I often wonder… what it is that stops us from living the life we know is possible? What is it that gets in our way and prevents us from even opening our mouths and speaking out loud the thoughts that haunt our movements through every day? Why is it that we can’t seem to give ourselves permission to step into the ideas - the potential and the possibilities – that pound away at the inside of who we are, screaming to get out?
Not a single one among us does not know, deep inside, what we care about; what we really want for ourselves and the people we love; and what will bring a sense of vitality and it’s-great-to-be-alive-and-be-me’ness into our daily existence. Sometimes, the apprehension/fear is so great, we dare not even reveal it to ourselves! And yet, after having worked with women for more than 20 years, there is no doubt that it’s there.
What stops us? Here’s the short list I’ve come up with from years of working with other women, as well as from engaging and metabolizing the wisdom that comes from standing face-to-face with my own demons.
* Shame/embarrassment/humiliation: I can’t think of a more potent way to ensure that we silence ourselves. I believe that the best way to ensure self-silencing is to teach someone that they have nothing valuable to say. With such a ‘reality’, why would they open their mouths? A sense of worthlessness will ensure that no attempt is ever made to manifest worth. Things like, “That’s such a stupid idea!” or “I can’t believe you said that!’ or “Whatever made you think that was a smart thing to say/do!” or “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard!’ or …. fill in the blanks.
Often far more potent in its impact is a reaction that has no words but cuts much closer to the bone, like: you speak, there’s complete silence and someone changes the subject; or you ask a question or say something, people look at you, turn and walk away; or (for some) you take the risk to speak what’s true for you and someone hits you, or throws something at you, or worse. We learn quickly how to protect ourselves.
* Rejection/abandonmnet: the idea that we don’t fit in, that we don’t belong, that we are not fit for, that we are not wanted in a larger collective that we hold as meaningful to us, i.e. family, peer group, team, club, etc. is a powerful motivator to pull ourselves in, tone down our perspective and blend gracefully into the background so as not to be seen to be different. Far too often, our ticket into a collective is our compliance with that collective, surrendering what is unique about us that we might be like/sound like/act like and look like everyone else. The price for not doing so is to be ejected from the collective.
This is a terrifying notion for many women in their relationships with other women. In a world where women often experience themselves as victims in some way, their sense of safety is tied to the company of other women. We presume that they ‘know’ or ‘understand’ and can empathize. Other women become the last frontier… the escape of last resort… for us to go to when we feel at risk everywhere else. To dare to do/be in ways that will alienate other women is to risk that when danger comes and they circle the wagons, we’ll find ourselves on the outside. – alone and vulnerable. Then what do we do? Where is there for us to go? We often sell ourselves down the river rather than risk being annoying or irritating to other women.
* Punishment: If we break out of the box; if we allow ourselves to think differently, speak differently, act differently; if we do not subscribe to the cultural/familial/communal expectations, there will be a price to pay. Sometimes that price will be exacted in the things mentioned above (shame/rejection, etc). Sometimes, we’ll pay with the loss of a job or an opportunity for advancement. Sometimes, we’ll pay for it by losing long-time friends or family relationships. And sometimes, we’ll pay for it with the loss of our marriage and our children. All of these take their toll on the quality of our lives.
However, what we often fail to notice is the price we’re already paying by NOT being true to ourselves! The hours and days we spend in internal turmoil, longing for our lives to be different. The stress of body, mind and spirit from living a life that does not reflect the truth of who we are. The sense of deception and self-betrayal that comes from pretending to be who we are not; and the decline of the body from wearing this mask every day of our lives, for decades.
I learned a long time ago that life is about choices – and every choice has its own natural consequence. Not good/bad, right/wrong – just a consequence that is the natural by-product of engaging life in a certain way. Some consequences feel like punishment and some consequences feel like a reward but what you can rely on is that there will always be a consequence. Perhaps a useful consideration would be to look around and ask yourself: what are the consequences of the life I’m living now?
There are no tips or techniques that will change my life. I need to be both willing and able to do what it takes to create that change in my life, recognizing that my life is up to me! Sometimes that means reading a new book or listening to an audio product. Sometimes it means talking to new people. And sometimes, it means having new conversations with the people that have been in my life for a long time. But whatever it is, it’s up to me.
Sometime ago, I wrote the thoughts below. I think they’re worth sharing here. Like I believe that there are things that stop us dead in our tracks, I also believe that there are the things that allow us to change our lives, ourselves, without waiting/hoping/wishing/praying for someone else to do it for us; or for some magical event that will make it happen. Here’s what I believe we CAN do:
Trust your body - Your body never lies. Unlike what many of us have been taught to believe, not only is your body not the enemy, it is in fact the gateway to the transformation that we seek. Far more powerful than any process of the intellect, your body is the quantum biological processor that creates all the feelings/emotions that shape the experience of your life – and since it created them, it knows exactly what to do with them. All we need to do is surrender the intellect to the body and let the body lead. Our greatest challenge is getting out of our own way!
Breathe – Science now tells us that your body is a quantum biological instrument of immense capability. It is not ‘like’ a bioprocessor – it “IS” a bioprocessor and breathing is what makes it possible for it to do its best work. Begin by paying attention to your breathing and notice when you hold your breath. In that moment, just stop…..close your eyes….and take three or four long, slow, deep breaths. If you extend the exhale so that it is twice as long as the inhale, you’ll go a long way to creating a deep state of relaxation in the body. In that state, you cannot feel fear – and when we are unafraid, we are more willing and able to consider new information and new experiences.
Follow the Impulse - The next time your body ‘feels’ something, instead of trying to shut down or move away from that sensation/impulse, breathe; relax your body; and choose to move into the sensation rather than away from it. Keeping your body open and relaxed, allow the sensation to begin to flow and to fill your body, all the time focusing your attention on keeping your body open and relax. You pay attention to your body and your body will pay attention to the energy/information that is moving. What you’ve been taught to call ‘emotions’ are really waves of energy/information trying to be metabolized (like your lunch) in the quantum biological processor that your body is, so that you can get on with your life! With the integration of each wave of information come insights and discoveries. Life changes – quickly, easily, effortlessly – and there is no going back.
Tell the truth - Even if you never say it out loud to another soul, tell yourself the truth – inside you, where you live. Allow yourself to know the truth of your own experience. We lie to ourselves all the time and tell ourselves that something doesn’t matter, when it does; that we’re willing to do something when we’re not; or that we want something when we don’t. When we allow ourselves to claim the truth of our own experience, something powerful happens inside of us and in that moment, we discover more of our own potential. Yet consider, as much as you need never tell another soul, remember this: Telling yourself the truth is an act of courage. Telling your truth out loud to another human being is an act of transformation.
Stay in the tough conversations - The toughest conversation you’ll ever have to stay in is the one with yourself. When you consider that there are only two things going on in the world – the conversations you have with yourself, and the conversations you have with another human being (i.e. chats, email, reports, etc); and when you consider that you can’t change the one you have with another person unless and until you’re both willing and able to change the one you have with yourself, staying in that tough conversation with YOU will determine the quality of your life! It will also determine your capacity for intimacy and connection to another human being because if you can’t stay connected to you in a meaningful way, how can you ever connect to someone else in a meaningful way?
Be willing to stand alone - That doesn’t mean that you’ll have to stand alone, you just need to know that if push comes to shove and you have to, you’re both willing and able to do so. Far too often in life we go along just to get along, We compromise ourselves because we think that if we really let others see who we are, they’ll move away from us. And yet, when we do that, we end up not liking ourselves much and have already moved away from ourselves. When we become both willing (a choice) and able (see the previous four points) to stand alone, we discover as we look around that there are many others who seek the same quality of life. These folks indeed, make great playmates!