The state of a woman’s health is highly influenced by the culture in which she lives, her position within it, her experiences, and her day-to-day thoughts, beliefs and behaviour.
~ Dr Christiane Northrup, Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom
Ask most women at some point in their life if they recognise these three things and they’ll almost certainly say this is (or was) part of their history:
1) That they felt it was their “job” to keep others happy;
2) That if they didn’t, they felt like they’d failed;
3) That when a woman “fails”, they feel guilty and doubles their efforts to make others happy.
This is a pattern for most women and in her book “A Woman in her Own Right“, Anne Dickson beautifully describes these feelings of guilt as “The Compassion Trap”.
Females generally tend to grow up – and are taught – to believe that we have to be all things to all people. It’s implanted in the “rule book” we develop from an early age, that we have to make people smile and that it’s selfish to do things for ourselves. So we find it hard to say no, difficult to assert our right to be heard and, hide how we feel, and more worryingly, in many cases feel we don’t actually have a choice.
Women are rising and beginning to wake up to the fact that we are allowed to ask for what we want. But it’s a scary time – and not always safe; sometimes it’s “easier” to stick with what we know. (Our brains are hard-wired to avoid change so that we stay safe.) So we feel trapped in unhealthy coping strategies and relationships.
The reality is also that many women aren’t physically safe. In this article I explain the very real danger women are in every day. Which is why it’s so important that the change we create is healthy and can last especially if it’s affecting our mental health.
According to the Good Childhood Report 2016, girls are growing more unhappy than boys every year, and some research suggests that women are more likely to suffer with depression, eating disorders, high blood pressure and alcoholism than men. (That’s not to say these things aren’t important in men, but this article is about women).
We are also carrying with us a lot of rage. As women we’ve been conditioned not to show our anger. But as Tracee Ellis Ross explains in the video below, a woman’s fury holds lifetimes of wisdom. It serves a purpose. We are allowed to channel it healthily and say what needs to be said.
I believe in the potential of every woman to become what she truly wants to be. This includes discovering what she wants (for many of us, we don’t actually know because we’ve been going with the flow to keep other people happy for so long) and then finding her voice.
It also includes cherishing the sacred vessel that you live in – her body – and living well, both physically and mentally. It means recognising that we can embrace qualities of compassion, grace and empathy, without feeling like we have to “do it like a dude” to get results. And, being honest? We all want to be less stressed and more productive, so that the time we spend doing what we enjoy, or with the people we love, actually means something (rather than being exhausted by it).
1) Notice patterns of behaviour, especially what’s in your rule book. Sometimes we can fall into “traps” that are influenced by the rules our ancestors made. For example, do you stay quiet when you need to be heard, because “that’s just what women do”?
I remember an example of a brother and father coming back from the pub on a Sunday afternoon and their mother would tell them to put their feet up, whilst the mother and daughter (as a very young girl) would get on with preparing their Sunday meal. This was despite the women having spent the morning cleaning the house and working a full week. They hadn’t been working any less hard than the men, but the suggestion was that the men’s work – and rest – was more important.
2) Consider a role model. Being able to identify your values can sometimes rest in knowing who inspires you. It doesn’t have to be a family member, it could be someone famous – like Princess Diana or Maya Angelou.
3) Ask for help. If you’re starting to identify that your ways of being have been defined by other people, reach out to someone who can understand and support you through this period of change. Read books by women for women, join a Women’s Circle, and spend time in the company of women who empower each other.
In my experience, most women know they have more to do in the world – a purpose – but they try to do it whilst putting everyone else first, and find they fall short of their goal. Then one day, they wake up and realise their own needs haven’t being met for a very long time. It’s no wonder, then, that their health suffers.
Remember, self-care isn’t selfish, it’s necessary.
“Your life purpose is to bring your unique light in to the world.” ~ Jamie McConochie
Copyright Delphi Ellis 2017 – updated May 2021