Read an Excerpt
The Woman's Book of Confidence
Meditations for Strength and Inspiration
By Sue Patton Thoele
Red Wheel/Weiser, LLCCopyright © 2002 Sue Patton Thoele
All rights reserved.
On a trip up the coast of California and Oregon, I learned a valuable lesson about mutual support from the majestic redwood trees thriving there. Redwoods are inclusive beings—as they grow they incorporate into their basic structure objects around them, including rocks and other trees. Although redwoods have shallow roots they are noted for their strength and longevity because they share their roots with others. Each individual tree is invited into the whole and, in turn, helps support the entire group. This adaptation appears to have worked, for redwoods are among the oldest living things on earth.
Feminine energy is naturally inclusive and in order to survive and thrive we, too, need to learn to consciously share our roots with others, to ask for encouragement and support when we need it, and stand ready to give the same to those who come to us.
Eve, a single mother, was struggling with the idea of returning to graduate school. For weeks she kept her questions to herself for fear of appearing immature and needy. But when she finally risked talking to several women who had gone back to school, she was encouraged and supported by them. They included her in their root system. As a result of their discussions she began to feel clear about her next step. By having the courage to ask for help, Eve not only ended her confusion but found a support group that understood her circumstances.
In the process of creating support systems we need to be sure that those with whom we choose to share our feelings can be trusted to honor them. The best way to ascertain the trustworthiness of others is by monitoring your feelings as you talk to them. If you feel safe and understood, you have probably found a grove of like-minded redwoods.
By sharing our roots of compassion and support, we women, like the redwoods, create a safety net in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
* * *
I have the courage to ask for support when I need it. I am willing to support others when they need my help.
Editing Out Guilt
Women are often plagued by feelings of guilt, but I learned an interesting thing recently: guilt is a strictly English word. No other Germanic or Indo-European language has it. We need to follow the lead of these other cultures and edit the word guilt—and guilt feelings—out of our lives.
Feeling guilty drains our confidence and becomes a habit if we have been conditioned to be overly responsible for our own and others' behaviors and attitudes. Millie, a client in her mid-fifties, came to see me because she felt depressed most of the time. As we talked it became apparent that Millie was a Responsibility Sponge who sopped up everyone's messes. While discussing her unemployed thirty-yearold son, Millie sighed repeatedly and finally said, "I wonder where I failed?" When I asked her why it was her fault her son was not working, she looked at me with surprise and said, "Well, because I'm his mother."
Exploring Millie's background uncovered a family structure built on guilt and shame. Because of her conditioning, Millie got in the habit of assuming responsibility for everything and everyone around her. Since she, like the rest of us, had no real power over anyone's actions but her own, she felt discouraged and depressed. Millie decided to edit guilt out of her life using the following technique.
When you begin to experience guilt, ask yourself these questions: What have I really done to feel guilty about? (If there is something specific, decide whether you can rectify it, and if so, how.) Why am I responsible for this? Does this feeling and circumstance remind me of a pattern in my family? Do I want to keep feeling guilty about this?
If the answer to the last question is no, take a sheet of paper and write down what you feel guilty about. Now, with the biggest, reddest marker you can find, cross it out—delete it. If you find yourself still mired in guilt, remind yourself: Guilt is a word and feeling I am editing out of my life!
* * *
I give myself permission to erase guilt from my vocabulary and my life. I have the courage to accept responsibility appropriately.
All of us have our own style for coping creatively. Some of us, like me, talk out our difficulties and, in the process of speaking the words, are able to work through the situation and resultant feelings. Others feel better able to sort through and arrive at solutions by mulling things over privately. Very often people in close relationships cope differently, and this can make each partner feel that she or he is doing it wrong. At such times, we need to remember that so long as we do so constructively, we each have the right to move through our problems in a way that is natural for us.
When Blair is confused or hurt, she needs to talk things through in order to gain a healthy perspective on her predicament, but her dear friend Marilyn is a solo-solution person. Blair used to chop holes in her personal safety net by comparing her style of coping with Marilyn's. She told herself that Marilyn was strong whereas she was a weak whiner, and that her friend must be smarter and healthier since she didn't seem to need help working things out. Most important, Blair was afraid Marilyn was tired of hearing her talk and was disgusted with her.
I suggested Blair start honoring her own style by talking out her feelings with Marilyn. When she did, Blair found that Marilyn accepted and enjoyed her need to talk—that Marilyn actually took into the privacy of her own process what she learned from their discussions and it often helped her heal more quickly.
It is important that we emotionally support ourselves by accepting and trusting our individual coping style, realizing that although there is no one right way, there is our way, and we need to honor it.
* * *
I have confidence in my ability to cope creatively with my challenges. I recognize and honor my own style of working things through. I have a right to my unique style of coping.
Pampering Is Permissible
When I ask women clients who seem drained what they do to pamper themselves, many of them respond uncomprehendingly, as though I've just spoken in a foreign language. To most of us, pampering brings to mind diapers or what we do for others. The idea of indulging ourselves is an alien concept; if it does occur, we avoid the idea because it smacks of being spoiled or selfish. After all, we've been taught to be givers rather than receivers.
Sarah, a workaholic, was married to a man who was still a little boy in terms of accepting responsibility at home. By the time she sought counseling, Sarah was, in her terms, "a raving, ranting bitch." Her bitchiness came from her anger at being the only adult in the family shouldering career, housework, and childcare. In the process of attempting to change her husband, Sarah had totally neglected herself and her emotional safety net was virtually nonexistent. Her nerves were frayed to the breaking point and she was lashing out in frustration.
I encouraged her to stop working so hard for him and start taking care of herself and then both of them might learn to believe that she was worth taking care of. It was very difficult for Sarah to change, but she began with the small step of allowing herself one hour a week just for the "luxury" of what she wanted to do.
Eventually she realized that she was not only more confident and rested but also a better parent, worker, and wife when she pampered herself a little each day. She is now able to care for herself in small ways, such as saying no when she feels like it, and large ways such as taking a trip she has set aside money for. Her children adapted quickly and have accepted and learned from their mother's ability to take care of herself. Even her husband is changing a little. Most important, Sarah is happier and healthier.
Weave a pampering pattern into your safety net. Make a list of ways in which you would like to pamper yourself, and then, starting with small steps, indulge yourself. You'll be better for it!
* * *
I have the courage to pamper myself. I am worthy of receiving as well as giving. Pampering and taking care of myself is a healthy thing to do.
Heeding Physical Clues
Ruth, a social worker, tried to ignore the illnesses her body was experiencing. From her training, she knew that there was probably a psychological reason for her recurring ill health, but the thought of searching for the cause frightened her so much she chose to deny her body's signals. It was only after two near death experiences and many years of pain and frustration that Ruth realized that if she wanted to live she had to look at what her body was trying to tell her.
Although always a very private person, Ruth gave herself permission to reach out to a few friends and family members for support and encouragement as she courageously began to explore her hidden emotional pain. The root of her ill health turned out to be her despair over her emotionally imbalanced marriage. Since facing those feelings and addressing them creatively, Ruth's health has returned to almost normal.
We can have confidence that our bodies have been given to us as miraculous vehicles for our consciousness, and it is our sacred duty to appreciate and care for them. No one but ourselves is privileged to the information our body gives us. Only we can weave a safety net of personal health and well-being by heeding the clues of our wise and deserving body.
Sit quietly with your eyes closed and thank your body for its wisdom and the faithful way it serves you. Gently bless your body, especially any part feeling discomfort. With as much acceptance as you can, focus your attention on any pain or illness you are experiencing and ask your body what you need to do to help alleviate the discomfort. Open your heart and mind to recognizing and acting on the clues your body is giving you.
* * *
I encourage my body by listening to its wisdom. I honor and care for my wondrous body by recognizing the clues it gives me. I have the courage to explore the psychological causes of my illnesses.
Softening Our Perfectionist
The trouble with being a perfectionist is that anything less than perfection displeases us. Since life is only sprinkled with perfect, fairydust moments while swamped with averageto-mediocre times, a perfectionist is only momentarily happy, which results in a pretty tedious life.
As for being a perfect person, having a perfect relationship, or doing all things perfectly, there ain't no such thing! And recognizing this increases our day-to-day happiness.
I used to have a part of myself that I named Ms. Perfection. When I visualized her, she was tall, bony, and ramrod straight with her hair pulled severely back into a knot. She wore half-glasses, a serviceable sweater with patches at the elbows, and white gloves with which she tested my ability to keep a sparkling house and personality. She made my life miserable until I learned to soften her by getting to know her and finding out what she needed from me.
As I became acquainted with Ms. Perfection, I became aware of her feeling that she was the only one of my inner cast of characters who acted responsibly. She believed she had to shoulder the adult stuff all alone and, therefore, had no choice but to be a rigid and harsh taskmaster. What she needed from me was a more consistent sense of responsibility and maturity. As I began working on that, she relaxed somewhat and became less judgmental.
Become aware of your perfectionist and ask yourself these questions: What does my perfectionist look like? Why does she act the way she does? What is she afraid of? What does she need from me? Am I willing to get to know this part of myself and help transform her by giving her what she needs, within reason?
Softening our perfectionist helps weave a safety net free from the gaping holes of impossible demands.
* * *
I have the right and responsibility to soften my perfectionist. I am worthwhile even though imperfect. I loosen up and enjoy life's little imperfections.
Excusing Is Often Inexcusable
To enjoy intimate and authentic relationships, we must be able to understand and forgive ourselves and others. But we women sometimes confuse excusing with understanding and forgiving. Excusing, a codependent and childish habit, is the first cousin of denial. Excusing ourselves and others lets us off the hook by not addressing the consequences or responsibilities of our behavior. Alcoholic families frequently pivot around excuses.
Excerpted from The Woman's Book of Confidence by Sue Patton Thoele. Copyright © 2002 Sue Patton Thoele. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
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