Our Many Selves, My Self/My Self
© 1979 - 2001 Michele Toomey, PhD

We have many roles and many conflicts but in essence only one self...and she is enmeshed in contradiction.

The way we were taught to view the world, how to place ourselves in it, and then struggle not to be destroyed by it, is the focus of my presentation this morning.

Each of us must confront the basic view of women before we can discover ourselves. I firmly believe the norm for us as women is to self destruct. The basic task confronting us relative to this terrifying expectation is to survive it. Any woman turning her eye on herself finds the need to hide in some way from herself because fear is the predominant emotion and contradiction rampant.

  1. Fear of conforming, yet fear of deviating.
  2. Fear of anger, yet angry for being afraid.
  3. Fear of confrontation, yet alienated from manipulation.
  4. Fear of taking charge of our own life, yet needing to exercise power by orchestrating others' lives.
  5. Fear depression, yet desire its solace.
  6. Fear risks, but long for adventure.
  7. Fear flexibility, yet imprison ourselves by accepting the rigidity of the woman role.
  8. Fear of valuing and loving ourselves in our own right, yet lonely in our put downs of who we are.
To protect ourselves from this harsh reality we tend to use two major survival tools:

1. Retreat into fantasy. Our primary fantasy focuses on a husband and children with whom we build a fantasy "family", that goes to services together, spends holidays in loving intimacy, vacations in ideal settings with romantic interludes beyond compare, and in our old age, loving, successful children adoringly nurture us as our pride in them makes dying a passing on of a beautiful legacy.

2. Prevent reflection. Non-reflection allows bright women capable of deep insight to block out the realization that if we are indeed in such a powerless position of reacting to a world that controls us we are in real trouble.

A norm that dictates fear and powerlessness stinks. A survival scheme that requires retreat and/or non-reflection is too costly, since it also implies paying with a loss of self, so it too stinks.

Women who buy this bill of fare are deprived of their most precious gift - themselves. Since we have all been subjected to the socialization process that propagates this world view for and of women, we are all together engaged in an exploration not only with "myself in relation to myself", but in relation to my sisters.

The stereotypic woman

  • Talks too much and does too little.
  • Cries too much over what is done to her and values too little what she does for herself.
  • Reacts too often as a child who has no recourse other than tantrum, when in fact she has her own creative thoughts at her fingertips.
  • Distrusts her own ability to evaluate feelings and facts for making decisions, even as she knows she's extremely capable.
  • Considers women who break the norm as unfeminine, bitchy or crazy, even as she longs for the freedom to be herself.

    It is no wonder that depression and hysteria are the two most prevalent maladies in our herstory. The female view of the world and the world view of women both naturally breed desperate feelings.

    This stark confrontation with the normative view of women's role in life provides the context for us to now look at ourselves as individuals.

    By being here today you are non-verbally communicating to each other that there is at very least, within you, some confusion and dissatisfaction with the ground rules as they currently exist and define you.

    If you are willing to take it beyond confusion or contradiction, I suggest you replace this destructive norm of barely surviving or even of surviving comfortably with the exciting philosophy of liberating yourself. By replacing the imprisoning themes of:

    • "I react, the world controls"
    • "Conformity is a reward in itself".
    • "Feelings dominate head" and "feel, not do."

    with the freeing challenge of:

    • "I initiate, the world responds"
    • "Choice is a reward din itself".
    • "Feelings and head can make a cooperative team, and feelings do not need to tyrannize head."

then you are on the path to your own self.

Once the understanding and commitment are there, the process of evolving into "Myself/Myself" is one that self needs to flow with according to its own timing and style. This requires:

  1. Cultivating a dialogue between head and feelings as we re-educate them to work together as an effective team.
  2. Reflection becoming our natural state of awareness. We cannot afford to let our head veg out on us, leaving us at the mercy of old tapes or destructive forces. We need to learn to have our own agenda, not embark with a blank sheet that everyone else writes their script on.
  3. Analyzing and evaluating where we're coming from, what's happening, and where we want to go, thus replacing value judgments and guilt feelings with evaluation.
  4. Determining our own value system as an essential ingredient for being in touch with the woman we are, as opposed to accepting a predetermined set of dictated principles that rarely, if ever, took us into account.
  5. Setting personal priorities which flow from self knowledge and self set goals and then dealing sequentially with our life, which gives us a sense of purpose, of moving from here to there, growing in a certain direction, working toward a certain end. Rather than an unending parade of events overwhelming our ability to do anything, other than take them as they come, hoping and praying they don't do us in, we take charge.
The essential ingredient in all this is commitment.

Commitment to the idea of liberating myself.

Commitment to myself and the effort it will take to free me up to be myself.

Commitment to each other that we will, at minimum, never deliberately undermine each others' quest for liberation.

Liberation is a beautiful word. It is also a scary word, which takes us back to where we began...we are, by norm, afraid of ourselves. We are, therefore, afraid of many aspects of liberation, since it focusses attention on ourselves, not hidden, nor exploited but standing tall unto ourselves. We are by training afraid, especially of who we will discover we are. That we may not like who we discover and those who love us may not love the woman we become. However, if we are loved for the lie we pretend we are, we are not in fact loved at all. And if the woman we become when we let ourselves discover who we are is rejected, then our integrity is at stake. Can we love ourselves enough to claim who we are, with our strengths and limitations, needs and desires open for ourselves to see, and then with head held high proclaim this is truly "Myself, Myself"?

I hope we can and if we can't - we are a living casualty for whom we all should grieve. For, indeed, the challenge of life is to live it, not fake it, and living it as the woman we are can only be to our glory. We are who we are, not who we are told to be.

At that point, not only will we have survived, we will have prevailed, a fitting tribute to ourselves.

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