Many women are trapped in a behavior pattern which is guaranteed to generate a life that is joyless and filled with stress. This pattern is so insidious that most women are completely unaware of how it is subtly generating an experience of life that is deeply unfulfilling.
I have named this pattern The Invisible Woman. See if this set of behaviors describes you:
- You have a vague sense of dissatisfaction in all your relationships.
- You have trouble identifying your feelings and needs. (If you said, “What feelings and needs?” then this is you for sure!)
- Typically, you don’t consider or make time for your own needs. When you do identify a feeling or need, you suppress it and tell yourself, “My needs don’t matter” or “Their needs matter more.”
- You focus your attention on the needs of others, making sure the people around you have their needs met. Often you know what they need almost before they do. This encourages an unhealthy dependency in others. For our children it models a way of relating that perpetuates the invisibility syndrome in the next generation.
- You say “yes” when people ask you to do something without checking to see if you actually want to do it, and can make the time to do it, without some other commitment suffering.
I know this set of behaviors only too well, because I once suffered from invisible woman syndrome myself. I suspect most of us have, because our culture actually promotes this syndrome through movies, television shows and books as the appropriate way of being a woman. Likely, you saw this pattern modeled in your home when you were an impressionable child. At times, women who have had the audacity to make their feelings and needs known have suffered severe repercussions. So it is no wonder that most of us have adopted this way of being.
When we focus all of our attention on others, we lose the sense of who we are. Unconsciously feeling this emptiness, we give more and more, trying to get the nurturing we give so generously to others returned to us. We end up feeling exhausted and overwhelmed, and confused as to why when we give so much we receive so little.
It’s not surprising, then, that this pattern can bring on feelings of martyrdom and a deep sense of resentment toward those we love. We may turn to using guilt to force our loved ones to meet our needs. These conflicting feelings of love, resentment and guilt destroy the fabric of our relationships and leave us feeling isolated and unfulfilled.
Yet we can’t expect others to meet our needs if we don’t tell them what they are. Because the invisible woman projects an image to others of being completely capable and self-sufficient, her loved ones may be unaware of her needs. Unwilling to feel the guilt, they may distance themselves from her, moving the intimacy she longs for even further out of her reach. In the worst examples, she may end up with deep feelings of depression and meaninglessness.
The good news is that we can teach ourselves a new way of being. We can learn new skills that will allow us to nurture and care for ourselves. We can use our awareness and keen sensitivity to recognize our feelings and needs and to make new choices.
What can you do if you have discovered you are operating in the Invisible Woman pattern? Read the following list of guidelines for being a healthy, happy adult woman. Watch your reaction to each item and notice any objections that come up as you read. This will allow you to see how your own sense of invisibility is structured. As you become aware of how you formed this pattern you can begin to dismantle it.
A healthy, happy adult woman:
- Spends time daily in self-reflection so she is aware of her feelings and needs.
- Spends time daily connecting to her spiritual source and receiving spiritual sustenance.
- Knows that meeting her own needs is not selfish. The more we meet our own needs, the better we will be able to truly support others.
- Respects both herself and the abilities of others to look after themselves. This includes our children, in age-appropriate ways. (There are many great books and Internet resources on child development if you need more information.)
- Develops the willingness and the skill to ask in a direct and gracious way for support from others when she needs it. This allows others the pleasure of giving to her.
- Keeps her ‘to do’ list reasonable and manageable by prioritizing urgent and important matters and allowing the rest to be done as time allows. She knows that making time for self-reflection and self-nurturing is an urgent and important item.
- Revises her definition of “perfection” so that her expectations of self and others are reasonable and joy-filled.
When we attend to self care, clear communication and a willingness to receive as well as give, we are powerful role models for others.
Use this list to begin to observe yourself living your life. Notice that when you follow these guidelines, life is much more enjoyable and fulfilling. Notice that when you fall back into old patterns the results are often unwanted. Make a commitment to experiencing your authentic self, and sharing that self with others. You will be glad you did!
~ Kristin van Tilburg
Kristin van Tilburg is a guide for those who are interested in exploring the power of heart-centered living. Kristin believes that everyone benefits from making the shift from surviving, which is head-centered living, to thriving in heart-centered living. Making this shift is all about experiencing who you are as a co-creative partner with life and shedding the limited thinking that keeps you bound up in survival. She guides people into heart-based knowing, and letting go of head-based fears and doubts which are the only barriers to a life of joy and purpose. For more information, email Kristin@heartcenteredexplorations.com.