Allison Keating answers your queries about life & relationships.
Question: I am 42 and a stay at home mum. I am very happy with my life apart for one thing. I am not great at putting myself forward, even when I really want something. For example, there was an opportunity to volunteer for something at my kids school recently and I really wanted to do it. I spoke up but a woman with a stronger personality spoke over me and she is now doing the activity. My daughter, who is 9, was with me at the time and I could see she was upset as she really wanted me to do it also. I apologised to her and she said it didn’t matter but I think she lost a bit of respect for me. I was so mad afterwards – at the domineering woman but mostly at myself. Why am I still so meek at my age and what example am I giving my kids?
Allison replies: I can imagine you sitting in the class with your daughter by your side and with some trepidation and excitement raising your hand to put your voice in the running to volunteer for this role. I can hear that it was important to you and that you knew it was important to your daughter as well. You wanted to show up for yourself and to model this for her as well.
When the other person spoke over you, what were your thoughts in that moment? How did it feel? Did you notice any sensations you felt in your body? If I asked you to think about them now, could you identify them? It is a worthwhile exercise to write this down and to start this as a practice to get you in the habit of noticing how an experience is for you with the intent of knowing what your next best steps could be.
Oftentimes, the first thing to do would be to acknowledge the thoughts and emotions present. To try this exercise from a frame of reference of being an observer who isn’t attached to the intense emotions. To note them down and then to reflect with compassion if you saw this play out in front of you. Acknowledge, observe, and then bring in the compassionate inquiry.
I can imagine that your felt uncomfortable and that you knew you wanted to speak louder but you felt something was holding you back. Such as it may not be in your nature, to be loud or to domineer. You may have felt socially constrained to not talk over another person, as it may not align with your values or how you would like to be treated so can you see why you need to give yourself gentle and effective feedback.
It is an easy trap to vilify the ‘domineering’ woman and here’s why it will keep you stuck now and going forward. There will always be domineering, or louder people in your life. What would be more helpful is to identify what it is about domineering people that triggers you. Do you or did you have a domineering person in your life? Someone who talked over you, didn’t listen to your point of view, or minimised your emotions or experiences.
The hugely progressive part of knowing your triggers is you can see them coming quicker and even if it knocks you down you can pick the right tool for the job from your psychological toolbox. When I talk about psychological tools it’s important to know that each one has a different job to do and by utilizing and trying them out you can get a sense of what works for you.
What I hear from your words is a lack of confidence and self-belief. It is poignantly common how often I hear stay-at-home mums say that even though they are happy they have noticed a huge loss of self in terms of confidence.
This can show up when you are in female circles where a quietness can be assumed around others where you unintentionally don’t value your own voice and opinions enough. Or you do value your opinions, but it feels threatening to put them out there. Threatening may seem like a strong choice of words, but this is where tuning into how this shows up in your body is important. The reason why is because so much of your reactions may be coming from your unconscious, so you need to bear the frustration of knowing what you want but the idea of voicing your words get stuck in your throat especially in triggering situations where you feel over-powered or drowned out.
Why is this, there are so many possible reasons, but some are cultural in terms of what we collectively believe women ‘should’ be doing. The myth of ‘having it all’ or ‘doing it all’ is real but how it limits in the everyday is as pernicious as it is hard to spot.
If you had the time back again, what would you have liked to have gone differently in the classroom? What would you have liked to have said? Creating future scripts from lived experiences is a good tool to prepare you for another similar situation(s).
This will be an opportunity to try again. If you daughter takes anything from this, it will be to see you trying and even if it doesn’t work to have the gumption to try again. We need to foster failure, to show that taking risks, and it not working out isn’t the whole story.
Is there any other possible solution or outcome that would work for you with getting this role? Could you share it with the other lady? That might not be a viable option, but this is where we grow when we give ourselves permission to learn, slip up and try again this is powerful parenting. Never let age define you, there is so much power in the words, ‘I haven’t done it ‘yet’’.
Allison regrets that she cannot enter into correspondence. If you have a query you would like addressed in this column, email [email protected]
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