The Confident Woman: How to Take Charge and Recharge Your Life
By Marjorie Hansen Shaevitz
Do you have a hard time taking time for yourself, especially to read, relax, or do something fun? Do you have trouble asking others to help you or actually do something for you? Do you ever feel ill at ease with certain people because of your weight, your appearance, or your choice of clothing? Do you often find yourself on a treadmill of unflagging activity, never stopping to refuel or rest? Do you feel uncomfortable about getting angry or expressing negative emotions to others? These questions involve issues critical to having self-confidence.
We all live by and act according to rules, some written, many others unwritten. Most of the time we're not aware of the unwritten rules by which women live. These rules, however, are the source for a code of conduct that dictates not only how women think about themselves but how they live. It's virtually impossible to challenge these rules if we don't know what they are. But once we're aware of them, we have a choice either to live by them or to change them.
Women today seem to be trapped by the need to have what best-selling author Susan Howatch calls a "glittering image." Translated into everyday terms, that means women feel they must be perfectly beautiful, ever youthful, unselfish, responsible, hardworking, ladylike Superwomen of the New Millennium. All one has to do is look at women's magazines, turn on the TV, or watch a movie to confirm this. Many women think that they need to be everything to everybody, but little or nothing for themselves.
Some Insight into Why Women Don't Take Good Care Of Themselves
One day in the middle of one of my interviews, I was stopped by a woman with this plaintive question: "Why? Marjorie, why, why, why do i have such a hard time taking care of myself? Why am I always acting in ways that are not good for me?"
I have wondered about that question myself. It does seem that we women engage in attitudes, thoughts, and behaviors that are unsympathetic to ourselves, if not outright antagonistic. In my therapy work with women, I have found a constant theme: whether it's changing their own behavior or dealing with someone else's, women want to understand the why behind something before they act to change it. In fact, most women find it difficult to take action (particularly if it's for themselves or if it feels as though it's impinging upon another's wants, needs, or desires) without having this understanding. Women want insight-which becomes their justification, perhaps even permission-to take action. Except in cases where wanting to know "why" gets in the way of doing something useful or protecting oneself from abuse, insight is often a useful step toward change.
It would be easy to explain why women fail to act on their own behalves by falling into the popular cultural habit of describing women in dysfunctional terms. How often have you heard so-called (and real!) experts declare women "self-defeating personality types," "co-dependents," "masochists," "overemotional," or "hysterical"?
The truth is that these declarations are neither legitimate nor correct; if anything, they are outright demeaning because they imply that women get pleasure from suffering or acting against their own best interests; or even worse, that women are too stupid, lazy, or foolish to change their self-defeating ways. Does it make sense that most women are pathologically bent on hurting themselves? I don't think so.
The simple fact is that women often think and act in many of the negative ways they do because of the messages they, and generations of women before them, have received from their own family upbringing and the culture itself But what many of us don't realize is that these messages about women are often based on myths, half-truths, distorted realities, media hype, outdated or misguided scientific findings, and sometimes outright lies. As author Bram Dijkstra says in his book Evil Sisters, "Culture has many historical sources, most of them forgotten, and what we remember often is only a dim haze of ghostly imagery.... Much like discarded fashions, the ghosts of heretofore long-discarded notions stay with us as incontrovertible truths." Many of today's "truths" are centuries old, yet they still hold power over how women are seen and how they think about themselves.
When women put themselves at the bottom of the totem pole, they are doing what women have been taught to do for generations: follow the dictates of the Female Code of Conduct. For the most part, our thoughts and actions are on automatic pilot, which means that we're unaware of what we do because of historical cultural dictates.
What women don't learn very well is how to love, nurture, and take care of themselves.
Beginning with the teenage years and then continuing on through adulthood, girls and women develop both physical and psychological symptoms - eating disorders, body image problems, depression, insecurity, workaholism, and lack of confidence to name just a few - in response to negative, biased cultural and media messages about females. What's more, it is a double whammy: the culture that produces the conditions that create these symptoms also blames and punishes girls and women for having them. Remember from chapter 1 how insecure many highly educated, professional women are?
Women and young girls also receive such messages from a myriad of other sources: parents, siblings, friends, relatives, caretakers, ministers and rabbis, teachers, and any number of other people with whom they spend time. Sadly, most of these sources unknowingly pass on many false "incontrovertible truths" about women from the past.
While many women today, especially those in their teens and twenties, feel free of historical messages, unfortunately many dictates about women have become unconscious thoughts and habits over the ages. Believe me, these messages are no less compelling in today's more liberated world. Not even well-educated, successful young women are immune to them.
Over the centuries women received a relentless number of negative messages about who they were, what they were supposed to do (and not do), and how much they were worth. As a result, women developed the debilitating Female Code of Conduct, which is with us daily as we ignore and sacrifice ourselves-our own needs, wants and desires, even our health We know we're not free when we find ourselves doing too much, working too hard, and trying to be everything to everybody. Few women are able to take full advantage of their God-given gifts to become all that they were meant to be.
Father Darrow, a critical character in Susan Howatch's novel Glittering Images, says just at the perfect moment, "If we solve the mystery beyond the mystery, (the glittering image) may simply wither away." It is highly likely that your own "glittering image" is based on wrong or inadequate knowledge about women and even yourself Heeding Ashworth's call to solve, let's see if we can't uncover the mystery of why women live by such crippling codes of conduct. Like Ashworth, I think that many of us would like to have our own "glittering image" fade away. To begin the process, please join me on a ride down history lane.