Having the courage to acknowledge, reject, and overcome your own fears is a lifelong endeavor. Sometimes it can feel like you take one step forward and two steps back when it comes to living a life full of courage. From that perspective, empowering others to be courageous might seem like something you could never do (“How can I help other people when I can’t help myself?”). But, as is often the case with relationships (and fear, for that matter), it isn’t really that simple.
No matter where you are on your own journey to a more courageous life, you can inspire and empower others to be more courageous, too. And if you’re lucky, your own courage will benefit from your endeavors as well.
What does it mean to empower others to be courageous?
What does it mean to empower others to be courageous? I think that, in this case, it might be more useful to discuss what it doesn’t mean.
It doesn’t mean you dismiss their fears.
Think of something you’re afraid of that other people aren’t. Most of us have the misfortune of suffering from an irrational fear or two. Now, what happens when someone says to you, “You’re afraid of that?” You really shouldn’t be afraid of that.”
Are you magically cured of your fear? No. Are you more capable of facing your fear? No.
You might feel ashamed, embarrassed, or discouraged, but it’s safe to say that you don’t feel any braver. You’re being told you “shouldn’t” be afraid of something you actually are afraid of. If anything, that’s going to make you feel like you’re just a “scared person,” which will lower your confidence and make you feel less powerful.
Empowering others to be courageous starts with acknowledging their fear, and allowing them to acknowledge it, too. It means being willing to look their fear in the face right alongside them, and to help them feel like if and when they face this fear, at least they won’t do it alone.
It doesn’t mean you handle their fears for them.
When someone you care about feels afraid, it’s natural to want to step in for them and help them avoid the fear.
“I’ll represent our team at the meeting.”
“I’ll have that tough conversation for you.”
“No, you don’t have to do it.”
It’s important to recognize that when you let people off the hook for something they’re afraid of, you’re comforting them, not empowering them. Yes, there’s a place for comforting people, and there are even times when that is the best course of action. However, don’t confuse it with empowering people to courageously face their fears.
Empowerment gives them the opportunity to face their fear on their own.
It doesn’t mean you make their fear go away.
Fear is a constant of life. In a lot of ways, this is a good thing. Fear is the original survival instinct, and it protects us from actual danger throughout our lives.
We’re always going to be afraid of something. The question isn’t whether or not we can completely eliminate the fear, but whether or not we can continue to function and thrive even with the fear keeping us company.
This is important to remember when you’re trying to empower someone to overcome their fears. You aren’t trying to get rid of their fears; you’re trying to help them to continue to grow and progress as they actively reject the fear that is inside of them.
Why does it matter?
Why does it matter if you empower others to be courageous? Don’t you have enough on your plate trying to live a courageous life of your own? Why should you worry about other people’s fears?
Because bringing joy to other people is one of the best ways to live a happier, more fulfilled life.
Let’s break that down a bit.
Showing love to other people has multiple physical and emotional benefits.
Love matters. Showing care to others is as good for you as it is for them. In fact, some of the regarded “health benefits of love” include:
- Fewer trips to the doctor
- Shorter hospital stays
- Reduced risk of depression and anxiety
- Reduced risk of substance abuse
- Better ability to handle stress
- Faster healing and natural pain control
- Longer life
In other words, love helps you live a healthier, happier life—inside and out.
There may be more practical benefits.
People in healthy relationships focus more on what they can give than on what they can get. Still, you can’t deny that when someone does something for you, you’re more likely to return the favor if and when the need arises.
Think about someone who has made a real difference in your life. What would you do for them? Or rather, what wouldn’t you do for them?
Serving and empowering others can help you build meaningful relationships that will benefit you for the rest of your life. And because courage is so important to creating a happy life, they’ll likely remember you as the person who helped them in a powerful, meaningful way.
Additionally, empowering others may help you in a more direct, practical way. For instance, if you empower your team at work to be more courageous in their efforts, they may be more willing to stretch the boundaries of their creativity and come up with new, innovative solutions. Empowering your children or spouse can remove stress and tension at home.
Empowering other people helps you feel empowered.
This is sort of a “meta” benefit, but bear with me. When you effectively empower someone, you see the impact you can have on someone’s life. You see the good you can do in the world. You yourself feel empowered.
Similarly, seeing someone face their fear with courage is inspiring. Watching the person you empower work and progress in spite of their fears might be just the push you need to face your own fears.
How can you empower others to be courageous?
This, of course, is the million dollar question. You may recognize the importance of empowering others, you may have an idea of what it means and what it could do for you and for them, but still…where do you start?
Different people respond to different things. No one method is going to work on everyone. But there are some general “best practices” to follow when trying to empower others.
Acknowledge your own fears.
Set the example. Show other people the power that can come from owning up to your fears and refusing to let them hold you back. Express the fact that you were afraid, but you did it anyway.
Your example will pave the way for them to courageously face their own fears.
Help them break the fear cycle.
When we perceive a threat, our bodies experience fear. That can lead us to think thoughts that make the fear grow (about what might happen, worst case scenarios, etc.), which then in turn creates a stronger physiological fear response. This cycle perpetuates fear, and eventually causes it to become so entrenched within us that our fears feel like a matter of fact rather than a product of our minds.
Empower someone to be courageous by hitting pause on their fear cycle. The best way to do this is to allow them to express the fearful thoughts they think when they feel the fear. What do they think is going to happen? How do they feel about that? Why do they feel as though they’re in danger or being threatened in some way?
Introducing someone to this process, and to the concept of the fear cycle, can help them understand their fear so that it becomes less shameful and more manageable. And by doing this, you’re giving them a tool that they can use on their own later (aka, you’re empowering them).
Remind them of what matters.
One of the biggest motivators for overcoming fear is priorities. For example, you may be deathly afraid of snakes, but if a snake is threatening your child, you’d better believe you’re going to do whatever you need to to stop it.
When we’re faced with fear, love can pull us out of it. Help people focus on what they love, rather than on what they fear. Ask:
“What is this fear holding you back from?”
“What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”
“Is this the kind of person you want to be?”
Encourage baby steps and reward effort.
Baby steps count. Every movement in the right direction counts. It can be hard to give ourselves credit for the seemingly miniscule steps we take forward, but it’s important that we give ourselves credit when credit is due.
It’s often easier to give other people credit than it is to give yourself credit. That means you can use encouragement and praise for baby steps to your advantage when you’re trying to empower someone to be courageous.
If they’re too afraid to take a big step, make the step smaller. Help them land on a task that’s just a little outside of their comfort zone. No matter what they try, or how small the step may be, help them feel good about the effort. The effort is what matters—not the result. If you can help them feel that, they’ll feel more empowered to try again next time.
Helping others feel empowered requires continuous love and support—not occasional cheerleading or day-saving. It’s good to help when there’s a problem, but it’s important to recognize that you can help people feel empowered when there isn’t a problem.
Build confidence. Be encouraging and positive. Develop the relationship so they feel comfortable turning to you when things do get hard. If you work on building their confidence when things are good, they’ll be more empowered to be courageous when things are bad.
Empowering yourself to face your fears feels great, and so does empowering others to be courageous. As you help other people face their fears, you’ll bring more light and positivity into the world, and it will help you on your own journey toward “creating happy.”
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