We dedicate this to Harriet DeHaven Cuddihy, whose old world elegance and impeccably irreverent humor, deep curiosity and optimism made her one of my true idols. Words cannot say how much we will miss her.
As a woman who was raised in a society where it is implied that women should be agreeable and amenable, where speaking up for yourself can label you “difficult,” I personally have found it difficult to do that very thing. Why is it important to have personal boundaries and make sure they are not crossed? More importantly, how can we keep them while coming off strong and not strident?
These are great questions, and we can best answer them by zeroing in on the first issue you raise, the inhibiting effect that society and upbringing have on our spirit, and consequently how we feel about ourselves and what we deserve.
Women are, by nature, caregivers. We have a great capacity for compassion and mercy, and as young girls we are brought up to nurture and take care of others. Most of us learn to become excellent multitaskers. But at some point we get the message—sadly enough from our own parents or peers—that we need to excel at everything. Academics, career, mind, body, and spirit—and we’re expected to keep it all in perfect balance.
“We become afraid to act because we are afraid to fail.”
This creates a total impossibility. We become afraid to act because we are afraid to fail. And that’s why so many of us are trapped in prisons made up of beliefs such as, “I can’t disappoint my family,” or “I mustn’t speak up because I will be labeled as “difficult,” or “I have to be perfect all the time.”
I loathe this word: Perfect. Mostly, because I tried to be this person most of my young adult life. Unfortunately, this unconscious image of perfection is totally at odds with what our soul wants—to be free, to make mistakes, to grow stronger through life experiences, and to express itself fully. It’s important we see how our seeking for approval gets in our own way. Once we become more aware, it’s then important to set a mandate by which we can live, a certain line that we draw, a set of rules to place for ourselves. This means creating a personal credo that speaks to our soul aspect.
“Unfortunately, this unconscious image of perfection is totally at odds with what our soul wants—to be free, to make mistakes, to grow stronger through life experiences, and to express itself fully.”
I spent the first 28 years of my life turned too “outward.” I was always worried about what “they” thought about or needed from me, whether it was family, school, or work. And because of this, I didn’t fully express myself out of fear of rocking the boat. It wasn’t until I got more in touch with my “inner” aspect that I became conscious of how I was handicapping myself, and more comfortable expressing the power I possess.
This meant getting to know the motivations that drive me each day, the intentions behind my actions and what my purpose is each morning. And perhaps, most important, holding the belief that I deserve to have good things come my way. That we all deserve to experience true love and simple happiness in this lifetime. When our core beliefs are clear, we find that we no longer worry about coming off “too strong.” In fact, we often become aggressive or act in ways not in our integrity because we react to things and people that we find threatening. Our beliefs are only threatened when we don’t know what they are.
“If we cannot give and be kind to ourselves, we can never love ourselves enough to believe we deserve to be unconditionally loved, truly heard, and treated with human dignity.”
In addition, in order to create clear boundaries and feel comfortable with who we are, we need to have compassion for ourselves. If we cannot give and be kind to ourselves, we can never love ourselves enough to believe we deserve to be unconditionally loved, truly heard, and treated with human dignity. The result of not creating this compassion for ourselves will be that we don’t think we deserve enough of anything. We’ll have no voice to protest when someone is taking from us more than we want to give, making us feel less than enough, or simply making us uncomfortable with who we are. If we don’t believe we deserve, simply because we exist, then we cannot and will not demand anything from others. When we believe that we deserve then what is at stake of being lost is so clear and therefore takes precedence. Putting ourselves first isn’t selfish but a necessary step in our life’s growth. When we have appreciation for ourselves, others will too. Because we teach people how to treat us.
We women wear so many hats that we lose perspective. We get so caught up in accomplishing the goal of “What has to be done for others” and “how will they see me” that the scale of giving and receiving gets tilted to one side. Learning to find balance is key for us. An important distinction I want to make is I’m not saying be self-centered, but rather become self-aware and strengthen the soul aspect within, and build strength on that foundation. When you do, questions like, “How do I know when I am giving too much?” will be replaced with, “Am I tending to my deepest needs?” You will find this balance—and the best version of yourself—when you know who you are, let yourself be seen, and believe that you are enough.
This is a favorite aphorism of mine that gives me a lot of inspiration. I trust it will move you too:
“Be who you are, and say what you feel, because those that mind don’t matter and those that matter don’t mind.” —Dr. Seuss
– Monica Berg is a spiritual teacher, writer, and guide who specializes in assisting people as they identify and overcome life’s challenges so they can reach their greatest potential. In 2005, Monica, her husband Michael, and Madonna started Raising Malawi, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping orphans and challenged youth throughout Malawi. To learn more from Monica, you can watch her classes, or visit her blog.