In my work with women on weekend retreats, in sacred circle, at workshops, etc., I have heard women speak of distrust of other women. I have heard fear of judgment and criticism, fear of being talked about behind their backs, experiences of betrayal.
I myself grew up in a family of 6 women. My father traveled much. My mom mostly raised us, me and my four sisters. Although I have some good memories, I also experienced it as very cruel, critical, and viciously competitive. My relationship with women was bittersweet. It contained both fun and laughter, and the cruel as well. I learned not to trust women... or to trust that they would betray you and stab you in the back, say mean, biting things in front of others, ridicule you in an attempt to raise themselves up, etc. Now, consider this:
I, I, I am a woman.
So it stands to reason that if I believe that about women, I also believe it about myself. I learn to reject myself, not trust myself, etc.
As little girls, we learn about our value and worth as a woman from the most important woman in our lives, our mother. If our mother is wounded on a soul level, or if she is cruel, critical, abusive of the feminine; then we learn, by model, to do that to ourselves. So, long after that parent is even on the planet, we continue to do that to ourselves because we now carry that critical parent within our own psyche. My mother carried a deep wound around her own femaleness, her own sexuality. She was raised in a strict Southern Baptist family with a hyper-critical mother. While she was away in nursing school, my mother got pregnant. Her mother pressured her to give the baby up for adoption. Mom carried the pain of that all her life. This was also kept a secret until I was more than 30 years old. The shame and pain she carried about herself influenced me as a woman and how I saw my own womanhood. How could it not?
I believe this is part of why women's work has become such a passion of mine. I want to heal my relationship with myself as a woman... and in doing so, I open the door to heal my relationships with other women.
What I have learned in my own path toward healing is just how profoundly we are creatures of perception. My awareness today is knowing that when I perceive someone outside of myself to be judging me, it is often because I am already judging myself. Even if they actually ARE judging me, it is only a problem if I also believe it. Think about that. Say someone "judges" me to be Scandinavian, for example. If I have no judgments about being Scandinavian, and if I know that I am not Scandinavian, then it doesn't bother me if that person thinks that. It is only when I already believe that to be a "bad" thing and believe I am that "bad" thing, then it becomes a problem.
This whole judgment thing comes up quite frequently in my women’s work. In fact, when we create sacred circle and women speak what they need in order to feel safe, there has never been a time when at least one woman (usually more) ask that they not be judged. EVERY. SINGLE. CIRCLE. And I‘ve sat in a lot of circles with women. What that tells me is something I already know; we ourselves carry a pretty harsh judge within us. Our own inner critic is the place where healing is needed. My inner critic has kept me from wearing the clothes I wanted to wear, having sex when I wanted to have sex, kept me from going places and attending events I wanted to attend because somehow I wasn't thin enough, fit enough, pretty enough, sexy enough.
I remember a time when I was a teen... it was one specific summer that stands out in my mind (there are others, but this one for now). We lived in Dunwoody. There was a neighborhood pool and they had a large swim team with swim meets. It was a big deal and a large community. Competitive. My dad had a real respect for the water. When we were very small, he made sure all of us took swim lessons and knew how to handle ourselves in the water. He insisted we also be on the neighborhood swim team. Every summer, my sisters and I spent most of our time hanging out with friends at the pool. This particular summer, I had gained some weight. But in my mind at the age of 16, I believed I was so hideous, so unacceptable, that I couldn't bear to go out. The whole summer when my sisters would go to the pool, I would stay at home, ashamed to put on a swim suit and be seen in public. And truth be told, I wasn't even that big. It was my *mind* that tortured me.
When I sit in circle with women today, and we pass a hand mirror; as each woman takes a moment to look into her own eyes and really *see* herself, it is a difficult task. Most often she speaks her criticism out loud. That’s a good thing, I believe, because it creates connection through compassion. There isn’t a woman in that room who hasn’t felt the same thing. Now imagine doing that same mirror exercise with a full length mirror where the woman can see her whole body. And now imagine standing in front of your own full length mirror in your bathroom or some place you feel safe. Imagine yourself loving yourself *naked*. Yes, naked. Right now. Just as you are. Not 20 or 30 lbs, or even 5 lbs lighter. Not younger, not thinner, smarter, prettier, more successful, whatever. Right now. This body. This *you*. Can you love HER? *Will* you love her?