The words, “just be yourself” can be three of the most confusing words in the English language to a woman. Why? In our culture, a woman often has to sort through many layers of other “selves” before she can find the one that resembles her “true self.” She is often conditioned to believe in so many versions of a false self in order to survive (get her basic needs met), that the well intended words, “just be yourself” can become confusing.
Here are a few examples:
- The appeasing self: the self that is conditioned from a very early age to be the appeasing one, the one who is taught to be pleasing to society and appealing to the male gaze. Does she choose this self?
- The self-less one: the self that is conditioned to believe that she is always less – less powerful, less appealing as a choice for a leader, will make less of a salary and have to work twice as hard as the male gender. Does she choose the self that angrily demands equality at any cost?
- The suspicious self: the self that is taught that a woman’s strength cannot come from her true self because she has been told a woman’s nature, when given power, has proven to be risky to the system; a fickle and uncertain platform, always shifting, prone to emotional outbursts or changing her opinion. Does she choose a self she dare not trust?
A woman is conditioned to believe that building a life planted firmly in her true self is a risky business.
So, when a woman hears the words, “just be yourself,” it is often difficult to locate a target for a self she can trust. It is difficult for a woman to build trust with her true self, difficult, but not impossible.
Let’s explore four challenges and steps a woman can take to begin the journey to discover her true self, and why it is vitally important in our day and age.
Challenge 1: The world can be a violent place for a woman.
Your true self may have gone into hiding to survive in the world, but she is still there, she is original to you, your true nature, waiting to be discovered, waiting to be powerful, to act and not just react, to reclaim balance in her self and in the world.
Do not let statistics discourage, discredit or define your journey. Your true self may be hidden within, but she is there and she can be found. Make an intentional plan for the journey of self-discovery,let your words become reality, use a journal or a story board to plan your excursion to go in search of your true self. When will you launch your expedition? What is holding you back? What resources will you need? What medium will you use or combination of mediums such as yoga, art, writing, therapy, acting, singing, small group, etc.? Often the true self can be readily glimpsed through creative endeavors. And if you are one of the women who has suffered violence, see step 3.
Challenge 2: Passion alone is not enough, you need a strategy to discover the true self. (hint, there are no shortcuts)
We all need a strategy to partner with our passion in finding a voice, a ground, a center. There are many strategies available, and choosing your strategy will often require trying a few things on for size. One pathway to locating a strategy that I have found to be both healing and empowering is from Jungian analyst, author and storyteller, Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Ph.D., “Women Who Run With The Wolves: Myths & Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype.” Here is a wonderful (free) audio version of her speaking about her book, a good place to begin or continue the journey to the true self. Remember, to be patient, there are no shortcuts to finding a true self, but the key is to begin. Depth Psychologist, C.G. Jung, said that it takes half a lifetime to work out one’s psychology, so be patient.
Remember: It is more important to take the journey than to have immediate results.
Challenge 3: Healing is a necessary component of discovering a true self.
If you have gone through an experience of violence, trauma or feeling trapped in a dysfunctional environment at some point in your life, it is crucial to be a part of a community that can help you to name your pain or trauma and be on the pathway to healing with fellow travelers. In addition to faith and therapy, it is vital to be a part of a small group that will help to get at the core and rootedness of pain. Not every small group is the right one, but once you become open to the idea, naming your needs and searching for a group in your area that can address your needs is a good next step. You will often uncover many resources you simply did not see before your search began when you commit to your own healing and to taking the journey to discover your true self.
Challenge 4. Feeling like are alone in your struggle.
The reality is, we are all in one great struggle, everyone is living out a private struggle we know nothing about. We often feel isolated and alone in our pain, but when we open up to sharing our journey with others in a safe environment, we realize we are not alone. So be kind to yourself and others, forgiving, gentle and patient, understanding that it is not just women who struggle to discover a true self in the systems upon which our world has been built, men also struggle, and nature struggles, too. We truly are in this together. As a woman discovers her true nature, the world heals alongside of her, men, women, children and the planet, too. All who inhabit Mother Earth benefit from a woman’s healing. Be compassionate with yourself and others, contrary to popular belief, mercy does triumph over greed, love is the most powerful force in the universe, tried and true. But also remember, being forgiving of others does not mean giving up on your healing, remain relentless and focused in your own journey to healing and discovering your true nature.
Remember: You are your best advocate.
Learning to discover a true self, a true nature, has value not just for you, but for the healing of the planet as well. When we locate our true nature, we realize we are connected to the creative force of the world. So, go ahead, learn how to just be yourself, though it may take time to find her, you will. Learn to trust the truest self you can possibly be. There is joy and friendship at the center of you, waiting to be discovered.
Sherry Cothran is a critically acclaimed singer/songwriter & ordained pastor/preacher in the United Methodist Church. She is the co-founder of a social enterprise, Dreamweave: Transforming the lives of incarcerated women through social enterprise, director of the non-profit, Nashville Jung Circle and pastor of West Nashville/St. John’s UMC. For more on Sherry’s story, visit her website here.