered adult perspective, we reclaim our power by taking responsibility for our lives and the world as they are.
The more we give our best, the more we are able to receive other people's worst. Isn't that great?” – Chogyam Trungpa

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