~ Know Thyself ~
Words of Wisdom from the Oracle at Delphi
If women's stories were viewed as worthy of record, how might this have altered the course of history?
As a Doctor of Women's Spirituality and a psychotherapist, I believe we all possess an innate ability to heal ourselves. I thrive on inspiring women to re-awaken to their ancestral memory and inherently spiritual nature. Much of my practice has been devoted to working with girls and women, sowing the seeds of conscious resistance against the barrage of negative messages that impact girls throughout adolescence. My work strives to galvanize women towards personal freedom and empowerment, to realizing that we have choices about how we perceive ourselves and engage with the world. This realization is a significant and integral step in beginning to dismantle the foundation of the elaborate and insidious structure that is internalized oppression. I am wholeheartedly dedicated to re-embracing the sacred feminine and elevating women’s experience within popular culture.
Perhaps one of the more difficult and painful issues for many women to examine is how we as women perpetuate our own oppression. In The Creation of Patriarchy, Gerda Lerner reminds us that we are an integral part of this equation:
The system of patriarchy can only function with the cooperation of women.
Women have for millennia participated in the process of their own subordination because they have been psychologically shaped as to internalize the idea of their own inferiority. The unawareness of their own history of struggle and achievement has been one of the major means of keeping women subordinate.
Suppression of Self
There is so much pressure from the culture, from the media, from the family, from religious institutions (and just about every other institution); so many expectations for women to ignore, over-ride or relinquish their own needs in tending or accommodating others. Sometimes this is named and spelled out, but other times it has become so pervasive and institutionalized it is simply taken as the truth, as what is and what should be. It is common for me to hear the language of internalized oppression in self-negation such as: “I have no idea who I am.” “What I want is not important.” “I don’t focus on myself at all, I only focus on others.” “I have no will of my own, I give them what they want.” “I am fundamentally damaged.”
Countless women’s voices, women’s true identities, are stifled at the cost of pleasing others (at best), and in many cases, deferring to another is essential to insure safety and survival. But what part of her is surviving? The woman who everyone else so desperately wants her to be? Where is her true Self? Will she ever be able to find her?
One of the first things I do is to assure a woman that her essential Self (otherwise known as her authentic Self, true Self, soul, core, essence, spirit, or whatever language speaks to my client) has not gone away. For purposes of this narrative, I will refer to her core, or unchanging soul, as Self. This essential Self cannot be kidnapped or killed, smothered or lost. She can become very small in an environment where she is threatened or there is not room for her to express herself and grow. She can become harder and harder to reach and to hear as she is covered by layer upon layer of the trauma of female socialization. She needs to be tended. She wants to be heard. She wants you to trust Her. Deep wisdom resides within. She has a hell of a lot to say.
My work endeavors to peel off these layers so that each woman can access her true Self and begin to cultivate a meaningful relationship with her core, the ultimate goal being deep engagement with Self and the world from this more authentic place. We do a lot of unraveling in my office, unwinding, teasing out, assessing for, “What is mine and what belongs to another?” and letting go of a tapestry that was woven by another so that she can weave or uncover her own.
To gain perspective, I ask women to tell me whether they perceive newborn babies as damaged or broken. They unanimously respond with some version of, “No! Of course not!” Babies do not enter this world with a fierce inner critic. It is learned behavior that unfortunately, and most inaccurately, becomes internalized as truth. I tell women, “The part of you that has internalized the belief that you are fundamentally flawed—this is the agenda of others for you.” What is learned can be unlearned. Our work together is a journey in unlearning.
Know Your Truth
We are indoctrinated to forget ourselves, to distrust ourselves. Sometimes women know themselves and have been fearful or ashamed to express the Self. Others have no idea who they really are and find themselves in a state of disbelief as to whether or not she truly exists. Over the years, I have kept coming back to what I see as the root of depression and unhappiness in adult women: separation from her Self. It is tragic, like keeping a child from its mother. None of us could justify that.
In their efforts to accommodate others, so many women have become incapable of recognizing and communicating their own needs. It has become painfully apparent to me that a woman has to know her truth in order to speak it, in order to fully inhabit her life. I am charged to be the spark that helps her re-ignite her flame. I remind women of the history, power, beauty, grace, and strength that hums in their cells. This often lies dormant in a patriarchal culture that would have them believe anything but this truth. I tell my clients, “My job is to help you wake up to what you already know!”
As much as a woman desires to know her true Self, she is afraid. Her socially constructed self is familiar, is acceptable, and frequently applauded (even if she feels empty inside). There are so many forces, seen and unseen, that are invested in maintaining homeostasis and keeping her where she is. In the words of a number of my clients: “It’s easy to live their life.” It is always easier to take the prescribed path. The idea of giving that up can be very threatening to the ego. It is like jumping off a cliff. Sometimes the known, even when unhealthy, can feel safer than the risk of the unknown. This can be very uncomfortable, running up against all kinds of resistance and desperate attempts to hold on to the false self. Once that door is open, though, I think it is very difficult to go back and find any peace in one’s old life. Fortunately, we are able to move at a pace that is tailored for each individual. I also believe there are many forces that long for a woman to come into alignment with her full potential. Often I find that this organic process is not about doing, but about allowing: tuning in, dropping down, and getting out of our own way.
Trusting herself is a significant accomplishment in a world that teaches us to seek our sense of self through external validation. Knowledge is power. I want girls and women to be able to make informed choices and recognize that they have the freedom to write their own stories, creating lives they truly want to live. If our work together can enable a girl or a woman to listen to and trust herself, I have served Her well. Each step in this direction, coming into alignment with our authentic Selves, helps to restore balance in the individual and, I believe, the world.