I was chatting with a woman in the dog toy aisle the other day. She looked to be older than her age (probably about 25). The thinness of her body and her skin seemed to mask a far more dangerous thinness of soul. As we made small talk about our canine kids, her pale blue eyes rarely left the floor. Occasionally she would glance from side to side as if worried about being seen. I did not know what to make of it.
Suddenly, her body tensed, her head lifted high and the color drained from her cheeks. Her eyes, now more gray than blue, stared at me. “I am gonna get killed. He does not like it when I talk to people.” At that moment, my eyes caught hers like a deer in the headlights. I now knew what had her on her guard.
From behind the next aisle, an insistent male voice shouted “Come On”! The woman smiled a small smile as if asking my permission to leave. I smiled back letting her know I understood. Then, I made a mental note to myself to always have The Women’s Center contact information handy…just in case.
This woman’s story is a powerful object lesson for us all. We have at last come to a point in our history when a woman can serve as Speaker of the House. Yet, daily I meet and work with women who lack the confidence to speak up for themselves.
Some of them are victimized by the abusive voices of husbands or bosses. Others allow their children’s voices to ring more powerfully in their ears than their own. Some play amateur psychologist to vulnerable friends. Such women spend so much time attending to the voiced needs and demands of others that they simply have no time and energy left to listen to their own hearts. However, by far the most persuasive voice that keeps a woman from living a fulfilling and happy life is HER OWN VOICE.
Are you surprised? Think about it for a minute. Have you ever spoken to or of yourself in an abusive way? Do you immediately negate a compliment from another person by thinking “They are just saying that,” or “If they knew the real me, they would say something different”? Do you deride yourself for not being good enough, pretty enough, smart enough, thin enough, rich enough, honest enough?
Is there a voice in your head that constantly yells “Come On”! What does she say? “Come On! You can do better than that!” “Come On! They need you!” “Come On! If you don’t do this, no one will!” “Come On! Why can’t you get it together?” “Come On! What were you thinking? They’ll never trust you that much! You can’t do that! Why don’t you just give up?”
Do not fool yourself into believing that only weak, wimpy women speak this way. I have heard these exact phrases from the mouths of female business owners, doctors, lawyers, teachers, students, incredible mothers of equally incredible kids, community leaders and other personally and professionally accomplished women who make the world better just by their presence in it.
And it is precisely this fact that never ceases to astound me. Women who can meet every standard of excellence that the world has to offer remain unable to see themselves as excellent. Women who are respected by their families, colleagues, employees, friends and communities are unwilling to honor themselves.
It is possible some biological aspect of femaleness compels women to nurture and comfort others before (or often instead of) attending to their own needs. Or perhaps, in spite of political and social changes, we as women are still buying into the notion that womanhood is somehow second class humanity. Then again, maybe women are so caught up in becoming successful according to the standards of a male-dominated world that they come to see their femininity as a hindrance to professional advancement.
Perhaps all of these things contribute to the problem; perhaps none do. In the end, it does not really matter which view is right. For all of these assumptions leave a woman in the same sad place: speaking with a voice that is not her own, silent about her own greatness and vocal about her flaws.
Ladies, let’s promise ourselves that we will stop our inner verbal abuse today. Take the old adage that I am sure you’ve heard from your mothers and apply it inwardly. If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything! This does not mean that you should stop being self-critical. Just be sure your self-criticism is justified, needed and delivered in a respectful manner.
Yes, this change will likely be difficult. But all great things in life are difficult in some way. And it may feel strange at first. But all real growth feels strange at first. What matters most is that we women stop running ourselves down and start building ourselves up. Whether our voices inspire a child, a company or a community, they will sound all the more authentic and convincing when our inner voices inspire us.
Dr. Janice Staab is a philosophical counselor and life coach. For more information on her services or to schedule your free consultation, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also check out her Web site at www.lifesignscoaching.com.