Quite a few women who consult me for Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) are already uncomfortably aware, or become aware, of just how oppressed and repressed they are and have been.
It may not be a pleasant insight, but it is an important and empowering first step toward emotional freedom and well-being. Such an insight could be reacted to with anger and blame toward others; but for many women it triggers self-blame, guilt, and depression since they often feel responsible and blame themselves for nearly everything—including their own unhappiness!
Tolerating the dysfunctional
Many of these women are drawn into and then linger in dysfunctional relationships. They tend to tolerate being neglected, taken for granted, and non-nurtured—if not actually abused—because they somehow feel at fault. They may blame themselves for not being smart enough, attractive enough, capable enough, strong enough, accepting enough or devoted enough. They can even feel guilty for thinking of their own unsatisfied needs and desires, while at the same time fearful of taking steps to liberate themselves from their relational imprisonment.
So why don’t these dissatisfied women get mad and not take it anymore? Why don’t they take charge of their well being and make changes?
Mostly because they are bogged down in self-blame, feeling bad, and feeling scared. Also because society has taught them not to use anger as an exploitative tool, nor to effectively assert their needs and desires as their male cultural counterparts rather freely do.
In fact, a lot of women actually cry when angry or frustrated. When I facilitated a women’s empowerment group, this was a major peeve and target for change using REBT.
Crying makes a woman, especially in a business/professional role, look weak and ineffectual. That’s acceptable in a sexist society. Who cares if she is raging inside or tormented by her perceived powerlessness and learned helplessness? No wonder more women than men experience clinical depression.
Suffering from the “shoulds”
Inside the heads of most women dwell powerful irrational “shoulds” that rule their feelings and behaviors. Shoulds that have existed in families throughout generations. Shoulds that come from this culture and the way females are socialized. Even shoulds that they, themselves, invent and maintain. (NOTE: If you haven’t yet read the Tyranny of the Should 5/13/22 blog post, I invite you to do so now before continuing with this post.)
The following partial list includes just some of the powerful irrational shoulds:
Ten “shoulds” women don’t need
- You should always appear at your best—how you look, what you say and what you do;
- You should be coupled (and very preferably with a man) to feel whole and worthwhile;
- You should always think about what others want, and be there for them at all times;
- You should avoid conflict, not upset or disappointment anyone, nor hurt their feelings;
- You shouldn’t think of yourself, what you might like or enjoy, or what feeds your soul;
- You should keep the peace, not rock the boat, be referee and guardian of relationship;
- You should squelch your desires, opinions and feelings—it’s other’s that only matters;
- You should do everything but shouldn’t need recognition or appreciation of your efforts;
- You shouldn’t take/make time to give to yourself for you’ll be seen as self-indulgent/lazy; and
- You shouldn’t feel at times like running away, ending it all or choking the crap out of…
Codependency vs. socialization into womanhood
Many women label themselves as codependent—that is over-responsible, self-denying, approval-dependent and lacking self-confidence and self-acceptance. While perhaps helpful in identifying self-defeating traits and characteristics, the label of codependency does women an injustice. It makes it sound like a sickness for a woman to be merely trying to fulfill and perform the role she has been trained in from birth.
With her wagon hitched to a man or men most of her life, American Woman is unlikely to have a well-developed sense of self or personhood. She is unlikely to have her own strong identity and clear values about what she wants and needs in life let alone in a love relationship. After all, American Woman has been largely preoccupied with pleasing and thinking about others.
From dollhouse to dungeon
Deceptively led away by society from the pursuit of her own happiness, American Woman painfully discovers that solely worrying about the welfare of others rarely produces her own fulfillment. And to make matters worse, what acknowledgment and appreciation does she get for her selflessness?
Feeling devalued and alienated from herself, the stage is set for clinical depression.
American Woman’s girlish dream of what would bring happiness has been replaced by feelings of emptiness, resentment, confusion and despair. Now left wondering who she is and how she got this way, she may finally come to ask that empowering question, “What about me?”
How to start taking control
Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) is well known for empowering people to think, feel, and act in more satisfying and stress-less ways. REBT may help you improve your unconditional self acceptance (USA), emotional control and relationship success.
I thoroughly enjoy facilitating the emotional growth of women who want more for themselves and who come to ask that empowering question: “What about me?”
It is better to have no man or partner than the wrong one!
*This post is a slight revision of the original article written for the Albany Times Union twenty years ago.