Women are powerful. They are incredibly strong and, yet, superbly nurturing. They are resilient to a fault and expressive to the nth degree… and even when a woman describes herself as NONE of these things, she still has what it takes to do the job of five people, sleep on less than 3 hours, and still keep it moving. Maybe it’s the ability to give birth. Maybe it’s the necessity to continue on with life through thousands of years of oppression and abuse. Whatever the reason, women bring a level of power, intuition, and grace to the table without even trying.
So it amazes me when I observe how we (and I mean WE), as women, find ourselves in situations, relationships, jobs, careers, and raising children who we, in some way, shape, or form, feel the need to downplay our power to.
How do women downplay their power?
They apologize for being who they are. They do it subtly. They do it subconsciously. And, unfortunately, sometimes they do it completely.
Apologizing for being brave, brilliant and daring is kind of like having someone give you the greatest gift of your life and throwing the gift right back in their face: it’s ridiculous. And, yet, from time to time, we do it. We’ve been taught how to, not because our power wasn’t seen but because it was felt… and the recognition of it to those who didn’t know how to possess it or contain it was a scary proposition.
This “scary” proposition is especially true when it comes to women breadwinners. In the year 2013, it’s amazing how many stares, jeers, and back handed comments women get when people discover that:
1) They have powerful, high income careers that require neither the support nor the approval of their husbands.
2) They hold the health insurance, it’s their IRA, and they can talk a good bit about investments.
3) They don’t need to ask ANYBODY’s approval to make or spend money.
4) They don’t go to every soccer practice, PTO meeting, and do every bake sale associated with their kids’ schooling. Oh, and heaven forbid, they missed one or two recitals last year.
And the WORST one for people:
5) They had a baby and not even two months later went back to work FULL time.
To people, this is the equivalent of a purple cow that they have no idea to what to do with… and that’s when we see the apologies come in:
“I wish I could but this is how things got this way…”
“I feel guilty about it sometimes but…”
“I really do try to…”
“I don’t know as much as my husband…” (blatant lie and devastating apology)
“I do alright…”
“He’s got his strengths, I have mine and we make it work…”
“I could never be with someone as ambitious as me…”
“I’m not a stay-at-home kind of person…” (let’s get real: are you a work-all-the-time-while-other-people-do-nothing kind of person either?)
Why don’t we just wave the white flag already?
The problem with apologizing for power is not simply that it denies your power but that it actually diminishes it by your own words and deeds. Women who know they’re powerful but pretend not to be wind up making excuses, living a lie, and pretending that things are okay when they’re not… and then feel resentful about doing so which leads to all kinds of passive-aggressive moves that wind most people on a therapist’s couch or in a divorce court. Regardless, when powerful women apologize for their power, what they’re really pointing to is their fear: the fear that they cannot be BOTH powerful and loved at the same time. It is an unfounded fear and what it winds up doing is keeping love and acceptance from both the woman with the power and the people with whom she shares it.
So… what do you do when you realize that you spend far too much time playing small in the world so other people can feel big?
You stop it. Here are 7 ways:
1) Own your strengths to everyone, everywhere, and feel good about it.
2) Boost other people’s self confidence sincerely and never to your self-esteem’s detriment.
3) Be okay with being different and let people know clearly AND succinctly why that works for you. If they feel bad walking away from that conversation, that’s their problem, not yours.
4) Let go of the fantasy that you’re required to be the best at everything all of the time. It’s not going to happen. The sooner you let go of trying to be Molly Homemaker at the same time that you’re Emily Executive, you’ll feel much better about yourself.
5) Have standards when it comes to others and use those standards to teach them how to treat you. We’re getting into a place where people are afraid to expect some of the most basic things from other people. I hear all of this Buddha talk about “No expectations.” While there’s a lot to be said for not being attached to goals or outcomes, there’s something to be said for knowing how you will and will not be treated and teaching other people consistently and persistently what that looks like in your world. Standards are key and you need to not only set them but enforce them.
6) Release the fear that people will leave you. Maybe they will. And the people who do weren’t really with you anyway. Their bodies showed up but their souls never did. Rather than have a bunch of people in your corner who want the you they’d prefer to have around, why not liquidate those people and find an inner circle who really want who you are? It may take a little time and there may be some opportunity for aloneness (alone and lonely are not the same thing mind you) but, in the long run, it’ll be worth it.
7) Remind yourself, everyday all day that you are loving AND powerful. In her book, “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway”, Susan Jeffers talks about this:
“A self assured woman who is in control of her life draws like a magnet. She is so filled with positive energy that people want to be around her. Yet it is only when she has become powerful within herself that she can become authentic and loving to those around her. The truth is that love and power go together. With power, one can really begin to open up the heart. With no power, love is distorted.”
She offers a mantra especially for women that she encourages women repeat at least 25 times each morning, noon and night:
I AM POWERFUL AND I AM LOVED.
I AM POWERFUL AND I AM LOVING.
I AM POWERFUL AND I LOVE IT!
Try it. You have nothing to lose.
Your power never comes at any one else’s expense.
Not using your power or downplaying your power will: yours…
In the next 7 posts, I’m going to go into detail on each of the 7 ways you can stop apologizing for your power.
In next week’s post, I’ll talk about Owning Your Strengths.