When I first got into recovery, I winced at the first step. We admitted we were powerless… ugh … that word powerless. I hated it, but I knew that I could not stop the addictions that I had. I listened and I accepted my powerlessness, but I always winced at that word. I found a book that was for women who were working the 12 steps. It talked about that first step and how difficult it is for women to accept powerlessness because we are stripped of and denied our power by cultural norms, messages and traditions. And, if you think for a minute that females are not discriminated against anymore, you are in denial. But, this blog is not about that, so I’m going to make it an assumption. The idea that I finally grasped was that if I could identify those things that I did not have power over like my addictions, I could take on the things I do have power over. THAT resonated with me. I moved past it.
I was in a long-term relationship with a narcissist. A narcissist has a personality disorder where they are so totally out of touch with reality that they feel the world does and should revolve around them. Every one in their world is there to feed them attention. So, his brain was wired to believe that he ran the world. It was impossible to be in relationship with him, but I often wished that I had the mindset that I was in charge of the world. He REALLY believed it. It made it easy for him to make decisions and move through life because he didn’t have all of these self image issues and doubts that I had. If reality didn’t suit him, he made it up. And, he was always right. Narcissists also don’t feel empathy or remorse, so he never really felt any remorse about any of it. I don’t want to be a narcissist because there are all kinds of major dysfunctions involved with being one, but I certainly wished I had those personal blinders on…. just for awhile.
Olivia Newton John’s Phenomenal Woman
I had a problem with people-pleasing. Now, I wasn’t the stereotypical doormat. In fact, I was very outspoken. I would say no and do things I wanted to do. But, my people-pleasing took on a quality of diminishing my own personal power. I gave in to what I thought I should be. Working in corporations really sucked me dry. I thought I had to act a certain way, dress a certain way and perform a certain way in order to be successful. I did it until I hated it so bad that I had to leave. I was miserable, and I thought it was my fault… because I couldn’t do what they wanted me to do … I couldn’t do what I should be able to do. I should dress like a man because they have the power to promote me. I should hide my emotions because … well … women are emotional. I should let authority figures run wild in all their power and never, ever tell them they are wrong lest I get on their bad side. I was TOLD to do that, so I’m not imagining it. But, why didn’t I say to myself, “They are a bunch of idiots that are scared of people that are not like them?” Because I was a people-pleaser. I could never re-frame the story in a way where I was the star of my own life. My story was always told by “others” …. usually men … in positions of authority – real OR imagined.
My beliefs about who I should be, what I should wear, how I should talk, what my education should be, who I should love, and basically everything else was based on what someone else or society in general thought…. or what I thought they thought. Until about 7 years ago, I had no idea what I thought or believed. I only knew what I should think or believe. I never even developed my own self. I now know that people are fine with my individuality, but I was so scared to step out and be an individual that I didn’t even try it. I played it safe. And, to take it a step further, I thought that when I struggled to fit a mold that didn’t fit, I was somehow defective.
Helen Reddy’s I Am Woman
A perfect example of my misguided thinking was in my thinking about my body. I always thought I had a big butt … a fat *ss … because people had told me that AND all the models have these nice flat skinny butts. For about 40 something years, I believed it. My ass is fat. I’d hide it under clothing. I’d try to lose it. I’d try to tighten it up. No matter what I did, I’d look behind me, and it was still there… as big as day. I HATED it. My second husband was enamored with it. “You have the perfect butt,” he’d say. “I’d follow that butt anywhere.” It didn’t take long before I re-framed my belief about my butt. It was the same butt!! Nothing had changed but my mind and my view of my rear view.
When our marriage ended, all I could think about was how he was probably on to the next woman, happy as could be. He’d be buying her flowers just like he did me. I knew what his courtship looked like. In my original story, it was over the top, and he was somewhere forgetting about me and loving on HER. I was a distant memory, somebody who made his life miserable (he told me), and fat and old. I’d go on to be alone and destitute because no one would ever find me desirable again. One day when I was in horrible pain thinking about his happy life without me, I thought, “Why don’t I just make up something else?” I didn’t really know what he was thinking anyway. If I could make up a bad story, I could make up a good one just as easily. So, I changed the story to reflect his sorry ass life without me, him wishing he hadn’t screwed up so badly as to lose me, and his regret at making the decision he did. It worked! My view of the whole thing changed. But, you know what really changed? I stepped into my power. It was always there. It was like plugging into a power outlet.
I was texting Jessica today about feeling really bad about myself and related this big sob story that I was telling myself about an event that is going on in my life. She texted me back and said, “OMG, is that what you’re telling yourself? That’s not what I think at all.” She rebutted, “It’s your life. You’re the author. Write it how you want!” My friend Nancy told me the same thing earlier today. She’s going through a rather painful breakup right now, and she has used this story-shifting technique to help her get through it. She imagines he is miserable without her. She imagines that he wishes he’d never left her, and now he’s with someone who is totally crazy and doesn’t like sex at all. He’s miserable but he can’t turn it around. She makes up the story so that she’s the winner. She stepped into her power just by changing the story. What I’m learning is that when other people hold the power in my life – real or imagined, I’m not very happy. If I hold the power, and sometimes it’s just in the stories I tell myself, I am stronger, more confident and happier.
I hear women all the time tell me that they can’t stand up for themselves, they can’t ask for a divorce, they can’t make the time for themselves, yada, yada, yada…..all statements reflecting that they are under the control of someone else’s needs or rules. People-pleasing robs people of their spirit, their passion and their power. I still slip back into people-pleasing at times, but I’m at my best when I’m standing in my power …. with my bodacious butt and my daring writing and my confidence in my abilities to change my world…. and maybe even yours…. for the better. None of it may be true, but who cares? It’s my story, and I’m sticking with it.