I started my forays into personal growth and healing back in the late 90’s when I found myself with everything that was supposed to make me feel successful and good about myself – good relationship, a handsome, attentive partner, good job opportunities, a nice place to live, supportive family and a lovely young son. Yet I felt far from satisfied inside, and knew it wasn’t that I had higher ideas of what life should be – since I had what I’d always thought I wanted.
I realise in retrospect that it was how I felt about myself as a woman that was my main source of dis-content – unattractive, inadequate and lacking in confidence pretty much sums it up. There was always a ‘there’ I never seemed to get to, as far as feeling good about myself for any length of time.
I was in fact, far from unattractive or inadequate, but I felt it and had great ways of covering this up. I dressed well for one, using the fact I had a ‘good body’ and could always find things that were flattering. But I actually relied on this to feel ok about myself. If I couldn’t get my clothes right, then I’d find myself feeling much less confident. If I couldn’t be sure who was going to be around me and how they might dress, that would also destabilise me – if another woman was there and was more attractive than I felt I was, I would be undone! And since this was by my own measure, from a starting place of always feeling inadequate, it was a rare time I didn’t find something about another woman that was better than that something about me!
I also rarely spoke about it to anyone, maintaining a front that I was happy, confident, and life was good. For the most part I thought it was, or at least that I was meant to think so because ‘I had it all’ – as a friend once snapped at me when I dared mention how I really felt.
Over a period of years I did all sorts of things to try and resolve these feelings.
I understood it was ‘my stuff’ and tried to take responsibility by finding the help I thought I needed. When I look back at the things I’ve done however, I’m left shaking my head in some combination of wonder, horror, amusement and total disbelief!
One of the most significant of these was designed specifically to heal the woman within – girl, was I excited about this one! It was a long weekend workshop and proposed that I could find the real me through what I was going to participate in. Wow, just three days and I’d have it sorted!
Very few details were offered as to the weekend’s activities as this was seen to diminish the power of what could be gotten from it. Fair enough, I thought! I can remember however, as I enrolled, quite a feeling of trepidation – something I attributed to a fear of exposing my inadequacies in front of a large group of strangers (pretty reasonable – but made me feel more inadequate that I couldn’t feel confident and ok about airing my ‘stuff’!).
It never occurred to me to listen to that trepidation as a message from within.
The underlying message was very strong and I overrode myself instantly. The women who were held up as role models (and acted as facilitators on the course) were those who ‘went for it’. They participated with confidence – strong and proud of themselves as women.
They forged through life making things happen as they chose it; those who could “claim what they wanted and go get it!”.
This is what an empowered woman looked like and how she acted – according to them – and I thought this was true. Next to these women I definitely felt inadequate and they certainly didn’t – so this must be it! If I could just be like them I would feel better, was the promise I fell for.
This particular workshop began with a long trek down a secluded bush track to a tin shed: the registrations hut as it turned out, where we sat and waited in the heat a long time, not knowing what would happen or when. Eventually we were ‘hailed and rounded up’ by facilitators dressed in tribal attire shouting commands, banging drums and marching us further down a long bush track to a rudimentary camp.
Isolation and discomfort were the hallmark and it was clearly stated (with signed consent) that leaving was NOT an option unless under extreme medical conditions! This I later came to understand was one of many deliberate strategies to foster discomfort (quite successfully), and further included sleep deprivation, regular bouts of nakedness and re-enacting traumatic childhood events in front of fifty complete strangers. I would be remiss not to mention the fact that hairdryers and make-up were absolutely NOT permitted – hence effectively destroying my main front from the start – I couldn’t even LOOK good!
As l came to learn, these things were designed to break down that protective front to the world and expose the issues that lay underneath so they could be dealt with.
Understandable in theory, but as an experience and in retrospect, it was far from truly helpful. Confronting, imposing and confirming of my inadequacy as a woman was how it felt! Compounded by the overriding message that I WAS in fact inadequate if I didn’t willingly participate in everything being asked of me, however disturbing, embarrassing or uncomfortable I found it. If I really wanted to find the real woman in me, then I would participate with gusto and ‘go for it’.
Needless to say, I did reluctantly participate and did come out feeling what I thought was a sense of achievement. I would now say, with the benefit of hindsight, that it was first and foremost a relief at having got through, got my clothes back on and got my appearance somewhat restored!
I definitely did mistake this for developing a true sense of myself at the time.
I felt empowered but in a ‘beating my chest kind of way’ that would have left any other woman around me feeling inadequate herself – because she hadn’t ‘gone through what I had’ and survived!
As my new found bravado inevitably faded though, it didn’t take long to discover that all the same underlying feelings were still there… hence my search for an answer continued.
What was interesting was that even as I did all these things, (as this was just one of many), I never noticed that I wasn’t actually getting anywhere – and that each next course or book only provided the same temporary relief to my deeper feelings. I accepted that to continue searching was part of the journey, seemingly never able to see that I was perpetually returning to the same place, same feelings and same unresolved issues underneath.
Today I can say I no longer have any of those feelings I spent all that time, energy and effort trying to resolve. Today I feel amazing – on the inside! And I have felt that way for long enough that I can say it with absolute confidence. Those issues, feelings of inadequacy and lack of confidence about myself as a woman are now as rare as they used to be pervasive.
I can also say that not an ounce of this place I find in myself is due to a single course, book or workshop that I ever did or read in all those years of searching.
I now know myself from the inside of me, and my way of expressing this IS me being a true woman.
To experience the fact that I even had an innermost part was perhaps the greatest revelation and life changing moment in all this. That is another story in itself, but effectively it ended my foray into all those crazy things I did. Something I only realised in retrospect was that I had actually stopped searching.
Make no mistake; it still took me quite some time to learn to live with this inner part of me as the most important part. I had to identify and unlearn a lot of my old ways and learn how to live with this new part of me – something that remains ongoing to this day.
Many of these were ways I thought I needed to be and others were ways of covering what I felt was inadequate. It wasn’t hard to feel that innermost part once I knew how, and then I found that became my teacher. I never looked outside of me again for an answer, and I never again felt drawn to do another course or workshop that promised to make me feel better or improve myself.
And it isn’t that I never feel a lack of confidence or inadequacy now. I still find I’m capable of raising a goal-post if I choose to measure myself by something l think I’m supposed to be doing better, or somehow I’m supposed to be different.
But I find this only happens when I lose that sense of my innermost part as being the true me: it is then I revert to my old ways of seeing myself from the outside in. Or I start measuring myself against another woman to gauge whether indeed I am ok or not.
These days I find there is only one thing to do to ensure I feel attractive, confident, adequate and content – and that is to stay connected to that innermost part of me.
So refreshingly simple!