Admittedly, Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In titillated me. I guess my high tech background made the whole thing entertaining. I also thought, “Wow this woman is setting aside some serious time out of her life to talk about something that has been on my mind since I compared my haircut to Ginny Mathews’ do in kindergarten”. I have known and been sensitive for ages to how women are taught the importance of being well liked. Being liked and fitting in is more important than being authentic, pursuing one’s passions, living in a way that is true to oneself. I like that Sandberg started the conversation but I was surprised by ways even she still held back and towed the line.
Over the last ten years, I have attracted women in my practice and life who, like me, have been shaped by a family and culture that hemmed them in to roles. Gender, family and cultural roles that say be nice, keep a clean house, look like everyone else, listen, smile all the time, bake cookies and stay small. Don’t be wild, don’t have too strong an opinion, don’t make waves and don’t be too “big”. I am not saying men don’t have their own cross to bear and I wrote an article that got some good feedback on the matter last year. Check it out here. But for now, I am dedicating this piece to the Wild Woman archetype that gets stifled by the demands of this culture and that ostracizes women for being anything other than demurring.
Psychological theory, at times, is guilty of the same stifling. I love being a mother but boy is there ever pressure on the mother to raise a “good and well behaved kid” by our tribal community and be a “good attachment object” “good enough mother” “the good breast”. Where is the “good enough father” language in psychological theory? How is psychology unconsciously a vehicle of the larger culture to keep the wild woman’s howl silenced?
Remember that oldie but goodie book from the nineties called Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes? I wish I could say I read it then. I am only reading it now. It is the more archetypal version of Sandberg’s book. After reading it, I secretly wish Sandberg had titled her book “Women Go Ahead and Howl!”. Roll your eyes. The women whom this phrase resonates with will get it in their bones. The rest won’t and here is the rub – Women with the Wild Woman archetype need to stop worrying or seeking validation by others. If women keep waiting to get the thumbs up that they will be liked for being powerful and wild then they will be waiting a long long time. It is the point in Sheryl Sandberg’s book I found most enticing. Women who are powerful in the workplace are less well-liked than their male counterparts just because she is a woman who is powerful NOT because she did anything different than the males.
“For years women who carry the mythic life of the Wild Woman archetype have silently cried, “Why am I so different?”
”So that is the final work of the exile who finds her own: to not only accept one’s own individuality, one’s specific identity as a certain kind of person, but also to accept one’s beauty…the shape of one’s soul and the fact that living close to that wild creature transforms us and all that it touches.”
“Consistency in manner is an impossible sentence for Wild Woman, for her strength is her adaptation to change, her innovation, her dancing, her howling, her growling, her deep instinctual life, her creative fire.”
So often people are drawn to psychotherapy to get unstuck from some bad feeling or to get a grip on a diagnosis but as I age in my work as a therapist much of the work is soul work. Inside the four walls of my office women get in touch with their true natures. Natures who are lovely, wild, unconventional, beautiful, difficult, challenging and unique. Natures who have been there all along but have been covered over by the demands of work, of fitting in, of being part of the community and being a woman. Covered over by beliefs learned a long long time ago that said they had to be different to be loved – certainly not Wild. I am grateful I made a career change from corporate life to this work. I am grateful I continue to uncover my own true nature while living out the great joys of watching someone re emerge into their own. This journey of true nature is not always easy, not always comfortable but always always very vital and alive. This is the life I think we all long for, even if we don’t let ourselves know it. For me, I will continue to howl.