Reclaiming Power in the Wellness World
I am one of hundreds of women who were recently silenced by a popular wellness guide. Five years ago I might have been too insecure and self-absorbed to speak out about Lacy Phillips of Free & Native, but a gentle storm of deep, personal healing lead me here.
Five years ago, the month I turned 30, ended an era of denying my intuition. In one month, I admitted that I was deeply unhappy, recognized I was kinda-sorta-maybe part of a cult, and was introduced to the healing tool that would change my life.
Through my healing process, I have had to learn how to set boundaries with manipulative people; reckon with the ways I have caused my own harm; and come face-to-face with the ugliest parts of me. I know personally the simultaneous desire for power and the resistance to dismantling it.
I’m not sure if there is a more important conversation we could be having at this time in history. Systems of power are taking our lives, violating our bodies, silencing our voices, and killing our planet. Being a part of this system means we each play a role as victim or oppressor—sometimes both. Life is complicated.
Speaking up is hard, but my resistance had become outweighed by a shift in my soul, declaring that I could no longer stay silent about racially-insensitive commentary and the abuse of power. Though I wasn’t an active member in the community, it lead me to speak up in Free + Native’s private Facebook community about the harmful, offensive, and ignorant comments Lacy made about feminism, race, and privilege on her platform.
People will often do whatever it takes to maintain power, including bullying, cheating, manipulating, and lying. Lacy followed suit. Instead of taking her actions and misbehavior as a profound educational moment where the teacher got taught, what ensued was a desperate denial of ego and error in order to remain in a position of power.
These manipulative tactics evolved into dictatorial actions when she blocked hundreds of community members (many who were also paying customers of her services); our healthy and heartfelt conversations; erasing her trail of incrimination; gaslighting; and pinning us as the bullies to those who remained in the community.
Instead of humbling herself to look at why she was triggered, her ignorance, and taking responsibility for the harm caused, she decided to do what we often see people in power do: protect their position.
There are a lot of things you can look at in this situation but don’t get it twisted—at the root this was about power.
I’m not going to claim that I have the solution for dismantling systems of oppression. I have not studied abuse academically—only experientially—and am open to other perspectives and points which I might have missed. This is a complex topic just as we are complex humans.
I believe those of us in leadership positions each have a responsibility to acknowledge our own longing for power and keep it in check. As students, we have to develop and trust our intuition and move through our fear to call out those who abuse their positions within our communities.
People in Power: Do the Work, Rinse, & Repeat
The motivation to start a business in the spiritual and wellness space often begins as an inspiration to help others, but can easily be derailed by a desire for power. Wanting your follower count to grow might give way to manipulative tactics. Continued praise might make you feel infallible. Being seen and adored can feed your worthiness wound, even if you might not notice it.
We are often giving our money, time, or attention (sometimes all three) to people who have no internal or external system of checks & balances when it comes to their power. As a person’s celebrity grows and they’re used to being praised, what are they doing to ensure their ego isn’t inflating along with them?
In order to recognize the truth of our human desire for power, we have to face shame and guilt. As we know, these emotions are painful and come with a lot of fear, making it easy to keep the truth of our desire for power in the shadow. When we don’t recognize our craving for this power we can easily misuse our position and potentially even abuse it.
I clearly don’t have all of the answers when it comes to creating a self-reflective system that ensures that we don’t create harm. What I know from my own experience is that I have been power hungry myself, and I know where it comes from: lack. It comes from a belief that there isn’t enough for me and that I am somehow threatened when other people shine.
Because I know the desire can show up in me, like it can for anyone and does for many, when I feel that part of myself get triggered, I take a step back to check myself. I slow down, shut up, and do my inner work to dismantle the fear that harms myself and others.
Personally, I use Breathwork as my primary healing tool and reconnect to why I am here in this body, on this planet, with this soul. For me, it is to be of service (not in power) and help people process their pain and make sense of their human experience. When I'm connected to my purpose and my faith, I trust deeply and do what feels right and true regardless of what I might lose.
Leaders are often so afraid of losing money and status that when they do realize they have caused harm, they often attempt to manipulate the situation to their advantage. Instead of sincere apologies and educational self-reflection, they claim to become experts or allies overnight. This is evident through pseudo-diversity and tokenism in the wellness community.
The simple, honest, yet difficult course of action is to apologize and speak from where you’re at. Risk losing something in order to do what’s right. Say you’re sorry in sincerity by taking the time to listen and learn. Reckon with your actions so you can regain the trust of your community.
People are often more forgiving of others and not so much of themselves. It’s incredibly challenging to bring the ego to face the truth that we are responsible for harming others if we aren’t able to forgive ourselves for that harm. Yet, we love to see other people own up to their errors and set out to do better because it reminds us that it’s okay to be human.
It’s important to acknowledge that we are all susceptible to misusing and abusing power, especially those who have not done deep healing work around self-worth. But abusers can only feed off people who aren’t listening to their inner compass.
The Students: Knock Down the Pedestal & Hold On To Your Power
I have certainly ignored red flags in my life, including those of a former spiritual teacher. I became increasingly more miserable and depressed, my life force slowly dimming to dusk, and I was willing to ignore it until a mentor of mine said, “You know, you’re not happy. You don’t have to keep doing this.”
If my life was a musical, the blinds would have snapped open, and I would have jumped out of bed singing and dancing to Hall & Oats’s “You Make My Dreams.” It took another man in a position of power granting me permission for me to leave. I don’t know how long it would have taken me to save myself.
I ended up in the outskirts of a cult because I wanted someone else to give me the answers as to why everything seemed to hurt so much. I didn’t want to be the one responsible for figuring this out or fucking this up. It was convenient to overlook the fact that I was responsible for my life anyway.
It’s easier to give our power away than it is to navigate the messy and painful experience of being a wounded human. We want someone else to show us the way because we don’t think that we know how. We haven’t yet seemed to master the art of trusting our intuition and learning from others.
In my experience, the best teachers guide you back to yourself. They can point you to the trailhead and offer you some food and water along the way, but it’s you who has to walk through your pain and collect the wisdom waiting for you on your journey.
This path of healing reconnects you to your intuition, the navigation system we are all given but have discounted or were never taught how to turn on. We all have the ability to dust it off and get it working again. It starts by listening and continues with trusting.
Even those of us who have developed our intuition still get caught up questioning it. We doubt it especially when there is social proof that a person should be trusted. Many people I respect and trust knew or supported Lacy’s work. It wasn’t until I started to hear the egregious comments myself that I recognized my intuition was pulling me away from her all along.
There are always signs if we pay close enough attention to the people we are learning from. Are they making claims that their way is the way? Are they putting down other people’s work to benefit themselves? Do they walk their talk? Do they make outlandish claims or harmful comments?
I believe we have a lot to learn from one another. There are wonderful teachers, leaders, and guides who are doing their inner work to be clear and empower their students. Still, it’s imperative that we always check in with our own guidance system. Even if someone is a clear channel, they may not be the right person for you to learn from in this moment.
I don’t believe it’s enough to point the finger at the people in power. If you are consuming someone’s work or wisdom, you are participating in keeping them in power. And for your own well-being, it’s essential to know how to protect yourself from people who don’t have your best interest at heart.
Warm Up that Voice Box & Prepare for Change
Out of hundreds of women who were silenced in this community, only a handful have spoken out publicly. I know for certain that people who have publicly supported Lacy or are financially affiliated with her know the truth and have stayed silent.
It leads to an important question: What does it take for us to speak up? I wonder how many people have to be harmed and how bad it has to get before we take action. Do you need to wait until you are the victim in order for it to be personal enough?
When power goes unchecked it leads to greater abuse. We know with the last election that we can no longer let other people do the work for us, but still excuses and defense seem to come from the mouths of white women—those who often have the most power, platform, and privilege—rather than deep introspection about why we are staying silent. Who are we really protecting? I would wager, ourselves.
I’ve been seeing a lot of comments from people in these spaces claiming that calling people out is shaming them. It is not, and I think this is a dangerous message to perpetuate. If we can’t have a healthy dialogue about the ways we are harming one another, abuse will never end.
Shaming is an act of intentionally trying to embarrass someone, usually through attacks on who they are as a person and not necessarily their behavior. Telling the truth about someone who is causing harm and asking them to take responsibility for the harm they are causing is not shaming them.
Likewise, when we use the tactic of saying that there has to be a better way and that we’re all in this together, what we’re really saying is, “Don’t make me uncomfortable. I don’t like that you are calling her out because I don’t want to be called out like that.”
The ugly reality is that we care more about maintaining our comfort and privilege than we do about telling the truth, speaking out against the abuse of power, and protecting people who are marginalized. We’re calling out abusers not to shame and shun them, but to bring the truth to light so we can all begin to heal.
What Are You Willing To Lose?
Fear of being wrong, being kicked to the curb, and of hurting or shaming others is often the center of our silence. For those in a position of influence, we aren’t willing to risk losing our money, power, or status to publicly address what we know is wrong.
Collectively, we give our power away by staying silent, by feeding the hands that harm us, by dismissing acts of harm as “not that bad,” and by being unwilling to put anything on the line. When everyone bets on other people to speak up the system fails.
I don’t believe that it is everyone’s role to be the Truth Tellers of the world, but I am honestly reluctant to say that because too many people are looking for an excuse to hide. Victims of abuse have to handle their healing in whatever way is best for them. When they can’t speak, those who can are needed to step up. We need a tipping point to see change, and right now the numbers show that we don’t even have close to a majority who are willing to walk through the fear.
To foster a truly inclusive and healthy community, we must have more open, honest conversations about the way power dynamics show up in the spiritual and wellness worlds. We need to share when leaders and teachers are spiritually bypassing and stop supporting their work until they can course correct.
It’s also important to note that we have to be able to hold complexity. Just because someone’s work does good or has helped you does not mean they are also not doing harm. Just because someone causes harm does not make them an inherently bad person. The binary is outdated.
What is not outdated is reclaiming your power. Each time you click a follow button, submit your payment, or give your attention and energy to someone who is causing harm, you are supporting an abuser.
We have the power. Now it’s time to stop giving it away.
About the Author
Michelle D’Avella is a breathwork teacher who supports people as they journey inward to release pain, open their hearts, and create a life they love. Her work primarily focuses on using Breathwork to release pain and limitations combined with intuitive mentoring to process healing and take action steps to create sustainable change. She can be found on her site, Pushing Beauty & on Instagram.