The Power of Joy
We all have choices
After the fall of the Berlin Wall, my uncle came to the United States for the first time. Actually it was the first time he had been anywhere outside of East Germany. I have a vivid memory of us taking him to an ice cream shop during his visit. There were 42 flavors of ice cream to chose from. We all clamored in with pronouncements of our usual favorite flavors, and wether we wanted sprinkles or not, and he just stood there, silent. My mom kept asking him in German what he would like and explaining all of the many options he could have. He didn’t respond. Here he was, a medical doctor, and the prospect of all of these choices absolutely paralyzed him.
Now if you don’t know anything about life behind the Iron Curtain, choice basically didn’t exist. You went to the store and they had what they had. There weren’t multiple brands of anything. Even cars were all the same. They were the simple Trabant, a small car produced by the East German government engineered for proficiency and uniformity.
We stood in that shop for so long with ice cream dripping down our hands waiting for my dear uncle to wrap his head around this new and debilitating experience.
When was the last time you were paralyzed by indecision? You know how sometimes making a choice just seems impossible? My 18-year-old’s life is filled with choices right now and I tell her, “There’s no right or wrong, there’s just a decision.” But as a middle aged woman, I’m staring at so many choices too, and wondering about what I will chose and not chose for this next chapter of my life. One thing I don’t want to do is be silent. Researchers have identified a phenomenon among women in mid-life called the Silencing the Self Theory. We actively choose to shut ourselves down.
- sacrificing our own needs for the needs of others
- staying silent to keep the peace in a relationship
- distancing ourselves from what we really feel and what we are presenting to the outside world
Ouch. I found this when I was looking into why there is a crisis among middle aged women and diseases of despair. The Wall Street Journal reports that middle aged women have had some of the country’s highest rates of antidepressant use, saying one in five women 40-59 and one in four women over 60 use anti-depressants. I’m no doctor, but I would say silencing yourself would be pretty depressing. But there are so many other reasons women do this. We just did a retreat on self-limiting beliefs and it was so moving and so sad to see how the beautiful women who attended hold on to damaging thoughts about themselves. I say enough, my dear friends. Let’s all make some noise. Let’s choose what we want without fear. Let’s be all we can be and make our lives the best ever!
I wish I could say my uncle happily made a decision that day, but he didn’t. My mother finally got him chocolate chip, because that’s what she likes. He seemed relieved to be done with the actual decision making and he enjoyed his ice cream with the rest of us. We all have choices. Choose to make your life bold and beautiful and positive!
The Power of Why
Silencing the Self theory
Based on her comprehensive research, Dana Crowley Jack created the Silencing the Self (STS) theory in 1991, which details the negative psychological effects that occur when individuals silence themselves. Jack says self-silencing is “repressing one's feelings when they might threaten relationships or one's security, and appearing outwardly agreeable while inner feelings grow angry and resentful.”
She explained that this phenomenon is correlated to the social expectations placed on women, and theorized that a big reason why women experience a higher prevalence of certain psychological disorders is due to their systematic self-silencing in relationships.
In a longitudinal study of clinically depressed women, the women detailed how they began to silence or suppress certain thoughts, feelings, and actions that they thought would contradict their partner’s wishes. They did so to avoid conflict, to maintain a relationship, and/or to ensure their psychological or physical safety. They described how silencing their voices led to a loss of self and a sense of being lost in their lives. They also conveyed their shame, desperation, and anger over feelings of entrapment and self-betrayal.
These women expressed how their self-judgment and behavior were guided by specific beliefs about how they should act and feel in relationships. When followed, these self-silencing relational schemas create vulnerability to depression by directing women to defer to the needs of others, censor self-expression, repress anger, inhibit self-directed action, and judge the self against a culturally defined “good woman.”
Since the development of STS in 1991, many qualitative and quantitative research findings have connected self-silencing to the decline of physical health and emotional well-being of women.
Experts say that we can combat self-silencing with the use of the following tools:
- self-compassion ~ giving ourselves the love we need
- engaged living ~ living in alignment with our values
- supportive relationships ~ surround ourselves with people who treat us well and make us feel valued and heard.
In addition, experts recommend embracing the following actions:
1) Define Yourself instead of relying on other people’s opinions to define you. The first step to stop doing this is to simply notice when you’re worrying about what others will think and start to mentally challenge that.
2) Own Your Choices. Stop doing things because you think you should, and take an honest look at your deeper motivations: do you want to do this? Why or why not?
3) Speak Up. Use your voice to share your opinions with a group; don’t hold back from expressing your concerns; and start being more of yourself when you’re with trusted friends. Start small, and the more you share of yourself, the easier it will get.
Let’s band together as a community of women and put an end to STS!