One way to change that is to rely on a group of like minded people who have been through similar situations, and who you can learn to trust. That is why Al-Anon, the support group for family members of alcoholics, is so successful: everyone knows exactly what it’s like to walk in each others’ shoes. Everyone has been in that boat at some time. And everyone is helped exponentially by the support and generosity of the community.
People who participate in support groups realize that they are not alone with their struggles, which in itself lifts a huge weight off their shoulders. Participants slowly become more comfortable showing their authentic self in the safe space that is provided. They work through relationship issues and become more connected, more confident and more energetic.
I will start a new weekly online support group for womens’ empowerment in January. Check back for news here: https://www.gertischoen.net/feminine-power-rising.html
PS: My in-laws are much better now. The husband has recovered, and the wife is taking care of herself (with a few hints from me). Growth happens when we let it.
The answer lies in the quality and depth of the engagement. And how comfortable we feel opening up. In my women's groups, trust frequently comes up as a particular challenge in relationships.
A lack of trust typically points to previous trauma. Many women (and some men too) have been in abusive relationships. Their trust was betrayed over and over. Many of them had entered codependent relationships, where their own will became secondary in the service of another person’s endless needs.
As a mental health counselor, I talk a lot about boundaries with my clients. We discuss how to keep an overprotective mother in check, what it looks like to have healthy boundaries in a relationship with an addict, setting limits how much to give to your colleagues, and so on. We must validate the need for safety in order to provide a space where fears and doubts can be explored.
But have we gone too far? Are we overemphasizing safety concerns (and what another person’s dysfunctional behavior can actually do) in the service of too much self protection, and inadvertently open the door to loneliness and self isolation?
Of course it is not only an issue discussed behind the closed doors of a therapy office. The messages of self insulation are glaringly visible in many facets of public life: Putting up fences. Driving to work alone. The permeating silence among the riders on a subway car. Electronic devices that give us control to chose carefully who we want to interact with, and on what level of depth. Of course there are good reasons for these phenomena in an age of endless work hours and overcrowded spaces. But it is the myth of the individualism this country is built on that provides the foundation for our exaggerated sense of boundaries.
We have to ask ourselves: Are our collective personalities really so fragile that we can’t imagine having a good debate with ___ (fill in the blank) and come out unscathed, with the relationship in question still intact? Is it so hard to communicate how we really feel without fearing that the person on the other end will either disappear or steamroll over us?
In this age of easy come, easy go relations, it is very tempting to simply discard people that don’t fit the bill. I am not advocating to nurture close relationships with severely out of control people (which do exist, of course). But we need a new vision of what healthy boundaries really mean.
Healthy boundaries - redefined - means to find the strength to authentically speak your mind, and say what you feel without shaming or blaming. It means to have the courage to have that difficult conversation you might have avoided for a long time. To face the possibility that you might lose something, or someone who can’t take responsibility for their part of the story.
And most importantly, it means to rebuild trust in yourself. To remember that you have everything it takes - the strength, the self worth and the wits - to turn your life around. And you can get the support you need, if you start looking in the right places.
We’ve all had that sleepless night.
With time, I have learned to slow down, and how to smell the roses (even though at times, I still rush by them).
Often, the pressures to take on more work, more responsibilities, more care taking, come from outside. But all too often, they take hold inside our minds. Unconsciously, we have accepted the many roles placed on us, without asking for compensation (monetarily or otherwise), and without taking what we deserve. “Taking” in itself it bad, isn’t it? We don’t take the time to relax, and we don’t take time to play - we don’t even know how to play any more half the time. Everyone and everything else is always more important.
This is one way women can begin to empower themselves: To stop over burdening ourselves, or quietly accept one more thing to do. We have to stop asking for permission to take time off, or ask for a raise, to sell that too-big home of yours, or refusing to have one more child.
In her book “The H-Spot - The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness“, writer Jill Filipovic describes how men tend to have it easier “making it”, because our society was built on masculine ideals: competition, getting ahead, a thirst for adventure (there's nothing wrong with any of these. But they're out of balance). So often, women end up in the supporting role of propping these values up without spending energy on pursuing their own ideals.
But what if we asked to focus on female values instead? “This is not a place that was built for us to thrive”, writes Filipovic. “The answer is not to simply try to be better at the tasks set before us. The answer is to ask, What would we make if we had all the tools? What do we want?”
And here is where we have to take a good look at ourselves. Too often, our identity is defined by relationships to others - being a mom, a sister, a wife. What would we do if we stepped out of these roles? How can women tap into their creative force and take charge in their own way, sweeping away outdated values, and building a better life for all of us?
The answer is - as always - we start with ourselves. What makes you happy?