You've said it a million times, haven't you? "I'm sorry!"
Even when it's not your fault. What a remarkably disempowering way of making yourself part of a perceived problem!
When someone you're talking to drops something onto the floor and you say, "Ooh! I'm sorry!" even though you didn't drop it.
When someone holds the door for you, and you can't rush through the door as quickly as you think they would want you to and you nervously laugh, thank them, and say, "Sorry!"
When you speak up in opposition to an idea and you apologize for speaking up. "I'm sorry," you say, "but I do have a different point of view."
Poor, poor apologetic us! (Apologies to wonderful Linda Ronstadt.) Have you already realized - and been frustrated with - just how much that feels disempowering? Yeah.
But that's not the only disempowerment problem for us Good girls. Here are three of the biggest ones:
“I’m sorry.” or The Prophylactic Phrase - Apology
“May I say something?” - Approval
*Silence* - Avoiding expected judgment or punishment
Why do you apologize, ask for permission, or shut yourself up?
It might have a whole lot to do with whether or not you feel safe.
The system of Power-Over in which we all live sets up a one-down scenario. If you’re not at the top, you know you lack the power necessary to be an equal. So you learn to tread lightly.
Do you feel safe to speak up and express an opinion? Or are you instead afraid that you will be challenged, dismissed, ignored or verbally attacked for speaking up…and so you just…don’t?
Speaking up is A Big Deal.
The Good Girl holds back from expressing herself, and she has a lot of reasons for doing this, depending on the circumstance.
She is listening to the internal setting which says, “Don’t speak up. Be seen but not heard.”
There is a tremendous benefit to seeing this in terms of the Good Girl, rather than “my father told me to shut up, permanently”, or “my upbringing was like this or that so I'm just that way”. It gives you a little bit of distance – what the meditators call “the witness”. In that distance you can bring compassion, mercy, awareness, and choice to the table.
To get to that place of changing what you bring to the table, however, takes a bit of preparation and understanding. So let’s look at holding back from the Good Girl perspective. When we are visible, expressing our ideas and thoughts, we run the risk of negative responses. Why are we expecting these?
Because we have had a lot of practice and experience in being on the receiving end of these negative responses. We are accustomed to experiencing, and to seeing others experience, being seen as:
Childish – someone who doesn’t think things through.
Threatening – we know how people with power traditionally dislike people without perceived power demonstrating some of it.
I have a question for you: As a professional woman, you know the strength and cleverness you need to have to be strong, visible, and persevering in delivering an opinion or a message. Do you think men have to face this the way you do? No they don’t. They may be disliked by men with more power, but they will not usually be dismissed out of hand.
We are not imagining these infantilizing behaviors. We are experiencing them. How many women had to come forward to accuse their abusers before their voices were finally heard? We have a choice around this: to become embittered, or to get to work. We can see ourselves as life-long victims, or we can make different choices which lead to ever stronger choices, and become a force in our lives, and in our world.
Being infantilized, dismissed, ignored - these are all absolutely nfuriating behaviors to live with. Understanding what is going on and how we can walk through those behaviors of other people is key to getting and staying strong.
Where do those dismissive behaviors and attitudes come from? They come from someone who feels that their power is being challenged. This happens with people of either sex, this power-over anxiety reflex. So, if the person in power is another woman, your Good Girl behaviors are still going to come up, and the question is going to be: Am I safe to be visible?
It is a question that needs to be asked and answered in order to choose communication styles that will get you the results you want: communication, agreement, being heard, and so on.
Here's the Good Girl's voice:
“I’m afraid of that look from someone else in the meeting room that says, ‘oh yeah? What do you know?’”
“I’m afraid that I’m risking my job if I say that my opinion differs from my boss’s, or my colleague’s.”
“I’m expected to shut up, smile, and take notes. If I come up with the great answer I know I have, everyone will be mad at me and work will become so uncomfortable every day, I won’t be able to take it!”
It seems like an unsolvable problem. It isn’t.
First, you have a decision to make. How important is it to you to be a part of the conversation? How important is it to you to know that you have spoken up as an adult in the room – that you have supported yourself in not being infantilized?
If you decide that you want to do something different than just live with those feelings of self-hatred and depression and resentment, you are on the right track.
The second action you must take is to express yourself…to yourself! For the love of God, be inelegant! Do it wrong! Just take the time, alone and by yourself, to imagine that you are talking to the people you are afraid to express yourself to. You need to be able to say, “You really are a *@#(%, you know? You won’t let me say a )(*#%^ thing!!! Who the hell do you think you are???” And you need to be able to say, “My input is invaluable, you stupid moron! My God, I’m the one who uses the software you’re trying to replace!”, etc., etc., etc. If you have worked in an office, you can provide plenty of examples.
The point of action #2 is to free up your voice in a completely safe environment. Tell yourself: There’s no one here to take offense from what I’m saying. There’s no one here who can hold me accountable.
You must free your voice because freeing your voice frees your energy. If the only energy you know is the one that is repressed, it is absolutely no wonder you feel depressed, enraged, victimized! And that makes it even harder – physically! – to express yourself!
Betcha didn’t know how much the physical is needed for self-expression. Now that you know, express yourself privately!
The third action is where the linguistic rubber meets the road. Linguistic simply means having to do with language.
I will share with you a few words you can use, some not to use, and tools you can use, to craft your message in a way that is the least disempowered, and also the most respectful. I will tell you, however, that even in doing this perfectly, you may find that there are some people who are just not going to like it no matter how you speak up!
To them I say, “like it or lump it, baby, ‘cause here I come!” And I let the chips fall where they may. But I make sure that that is a conscious risk – one that I know I am taking, and one that I am willing to take. In other words, I have looked at the best thing that can happen, and also the worst. And I am willing to take the worst, and willing to respond to the worst, if that is what happens. And I am ready to build on the best!
"I, I, I". Use the "I" word liberally. This is the one place you can say the words, “it’s all about me”, and mean it. You are going to use the word “I” as a way of owning every single thing you say. This means that instead of responding to an attack or a challenge with another attack or challenge, you simply stand where you are in terms of your viewpoint. For example, someone in the meeting room says, “No, we can't use women for this project because we all know that women are naturally slower than men." And instead of saying, "Are you out of your mind, you neanderthal???", you are going to say, "I find that offensive and untrue. I built an entire tiny house in 3 days." ...or whatever. You get my drift.
To the person who is holding the door, you simply keep walking at your pace, and you say, "Thank you" in your best, regal mode. Because you are worth holding the door for, aren't you? Yes. Yes you are. You will not apologize for making them wait. (And if you do, don't beat up on yourself; instead ask yourself what you were really apologizing for.)
Stop the prophylactic introductory talk. "I don't know if you think this is a good idea for me to bring up at this particular time, and you may of course disagree with me, and of course I could be wrong, but..."
Just go straight to the meat of your point, and make it!
Find that difficult? I'm not surprised. Sometimes it's harder than others, but I promise you that if you practice it, and you get accustomed to that "after burn" that comes from doing something counter to your Good Girl's internal messages, you are going to get stronger and stronger, and more empowered.
You can't help but do so.
So, language is important. Not in the New Age sense of "if I speak about millions of dollars I will get millions of dollars" way (regrettably, that never worked for me; would that it had!), but in the sense of being so revealing about how you are being you: as a strong woman, or as a disempowered one.
The best news of ALL here is that disempowerment is not a life sentence. Ask Tina Turner. After being abused for decades by Ike Turner, she would have been excused for thinking her sentence was for life. But she changed something in her behavior, and started over.
So can we.
LOVE AND MOXIE!!!
Entrepreneur, Actor, Speaker and Rebellious Game-Changer - that's me. I coach women, helping them recognize, understand and break out of the social "shoulds" to become empowered, powerful and masterful communicators, on stage and off.