I Know I'm In There Somewhereby Helene Brenner
Based on her work with over a thousand women across the country, psychologist Helene G. Brenner has learned that women feel the impulse to accommodate, adapt and mold themselves to serve others at their own expense. Her solution is an invigorating new approach to women's psychology. The key to transformation, she explains, is not self-improvement, but self-acceptance—affirming and validating what we truly feel and experience and who we already are. Dr. Brenner shows women how to discover and express what they truly want and value, guiding you toward your own Inner Voice. I Know I’m In There Somewhere will show you:
- How to embrace, rather than fix, the Inner Voice that has been there all along
- How to distinguish the Outer Voices (the expectations of the people around you) from Your Inner Voice (the voice of your true self that goes beyond intuition and guides you wisely towards what is right for you)
- What to do when you feel that the essence of who you are is being stifled by external demands and expectations
- Penguin Publishing Group
- Publication date:
- Sold by:
- Penguin Group
- NOOK Book
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- File size:
- 344 KB
- Age Range:
- 18 Years
Read an Excerpt
I Know I'm in There SomewhereA Woman's Guide to Finding Her Inner Voice and Living a Life of Authenticity
By Helene G. Brenner
Gotham BooksCopyright © 2004 Helene G. Brenner
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Forgotten Self
I believed, at twelve, that I could be a scientist. I read a book a day. I believed I could be a writer, an actress, a professor of English in Rome, an acrobat in a purple spangled outfit. Days opened for me like the pulling apart of curtains at a play you've been dying to see.
My life was like a wild, beating thing, exotic, capable of unfolding and enlarging itself, pulling itself higher and higher up like a kite loved by the wind ... There in front of me, my own for the taking. And then, suddenly, lost.
-Elizabeth Berg, The Pull of the Moon
Several years ago, I was on a plane to California to attend a family celebration when I happened to sit next to a very engaging woman in her thirties. We struck up a conversation, and as women sometimes do, we told each other about our lives. "Val," as I'll call her, was thirty-four, had two young children, and was flying to a business convention. She had also recently separated from her husband. As she told me her story, I couldn't help but think how much she spoke for so many women I'd met and worked with over the years. Though her story is her own, souniversal were many of her feelings and conflicts that she seemed almost to speak for the dilemma of women in our time.
"Until six months ago, I ran everything I thought and felt through the filter of 'What would Richard think?'" She paused and looked at me, looking to see if I understood.
"Don't get me wrong. I had my opinions. I didn't submerge them for his. But whatever I thought, whatever I felt, always, it went through my mind: 'What would Richard think about this? What would Richard want?'
"I had another filter, too," she continued. "It was 'not good enough.' I'd worry, 'Is the house clean enough? Is my cooking good enough? Did I help the kids enough with their homework?' Even though I worked full-time at my job just like him, I'd think, 'Am I doing a good enough job being a wife and mother?'"
"When I discovered that he was having an affair, after he insisted over and over again that he wasn't, I was permanently freed from ever having to make him happy."
But she wasn't free-not really. "I'm never content or satisfied with myself," she told me. "I reevaluate everything at the end of the day. I'd get together with a friend, for example, and then afterward I'd think, 'Should I have asked her more about her kids, more about her?' I'm always second-guessing myself. And I always think I'm short-changing something or somebody. If it's not my family, it's my job.
"And I keep trying on other people's feelings and opinions for size. I'm glad that I do, in one way," she reflected. "I want to be open, I wouldn't want to be rigid and hardened so that other people don't affect me. But it gets exhausting, to have that much static and so many voices in my head. What a relief it would be if I could listen to others but stand by my own feelings with more conviction!"
We spoke about other things for a while. Then she went back to telling me the rest of her story. "Richard's been seeing a therapist," she said, "and he wants to get back together with me. And if I just follow my heart, I will let him. There is a part of me that still loves him. Also, he is the father of my children. But there is the part of me that says, 'Here is your chance to have something better.' I can feel how exciting that might be, but of course there are no guarantees. So I can feel both of these parts of me, but what I can't get my hands around is the gray in between.
"How does anyone really know what to do? It's so easy for me to lose track of myself," she said in frustration. "Much of the time, I feel like I'm in neutral, ready at a moment's notice to go with the flow of someone with a stronger opinion."
As women we are destined to confront a fundamental challenge that colors practically every day of our lives. On the one hand, we must respond to, notice and be true to who we genuinely are, what we genuinely think and feel in our own unique and inimitable way. For many of us, the pulse of our internal lives beats strongly. We are aware of how we feel-sometimes, perhaps, more than we want to be. Yet this is our gift, one that we must find a way to honor.
At the same time, we are drawn to connect. We are drawn to follow that urge inside us, that pull of the tide to respond to others, to take their feelings and needs into account, to reach for that moment of intimacy and communion, to tend the web of relationships that sustains (and sometimes smothers) us, and, if we are responsible for dependent children, to fulfill our responsibility to take care of them to the best of our ability, even when it extracts a great cost from ourselves.
Somehow we must balance these two forces. We must bring them together so that neither one cancels the other out. We must find a way to make them work in tandem so that who we truly are enriches all the people we touch, and so that the connections we have with the important people in our lives mirrors, validates and makes stronger the woman we are inside.
Unfortunately, very few women have been taught how to balance these two forces. Very few have been encouraged as young girls to hold on tightly to who they really are; very few have been told that they have an inner voice that is theirs and theirs alone. Instead, they often learn the intricate arts of developing and maintaining connection at a high cost-at the expense of their true selves.
Tend and Befriend
A few years ago, a group of six psychologists from UCLA announced the results of a study showing that, while each person is an individual, in general men and women react in very different ways to stress. Specifically, the psychologists said that under stress, men's bodies automatically turn to the strategy known as "fight or flight" (gearing up either to fight or to make a hasty retreat), whereas women's bodies automatically prepare them to do what the researchers called "tend and befriend."
That is, when stress mounts, a woman's own hormonal system naturally inclines her first to protect and nurture her children (tend) and then to turn to a social network of supportive females (befriend). This, the researchers said, was the biggest difference between men and women in their responses to stress.
This finding didn't surprise me. What did surprise me, though perhaps it shouldn't have, was that the research team, headed by a woman, was nervous about publishing the study because they worried that it might be used to stereotype women negatively.
"I hope women don't find it offensive," Shelley Taylor, the lead researcher, told a Washington Post reporter. "We're trying very hard not to have people say, 'Aha! We always thought that women should be at home taking care of their children.'"
How sad! Here was a study showing that under stress, women are more likely than men to try to make friends instead of enemies, and the researchers still felt the need to worry that it could be used to support keeping women in a circumscribed, traditional role. If only this tendency could be bottled and given to men!
"No man is an island, entire unto himself," wrote the poet John Donne. Rare is the woman who needs to be told this. Most women, in fact, would probably find it laughably self-evident. The human species has survived because of communities of women tending and befriending, protecting and sharing food, resources and information with each other.
Your connections-your relationships-are not separate from your sense of self, as they usually are with men; they are a part of you, included as much in your experience of yourself as your talents and abilities, or even your arms and legs. Chances are, you can feel a tear in the fabric of one of your relationships right in your body. Why can a man go for months without calling his family, or forget to send birthday presents, and not have it bother him? Of course, part of the reason is that less is expected of him because "he's a man." But it's also true that he literally doesn't feel the break in the relationship the same way you do.
This desire for connection and relationship is something our society often puts women down for. Women are labeled "needy" and "dependent," and women who show they care more about connecting than competing frequently get passed over for promotions. It's crazy-in our interconnected world, it's becoming clearer and clearer that even in the business world, success depends more on sustaining good relationships than on ruthlessness and cunning. But old attitudes die hard.
When women don't feel their needs for connection met, they often feel it's their fault, or that something's wrong with them. I can't count the number of women who have told me that maybe they're "too needy" and they want "too much." This is unjust and unfair. It's like a man slowly starving to death thinking he should adjust his caloric needs, that maybe he's being "too hungry."
But the pull toward connection leaves women vulnerable. So vital was connection to sheer survival for our foremothers that most women have trouble disconnecting, even when they want to. If you can feel a tear in the fabric of one of your relationships right in your body, then losing an important relationship, even a bad one, can feel like losing a limb. Doing or saying something that could conceivably cause a break in a relationship can bring up a strong, visceral feeling of fear, as if you were indeed risking injury or death. It doesn't matter if your rational mind tells you you "shouldn't" feel this way. Something within us sets off this powerful reaction. At those times, the need to connect and be connected can become so strong that it overrides all other impulses that arise from the inner self. Because of this, many women-including smart, intelligent, competent women-will let go of their own voices rather than risk losing connection.
We'll talk a lot throughout this book about the "inner voice" and "the inner self." What do I mean by those terms exactly? Your inner voice is the wisdom of your entire self as it makes itself known to you. It expresses itself in many ways; as impulses, as urges, as body feelings, as a sense of knowing what you need and what to do, as a deep desire, and sometimes as a wisdom that can seem to come from beyond your physical body. Your inner voice directs you toward greater fulfillment in your life the way a flower turns toward the sun. But even when you don't listen to your inner voice for years or even decades, it doesn't reject you or disappear completely. It simply goes in the background, becoming softer, ready at any moment to show you a way to take the smallest half-step, if need be, back toward living in a manner truer to yourself. Though you may be afraid of your inner voice, in fact it is always loving and supportive of you. If you are filled with strongly critical, attacking thoughts in your mind, then by definition, no matter how accurate those attacks may seem, what you're "hearing" is not your inner voice.
Your inner self is something a little different. By inner self I'm referring to your true inner experience. To begin with, it is the person that you experience yourself to be in your private moments, when no one else is around. It is made up of the things you think and feel and remember, whether or not you express them to anyone else. But your inner self is not limited to what you are consciously aware of. Rather, it includes everything that you know, feel, sense and want, whether you are conscious of these things yet or not. Beyond even that, the inner self includes your connection to what I call the Larger Self, which we'll get to later on.
When we are born, and when we're very young, the inner self is the only self we have. But over time, of course, we naturally develop a public or "outer" self. The outer self is the face you show to the world. It is what you actually say and do, and it includes the various roles you play. When you are in harmony with yourself, your outer self serves your inner self. It translates what your inner self wants into a form the outside world will most likely respond to. It helps you find the best way to get what your inner self wants. It does this because your inner self holds the blueprint for how to live the happiest, most fulfilling and most generative life you can have.
What's more, since maintaining the outer self is a tiring job, it's necessary to have places and people in your life where you can relax and pretty much drop the outer, public self and show what's really going on-what you are really thinking and feeling.
When a woman loses touch with her inner self, when she believes her inner self is destructive or untrustworthy or when she feels that it would be "impossible" for her to live according to it, she suffers. Some women feel like they can't remember a time when they were in touch with their inner selves, others feel like they lost it in adolescence, and still others feel like they lost it slowly, gradually, in a relationship with the wrong person or in a lifetime of compromises. No matter when in life it happened, in every case, the easy, natural connection to the self was lost because, time after time, the woman reached out for connection from her inner self and, instead of being mirrored, was deflected.
What is meant by being mirrored? It is to look in another's eyes and know that you've been seen, to listen to another's words and know that you've been heard, to feel another's touch and know that you've been felt. It's in the pleasure of a shared sense of humor or a shared passion for the environment, in the joy of being encouraged by someone who believes in you, in the comfort of arms wrapped around you when you cry. It is a primal need, an essential nutrient, like food, water and oxygen. Like these other needs, it never truly fades away, though there may be times in your life when you feel you don't need it as much from others, but revel in your own company.
Being deflected is the exact opposite. It is offering the gift of a part of yourself to someone and having that person unwilling or unable to take it. While deflection can sometimes be angry or hostile, more often than not it is done without any conscious intent to harm at all. Mostly, it is expressed in a simple lack of listening or accepting. It can be felt when someone changes the subject when you share your hopes and dreams, or in a silence that says, "You're making me uncomfortable. Don't tell me you're still feeling upset. You should be over it by now."
Excerpted from I Know I'm in There Somewhere by Helene G. Brenner Copyright © 2004 by Helene G. Brenner. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Helene G. Brenner, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist and the director of Women's Counseling and Psychological Services in Frederick and Bethesda, Maryland. She is a master therapist and seminar leader who has used the ideas and methods described in this book to help hundreds of women experience the fulfillment of living from their true selves and Inner Voices.
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I recommend this book to all women out there. It shows that really listening to your wants, your needs, and especially your intuition, can bring about more change than you ever thought imaginable. The book also helps relate to many of the modern-day women's struggles (including work life, relationships, and personal hardships) and how to get through it by adopting Brenner's simple method of the ABCs and also the VIAs. Happy reading!