I just learned a new word today: self-full. Self-full is when you are “true to [your] own perceptions, opinions, and needs.” In her book, A Woman’s Book of Life, Joan Borysenko asserts that when a woman is self-full, “she doesn’t have to fear being selfish.” (p.77)
Pause. Let that message sink in. Being self-full means not fearing being selfish. Can you imagine? Can you imagine how different your world, your life would be if girls were encouraged to be self-full? It boggles the mind.
If girls were nurtured to be self-full, then…
- Your decisions would be viewed through a lens of win-win opposed to me vs. them. In other words, there is an inherent assumption in the me vs. them mentality that when you do something for yourself, you do not care about others. How often have you been told that it is “selfish” to make a decision based on your needs? The implication is twofold. The assumption is not only do you do not care about others, but your needs are less important than others. Baloney! When a women is self-full, she knows that taking care of herself is what allows her to take care of others. An empty well cannot give water.
- You would easily relate to self and others with compassion. When you are self-full, you can acknowledge your feelings – both the pleasant and unpleasant ones – without judging them. Feelings are just that – feelings. They are not a sign of weakness or of strength, rather feelings serve as a teacher: a way to acknowledge what is happening and to help you make decisions. When you can appreciate the information feelings give, then you are able to have compassion for both yourself and others. Compassion, the ability to see another’s suffering and the desire to alleviate it, is the very definition of unselfish.
- You would trust your intuition. Too often our culture sends girls mix messages: “Don’t talk to strangers but be nice and speak to this person whom you’ve never met,” or “Don’t let anyone touch you but go give so-and-so a hug.” These mixed messages are confusing and can make you question the veracity of your internal barometer. These messages also encourage you to shut down or ignore the little voice inside you which knows things without knowing how. When you are taught to listen and to honor that voice, you hone your intuition and learn to use it to keep you safe.
I, therefore, invite you to embrace your self-fullness as well as to encourage self-fullness in others. Our world needs you in all your infinite fullness. It is your self-fullness that powers your voice – that allows you to speak out for yourself and for others.
Ideally, we would learn this lesson in adolescence, and some of us do, but we are not the majority. For many of us, we do not reclaim our voice until our middle years. If you are struggling to find your voice or you want some simple strategies to support a young woman in finding her voice, then I encourage you to give the following practice a try.
Honoring the Female Voice
- Ask yourself how you feel right now. Notice if you want to self-edit or justify your feeling. Be aware of phrases like: “It’s not that bad,” or “It could be worse,” or “Usually I don’t feel this way but…” Then say aloud or write down your feeling anyway.
- Be aware of judgments. After acknowledging your feelings or listening to another person’s feelings, resist the temptation to judge the feeling or to fix them. Feelings are information. They are not something that needs to be fixed – even the unpleasant ones. Let yourself feel and notice if any judgments arise. More than likely a judgment is an old, old message you received from long ago. Judgments usually stem from someone’s inability to accept or to hear a feeling they did not like.
- Acknowledge the feeling with a sense of curiosity, and if you can, compassion. In the beginning, compassion may feel like a tall order, especially if you are not used to giving it. You may find it difficult to sense your suffering or another’s without wanting to fix it, or even, deny it. If so, then stay curious. “That’s interesting,” you may say to yourself, “I feel scared when I can’t make a decision.” Then complete the following sentence: “I wonder if it is possible to…” See how many times you can complete the sentence, “I wonder if it is possible to…” Allow your curiosity to guide you toward compassion.
- Most importantly, do not tell yourself or another what to feel. You feel what you feel. There are no “supposed to’s.” Notice if you attempt to correct yourself or another by telling them what to feel. If you do, then stop and identify what you are afraid of. Usually, when you fear something, you attempt to suppress it. This would be a great time to practice compassion and acknowledge your fear with lovingkindness.
May your voice be loud and clear.