By Dr. Steve
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To Personal Empowerment-
You gain strength, courage
and confidence by every
experience in which you really
stop to look fear in the face.
You are able to say to yourself,
I lived through this horror.
I can take the next thing that
You must do the thing you
think you cannot do
a story often told in every bar in Texas about a blacksmith who worked in a small frontier
town during the early days of the West. He was known for being the best smith for hundreds
of miles around. People for fifteen counties relied on him to do the work they needed
As the story goes, the anvil he used stood on three thick wooden legs and weighed almost a
thousand pounds. Over time, one of the legs became weak with use and one day it broke. The
anvil tumbled sideways and crushed the foot of the blacksmith, forever crippling the man.
One day while he was recovering, the smith was asked if he was bitter that the career he
had chosen had destroyed his foot? To which he replied, My choices dont bring
me problems, my problems bring me new choices.
According to legend, he went on to make the best stage-carriages in the West soon after he
recovered. Think about it, much of living life is really about dealing with the obstacles
in our path. By my way of thinking, there really are only two kinds of obstacles. I refer
to them as man-made obstacles and universal obstacles.
How we confront the obstacles in our path influences how effective we are in creating the
life we want for ourselves. For years, I have watched so many people peel back the onion
of their lives to discover their individual obstacles to growth. And the voyage for
everybody was painful.
I dont think anybody ever said it better than Sylvia, a sixty-five year old
bartender who chain-smoked her way through life.
When she laughed, she had a habit of slapping her hand on the table in front of her.
Sylvia laughed often. She was a joy to be around.
Steve, honey, she rasped, I dont think these poor mopes get
Who doesnt get what? I asked.
Everybody, she said. You see, I was watching All My Children last week on TV and it
occurred to me why most everybody is unhappy all of the time.
OK. Why? I said.
Everybody expects the world to go good for them. And thats just wrong. Life
isnt about smooth sailing. She paused to take a drag on her cigarette.
see Sweetie, life is supposed to be filled with tough stuff. Most of the people I know who
are bent out of shape all of the time are the poor saps that believe that jingle, YOU
DESERVE A BREAK TODAY, who said that, Coke?
McDonalds, I corrected.
Doll. I just want you to get my drift. I think we all have the fantasy that life is
supposed to be easy, that there shouldnt be any problems, no struggles. When a
problem comes into our life, there are those who feel singled-out, trapped into the
delusion they are the only ones who got a problem. All the time asking themselves,
Why me? Its sad, really, Steve.
She took another puff, Everybody ought to realize that we all got problems. Nobody
can win thinking they are being picked on.
my Aunt Marge. She went in for a gallbladder operation two weeks ago. She said that God
was punishing her for something she had done. I said, Thats crazy. You just
ate too many fatty foods Aunt Marge, no ones punishing you.
And you know, Sylvia was right about the punishment. So many times we believe we are the
only ones with adversity in life. We secretly think life should be smooth sailing.
not nor should it be. Its about dealing with life on lifes terms.
Life is really about dealing with the obstacles in our path on our journey.
Now, as I said earlier, there are two types of obstacles to personal empowerment. They are
universal and man-made obstacles. First, lets focus on the universal obstacles.
Universal obstacles are experienced by each and every one of us on our journey.
What I am about to tell you is important. Please take your time as you read along. As you
read, think about how this may be true for you.
The benefit of recognizing the presence of any universal obstacles in your life is
profound. Recognition is the first step in avoiding your self-sabotage cycles.
You see, our self-sabotage cycles are linked directly to the presence of these universal
obstacles. The correlation is a very simple one. The universal obstacles, when present in
our lives, create an underlying emotional turmoil.
These obstacles provoke a pervasive fear in all of us. Our fear moves us to implement
different means in order for us to cope with our fears.
The rub to all of this is the ways we have managed to cope with our fear. More times than
not, our means of coping creates short-term solutions whose long-term consequences are
usually harmful to us.
We all wrestle with these obstacles. These obstacles are reflective of the human
condition, rather than indicators of our deficiency as human beings.
So you see, the presence of these universal obstacles spawns the creation of our own
man-made obstacles. We create man-made obstacles as a means of coping with the fear the
universal obstacles stir-up within us.
What I mean is that man-made obstacles are of our own making. These obstacles are a
reaction to the presence of a universal obstacle in our path. They exist as a means of
coping with our fears activated by the presence of a universal obstacle.
an infinite number of man-made obstacles unique to each of us. But let me make a list, not
at all exhaustive, of a few you may recognize in yourself or your friends. After each
scenario I will provide a short explanation showing how the presence of a specific
universal fear activates our creation of a man-made obstacle.
confronted with an opportunity to have an emotionally intimate relationship, we may
sabotage the relationship by starting an argument, going out and getting drunk, or having
of losing ourselves in an intimate relationship is a universal obstacle to emotional
intimacy. When confronted with emotional intimacy, our fear of losing ourselves may
overwhelm us. We may create a man-made obstacle, such as one of the scenarios described
above, as a diversion to cover the presence of the universal obstacle, fear of losing
may be provided with an opportunity to better ourselves in our career by going to school,
but we never get around to filling out the application.
We may feel safe with the familiar, no matter how much that holds us back. Being a
secretary may feel safe because youre familiar with the routine, and because
youre more comfortable thinking about yourself as a secretary than getting an MBA
and changing your life. The process of considering change may activate your fear of loss
of safety, which is a universal obstacle. In coping with this universal obstacle you may
create a man-made obstacle such as procrastination, which allows you to avoid the
universal fear. You suffer no loss of safety, because you do not change the familiar.
We may be able to receive a promotion at work if we fill out the necessary paperwork
for the promotion, but leave the application in our desk for months.
We may believe our place in this world is being a failure, a victim, someone who never
measures up, or as someone who needs to be taken care of. For those of us who believe
those things, we may view a promotion as a threat to our place in the world as we believe
it must be. Loss of our place in this world is a universal obstacle. We may create the
man-made obstacle of sabotaging our efforts by not filling out the appropriate paperwork.
We may find ways to undermine our success in our business by repeatedly doing things that
undermine us through forgetfulness, procrastination, or not getting along with the
This is a scenario where the universal fear of losing our identity may activate man-made
scenarios to prevent the circumstances of our lives from changing. If our circumstances
change, how we think about ourselves must change as well. So we create man-made obstacles
to prevent our needing to change our identity. If we think of ourselves as a struggler, as
someone who overcomes, we will always need things in our life to struggle with and
The importance in making a differentiation between universal and man-made obstacles is
profound. Knowledge is power. You will better be able to transform your personal man-made
patterns of self-sabotage into personal empowerment by recognizing how these obstacles
exist in your life and discovering new choices.
The universal obstacles evolve from the most fundamental fears we all have. These
of loss of our identity.
Fear of emotional and physical abandonment.
Fear of losing our place in the world.
Fear of losing our feeling of safety.
Fear of losing ourselves in our relationships.
Fear of losing our faith that our world is manageable and we are in control.
read the next paragraph carefully. Dont be afraid to read it several times. It is
important that you see the link between the presence of these universal obstacles in your
life and how you choose to create man-made obstacles that undermine your well-being.
By recognizing these fears and the universal obstacles they create, by recognizing how
these universal obstacles present themselves in your life, by recognizing how your
man-made obstacles are given birth by the presence of the universal obstacles, you will
better be able to navigate the universal obstacles.
learn to navigate through universal obstacles, you will stop creating your own man-made
obstacles to personal empowerment.
Sylvia, the bartender I talked about earlier in this chapter, once told me a great story.
You will remember that she had a habit of smoking while she talked. And she loved to tell
Sweetie, you gotta know where youre going or I guarantee that youre in
trouble, cause if you aim for nothing, then thats what youll hit.
"For example, I wanted to lose weight one time and I told my ex-husband Burt my
secret, but he never did understand. He died right after that. Hit by a truck.
Sylvia wandered around the point to her story alot.
"Anyway, where was I? I told Burt that you have to have a plan. And you need to stick
to it. Ya know, move forward with it.
"Burt never understood. He thought I meant only a piece of paper with a drawing or
words for a plan. But that aint it. I think big, I mean a plan like a vision, a
As Sylvia looked listfully at the ceiling and took a puff on the cigarette, she continued,
Jeeez a girls gotta dream, doesnt she? And my plan is my dream for me.
For losing weight, I kind of start my plan by pretending I look like Vanna White, you know
the glamorous supermodel who buys so many vowels on Wheel of Fortune, the TV
She leaned back and put down her cigarette. But in reality, I know that I cant
look like her, it aint physically going to happen. But I can look better, so I call
my girlfriend May and ask her to go with me to the store. May is a full-figured gal and we
headed to the store so we could buy that Lean Cuisine stuff together, in bulk. Sometimes
it just takes two to push a shopping cart, Sweetie.
So anyway, she said, after that, May and I call each other every
day to check on how much of the food we ate. Before you know it, we both lost twelve
pounds. It was tough, but I really wanted to lose the weight, my hips are startn to
That magic formula works for anything. As long as youre willing. Sometimes you
gotta let go of what you need to let go of, and youll hit a home run every
PERSONAL EMPOWERMENT EXERCISE
I have always found it helpful to be able to fight the enemy I could see. Therefore, it
has always been helpful to me to be able to identify, in very specific terms, what
universal obstacles I am wrestling with, the way those obstacles appear in my life, and
the man-made obstacles that are created as a result of their presence.
Try this exercise as a way of learning more about your fears and the obstacles they spawn.
Week 1: Make a list of the ways the fundamental fears on pages 61 and 62 appear in your
Week 1: Make a list of the ways these fundamental fears paralyze you in your day-to-day
2: Make a list of the man-made obstacles you create as a way of coping with these fears.
Week 2: Make a list of different choices you can make
To rid yourself of your man-made obstacles.
3: Make a plan of the way you will implement your new choices.
Week 3: Share this plan with a friend who will only encourage you. Implement your plan in
tiny manageable pieces and let your friend know how you are doing.
chemical dependency and its toxic impact on family members. Raise your
children to choose to be alcohol and other drugs
free. Learn how
to in Dr. Frischs, Psy.D. Recovery book series.