In many ways, this shared undercutting and negativity reinforces individual patterns that become habitual, cementing negative self-talk and doubt into our psyche.
It's a common dynamic: Casual conversation among women often defaults into shared commiseration and subtle self-deprecation. "How are you?" is abbreviated into "What's hard/wrong," and sharing strength and joy is subconsciously reigned in to avoid ruffled feathers and social ostracization.
There is value in sharing our burdens, but burdens and self-censoring are too often the main course. In conversations with superiors and peers alike, we instinctively insert justifiers — "but"s," "just"s and "should"s. Why is slipping into what we can't do as comfortable as slipping out of our bra at the end of the day?
Well, it's understandable — we all seek connection and acceptance, and we're made to believe we cannot relate to others if we take pride in what we've done. In our society, subjugating our accomplishments is a colloquial nicety that imbues humility and relatability to whoever employs it, particularly women. We're viewed more favorably when we're meek and agreeable and we're exalted when we're selfless to such a degree that the self ceases to exist.
By making ourselves small, we avoid the risk of making others feel the same. We avoid the tension created when our self-love butts up against someone else's sense of inadequacy. It's the classic victim-blaming dynamic — we must adjust our behavior so as not to cause someone else's inappropriate response. One of the easiest ways to avoid this? Just stick to sharing what's wrong.
Case in point: discussing the idea of writing this article led my friends to agreement over the negativity of default commiserating, but skepticism over discussing what we feel good about. "Well, being proud is good...within reason." "Talking too much about your accomplishments makes you seem like an asshole." But I never mentioned narcissistic boasting — apparently women simply taking pride in what they've done implies overuse. As if pride, at least in application to women, is inherently arrogant unless proven otherwise. As if confidence is a four letter word.
Much of this arises from the dynamics of a patriarchal society. You cannot steep in unquestioned and unspoken gender norms and not be affected. Assumed and acceptable roles root themselves in our subconscious, exposed in our eagerness to take ourselves down a peg. And when we lead with our struggles, we're tapping into our inadequacies, fear, and smallness. We're subconsciously reinforcing our societal subjugation by cultivating our weaker selves.
But what if we refused to undercut our achievements for the comfort of others and started bonding over our strengths, fearlessness, and inspiring pursuits? Over our willingness to share our strength sans justification, rather than Photoshopping it into something less potentially abrasive? That's right: you got that raise, ran that marathon, raised that amazing kid — no need for "but"s!
Changing this submissive and negative dynamic is vitally important — it's far more damaging than we realize. In many ways, this shared undercutting and negativity reinforces individual patterns that become habitual, cementing negative self-talk and doubt into our psyche. We also miss the opportunity to inspire others and ourselves and create questions and awareness about personal and cultural dynamics.
Just before she passed, my grandmother expressed to my mother her biggest life regret. It wasn't a trip she didn't take, a person she didn't spend time with, or a hobby she neglected. It was failing to praise her daughters for their accomplishments — failing to show them to take pride in who they are and what they do. "I was always told it would make them stuck-up, but that's nonsense. It just made it harder for them to love themselves."
Let's stop the nonsense and start sharing our strength.