Feminists are strong and our motives are sound – ‘wellness’ should be easy. (And it’s not.) (And there’s hope.)
Hey, Coffey –
What if you were one of the “lucky” ones. Raised to be empowered. Raised a feminist. Raised to look inside yourself for a sense of self-worth — not to the world outside.
I’m one of the lucky ones. Self-care is the driving force for the health I aspire to. So why do I STILL fall into the self-sabotage trap? Why do I keep failing? I certainly THINK I am trying to change for all the right reasons. What gives?
Hey there, Mollie-
Thanks for your note. I appreciate this; what can feel like an absurd struggle considering all that you know and all that you want and know you deserve.
Some women – myself included – have such a long history of failing when we try to make healthy choices that making true change feels impossible.
There are common reasons for our million “failures.”
Some of us feel ashamed of the size or the shape of our bodies, or how we imagine we compare to other women. When we set out to “fix” those “problems,” shame is usually our driving force.
Shame destroys. It’s hard to grow and be mindful, alert, intentional, and open 1 when shame makes us want to run, hide, numb, stop, and disappear.
Women who struggle with shame have to learn to make change from a place of care and love, or failure is inevitable.
Another common reason for our million “failures” is insecurity.
When it comes to positive reinforcement, some of us value the pleasure we bring others 2 higher than we value our own internal experience of pleasure (peace, accomplishment, comfort, and empowerment).
Change is hard and uncomfortable, and we need almost constant positive feedback to be able to keep going. Unless we’re paying a support staff to compliment and bolster us every minute of every day, we will likely never get enough outside validation to keep us moving forward.
Women who struggle with insecurity have to learn to use their own internal experience of deep pleasure as fuel, or failure is inevitable.
But here you are, Mollie, all fueled by love and pulling inspiration from your own well, and you’re still sabotaging yourself. I have a few ideas about why that may be, and I hope reading them helps you make whatever change you need to make to feel comfortable in your skin and in your beautiful feminist head. 3
1- You’re still a woman in the world.
Sure, you were raised in a mindful family, but you were also raised in a larger cultural context. Like it or not, media and popular culture had a hand in the development of your ideas, beliefs, and behaviors.
Your folks may have empowered you to value character, intelligence, and depth, but you can’t survive girlhood in modernity without internalizing some bullshit, like that weighing less is always better, that weighing more 4 is always bad, that a woman’s worth is proportionate to the number of men who want to get her in bed, and that the blonder, whiter, wealthier, a more able-bodied you are, the more likely you are to be celebrated, supported, and successful.
No matter how deeply you KNOW these messages are effed up and ignorant and don’t determine your worth as a woman or a person in the world, it’s hard not to ever slip into self-criticism and shame for being and looking…like you. Normal. Human. Complex. Perfectly imperfect.
To help you stay focused on you and your purpose and your pleasure, maybe take a break from media for a while. And when you do see an image of a stereotypically idealized woman, try to look at her with compassion, and know that she, too, struggles. We all have much more in common than the alienating voice in our heads would like us to believe.
2- High expectations cause stress.
Feminist women tend to be active and ambitious. We tend to hold ourselves to some pretty high standards. And we tend to be exhausted.
First there’s our personal lives. If we’re, single, we may be trying to find partners who respect us and who we respect. 5
If we have kids, we’re contorting like Cirque du Soleil trying not to mess them up, and to give them whatever advantages and information we didn’t have growing up. 6
It ain’t easy, but that doesn’t stop us from trying.
Then there’s our work lives. Being both a woman and a fully-actualized professional can be hard, especially when the corporate world, academia, and even human services are so deeply entrenched in a culture of male-centricity.
Again, it ain’t easy, but that doesn’t stop us from trying.
Having high expectations for every way we want to show up in the world can be tiring and stressful – especially if and when we 7 fall short of our goals. And all that stress begs relief.
Depending on how we choose to spell relief, 8 our high expectations can easily contribute to self-sabotage.
Cut yourself some slack. Worrying about being the best in your field or about finding the perfect partner or about raising perfect kids isn’t going to make any of that actually happen today. What it will do is wreck your ability to enjoy all the cool stuff you already have going on. Sit back a little, unclench a little, and appreciate all the great things you’ve already done.
3- How do you treat yourself?
We work hard, 9 we care deeply, 10 and we’re making contributions to the world around us. 11 In a perfect world, our accomplishments would be enough to sate us. Sadly, all that dogged accomplishing may feel like we’re holding our breath for 8+ hours a day.
And when we power down at night, we may want to inhale everything in sight.
“I deserve a treat,” we think. A break. A reward. A little something.
And since we all know that undressed salad would be the only thing on the menu at the Women’s Oppression World Conference, it makes sense that we’d want to reach for something with more decadent flair, like Mint Chocolate Rocky Road ‘Splosion. 12
But the truth is, a choice like that – that feels in the moment like owning the power we have to treat ourselves kindly – may be causing us harm.
And the kicker is that no one can know the true impact of that choice but us.
It’s up to you 13 to determine what the strongest choices are for you, and to treat yourself in ways that bring you deep pleasure.
Mollie, just because you’re smart and comfortable with your power doesn’t mean you’re immune to shame or insecurity or self-sabotage. But it may mean you get more frustrated with yourself more quickly if and when you fall short of your own expectations. 14
Luckily, it also means that when you find a strong resource or path, one that supports you and helps you in practical, affirming ways, you’re that much more likely to follow that path, because you know in your heart that you deserve to be where that path leads – to comfort in your body, to peace in your head, to freedom, and to feeling proud about the life you’re living well, one loving choice at a time.
You’re doing great. Keep going.
All good things,
- All necessary for healthy, sustainable change. ↩
- ”My god you look BEAUTIFUL!” “Wow, you lost so much weight!” “I’m so impressed that you started…” “You’re so much more fun to be around now that you’re …” ↩
- NomNomNom ↩
- Assuming you don’t cross the line into weighing too little… ↩
- Not as easy as I think it should be. ↩
- And it turns out many of those ‘advantages’ are exactly what appear to be creating increasingly depressed, anxious, ambitionless kids. Parents can’t win, I tell ya. ↩
- Inevitably. ↩
- N-E-T-F-L-I-X? I-C-E-C-R-E-A-M? F-U-C-K-I-T? ↩
- In or out of the home. ↩
- About all people, near and far. ↩
- Overt and/or subtle. ↩
- I compare undressed salad and ice cream for dramatic flair, but the truth is that nothing – no one choice, no one food – is BAD for us or GOOD for us. What we eat and what we do with our bodies and our time and our resources is a strong choice for us if and when we’re making decisions from a place of love and we’re motivated by our own experience of deep mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual pleasure. Period. Meditating on a bare wood floor can be just as satisfying as a threesome with a knowledgeable and generous couple. It all depends on you, your past, your truth, and your preferences. ↩
- And to all women who want to feel genuinely well for life. ↩
- For health, wellness, financial security, professional advancement, happiness, stability, child-raising, partner-acquisition, gardening, walking, talking, drinking, sex, moderation, communication….. ↩