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Women and men have incredible personal power yet often don't realize their own multifaceted power or know how to use it appropriately. The understanding of power is often limited to behaviors that involve being controlling, aggressive, or having influence over others. Personal power has nothing to do with these traits; personal power evolves through knowing, honoring, and optimizing the whole of one's being.
True personal power arises through self-awareness-becoming conscious of one's positive and negative capacities. Personal power grows when we work to understand who we are and how to become more of who we want to be.
"Real" Women? "Real" Men?
Society often impregnates us with images of how a “real” woman or man should look or act. From romanticized images of Cinderella to television and movie versions of Superwoman, the ideal homemaker, or the perfect girlfriend, it’s easy for women to forget that real human beings—real women—are unique in demeanor, shape, size, appearance, and capacities.
Messages about womanhood are often confusing and contradictory. A woman is often taught that she must be pleasing, caring, maternal—and tough. She must need her man and be submissive, yet she must also be self-reliant and independent. She must be sexy and passionate but not in charge of her sexuality. She must be compassionate and caring but not too emotional. She must be intelligent but never smarter than the man next to her. The ideal woman must be petite, tall, thin, curvaceous, brunette, blonde, athletic, domestic, career-oriented, nurturing, and more. This setup is created by destructive fear. It wants women and men to perpetuate impossible expectations. Constructive fear wants you to know that there is great power and freedom in setting yourself free from the expectations of others.
Men struggle with their own list of impossible expectations. With media images that perpetuate the idea of the perfect man as tall, dark, and handsome, men have visions of the ideal man plastered in front of them. This towering, muscular man has broad shoulders, strong abs, and tremendous physical strength. He must guard his woman, children, and home, yet he must not be overpowering or forceful. Whether the image is Superman, James Bond, or a Navy SEAL, men often feel the need to be some idealized version of manhood—smart, savvy, sexy, and wise. He must never show his emotions out of fear of being weak. This ideal man must also be compassionate, attentive, thoughtful, and loving. He must be aggressive—but not too aggressive—and independent—but not too free. This ideal man must be fun-loving, strict, easygoing, sensitive, tough, formidable, gentle, wild, tame, protective, and tender.
Destructive fear wants women and men to go in circles—always chasing impossible ideals. Constructive fear wants you to notice that these impossible standards are the source of much intrapersonal and interpersonal conflict for both men and women.
Who Are You?
Maybe you truly know who you are—or maybe you don’t. Maybe you love the qualities you have accepted and embraced—or maybe not. Whatever your story is and however you got to be where you are today, you have so much ahead of you. Whether you are a self-growth enthusiast like me or someone who simply wants a more joyful life, perhaps you are craving a better understanding of how to optimize your extraordinary self.
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As with other aspects of our personhood, women learn “how to be women” early on in life. By watching mothers, elder sisters, grandmothers, aunts, teachers, and media images, we learn from—and ultimately mimic— whatever role models we were exposed to from early childhood forward. Men learned “how to be men” by watching their fathers, older brothers, grandfathers, uncles, coaches, and media images.
Whether born male or female, we simply tend to model what we observe; we can’t help it. Coupled with our unique DNA, the environment around us often makes us who we are— and the formative impact occurs before we have the cognitive capacity to understand what is taking place.
As a result of these natural influences, we are unconsciously molded into a being that we did not fully choose to be. Now, as a more aware adult, you can choose to change what does not work for you and create more of what makes you feel like who you want to be.
How Children Learn
In essence, all children learn by paying attention to certain behaviors in their environment. They form ideas about what they have seen and ultimately mimic the behaviors. Children then tend to strengthen the behaviors that result in approval or other forms of attention.
Children also learn by observing the consequences of others’ behavior; they are more likely to mimic behaviors that are rewarded in some way. Interestingly, many parents and caregivers unwittingly reinforce negative behaviors by giving children far more attention for what they do wrong than what they do right. Children, particularly those who don’t receive enough positive attention, may choose “acting out” behaviors that will get them some sort of attention—even if it is negative in nature. Some become combative, often imitating an aggressive parent’s behavior. Some children may observe the negative behaviors and outcomes and elect to run in fear, freeze, or become invisible in some way. Others become peacekeepers and people-pleasers, striving to keep family unrest at a minimum.
In general, children unconsciously adopt a medley of functional and dysfunctional patterns that help them navigate their world. In many ways, a child’s script of “how to be” is an amalgamation of whatever behaviors were observed, encoded, and reinforced in some way. Fortunate children grow up in healthy environments that consistently provide opportunities to observe loving, respectful interactions between parents and other family members.
Unfortunately, many children are reared in homes that model unkind, disrespectful treatment of spouses, children, and even family pets. Many are raised in environments where women and nurture-energy qualities are disrespected, devalued, and even hated. In this way, destructive fear begins its work when a child is very young. It gets inside the body, mind, and spirit. It tells the child how to be—how to act—even when that behavior is destructive to the self and others. It is by listening to the wise voice of constructive fear that change is possible. By taking this positive energy and using it for active change, transformational fear comes to life to create the necessary shifts.
Exercises: The Evolution of Your Life Roles and Personal Characteristics
To prepare for this series of exercises, create a safe and relaxed environment. This multi-level segment may take you some time to complete. Be patient with yourself, as the various layers address important elements of your work with transformational fear.
Make certain that you are psychologically ready to proceed. With your pen and journal at your side, take a few cleansing breaths. Proceed with an attitude of nonjudgment, letting thoughts and images arise as they will. Destructive fear may step in with thoughts of blame, guilt, or judgment; allow yourself to set these thoughts free. When you are ready, close your eyes.
Imagine your parents, caregivers, and any other chief role models in life. Allow yourself to envision the roles that these individuals embodied. When you are ready, open your eyes. For each role model, whether a parent, grandparent, dominant sibling, or influential teacher or coach, write their names in your notebook. Use a separate page for each person. You may want to work with one role model at a time.
Next to each person’s name, list the various roles that you believe this person embodied--the roles might be provider, bully, father, businessman, and tyrant. Avoid destructive fear’s push to tell you that there is an “all good” or “all bad” role model. Notice if destructive fear uses judgment to tell you that you are “right” or “wrong” by viewing your role models in a certain way— your unique, personal impressions and perspectives are what matter. Remember, your purpose is to notice how the roles affected you in both positive and negative ways.
After listing the roles for each person, pause to breathe. Next, consider each role you listed. Without judgment, put a plus sign next to those that had a positive impact on you. Then put a minus sign next to those that affected you negatively. Breathe.
Next, look at the name of each role model; again, you may wish to work with one role model at a time. Close your eyes, imagining the various traits—both positive and negative—that were most pronounced in each person. Take care to remain accepting and nonjudgmental. When you are ready, open your eyes. Breathe. Below each person’s name, make two columns, one marked “positive” and the other marked “negative.” List the person’s positive traits in one column and the negative traits in another. The positive list might read: kind, nurturing, hardworking, patient, and compassionate. The negative list might read: passive, passive-aggressive, unfocused, and unmotivated. With Thomas’s father as an example, the positive list might read: humorous, hardworking, creative, diligent, and focused. The negative list might read: domineering, disrespectful, cruel, and insensitive. With an attitude of nonjudgment, create lists for each role model. When you are finished with this section, pause to breathe.
This next portion gives you the opportunity to notice that certain traits have a positive core but can become negative when the positive core is either overly amplified or underdeveloped. This is an important, if sometimes difficult, concept to understand. Look at the negative list of traits for each person. Imagine the root positive trait at the core of each item. Using Thomas’s father as an example, the core of “domineering” might be the positive trait of personal power that became destructive due to an overamplification of power and control. As another example, “disrespectful” would be the underdevelopment or demise of respect for self and others. Work with the negative traits of each person, investigating which are the result of an overly amplified trait and which are the result of underdevelopment. Make notes of your discoveries, taking care to remain nonjudgmental. When you are finished, pause to breathe.
In these next segments, you will have the opportunity to look at your own roles and traits without judgment. Pause to breathe. When you are ready, close your eyes. Imagine your own roles in life as they currently exist. Next, open your eyes and make notes about your various roles in life. For example, you might note: workaholic, provider, doer, pleaser, or victim. Pause to breathe. Then close your eyes again. Imagine the roles in life that you would like to open up or claim as your own. When you are ready, make notes about your desires. Be as specific as possible. For example, you might note: lover, volunteer, active parent, tender husband, balanced provider, healthy being, etc.; leave plenty of space between each role. Pause to breathe. Then, next to each role, write out three very specific actions you can take to enliven your existing roles and create new ones with passion. For example, next to lover, you might write: (1) I will make a date night with my partner once a week; (2) I want to become more playful in the bedroom—I will invest in sexy lingerie and massage oil; (3) I will make more time to play attentively with my partner so that our relationship has more playful intimacy. Pause to breathe.
Without judgment, imagine your positive and negative traits. Feel free to close your eyes. Refrain from judging yourself—simply allow yourself to notice those traits that are helpful for you (those that improve your life) and those that work against you (those that create hardships in your life). Pause to breathe. Next, make two lists—one for the positive traits that work for you and one for the negative traits that work against you.
Pause to breathe. Then put a plus sign next to those positive traits that you would like to increase or balance. For example, you might note in your positive column that you are considerate. If you are satisfied with your level of consideration, you would make no mark. If you would like to increase your level of consideration, you will make a plus mark. Next, put a minus sign next to those negative traits that you are truly willing to invest in decreasing or balancing. For example, you might have noted that you are sarcastic. If you want to invest in decreasing this trait, you would place a minus sign next to it. Pause to breathe.
Finally, allow yourself to envision ways that you can create shifts in your own life. Remember, destructive fear will not want you to be concrete or detailed; it knows that you are less likely to create change without specificity and consistency. Notice all the traits—positive and negative—that are asking for your attention. Make a list of three specific, actionable ways that you can create balance and beneficial energy in these areas. For example, if you are sarcastic with your partner or others in your life, you might create change through steps such as these: (1) I will ask my partner to gently let me know when I am being sarcastic; (2) When my partner tells me I am being sarcastic, I will not become combative or defensive—I will listen; (3) I will take responsibility and rephrase my comment so that my message is direct and kind. Complete this for each trait on your list. Pause to breathe. Well done.
It can be very difficult to put your goals into action. Change is challenging, even under the best of circumstances. As such, you may naturally stumble now and again. Trust that what you write in your exercises will always be available for ready reference. Your hard work in each exercise will never be lost—you can turn to your exercises at any time for guidance, reinforcement, and support.
Although change is, by nature, often very difficult and demanding, the journey is ultimately rewarding beyond belief. You can absolutely achieve your goals with patience, dedication, and effort. As a friend once told me, “Even the strongest ballet dancer stumbles and falls. The secret is to get up again and dance.” So trust that you have what it takes to live the life you want to live—and dance the way you want to dance.
Believe In Yourself and Your Journey
As you embrace the roles that you choose in life, you will notice that you become more joyful and passionate. As you foster the characteristics that make you feel good about yourself and your actions, your self-esteem will flourish. As you diminish or let go of the traits that hold you back, stifle you, or make you less than proud, you will find that you truly like—and even really love—the person in the mirror. You become the role model you wish you had—and you become the type of role model the world truly needs.
Remember that destructive fear will want to hold you back. It wants to make you less than the tremendously self-aware, joyful individual you are meant to be. Constructive fear wants to free you. It wants you to know that you matter—that your life matters. It wants you to recognize that regardless of how negative or destructive your past might have been, you are creating the awareness and tools to set yourself free. You—amazing you—are transforming your life.
©2019 by Carla Marie Manly. All Rights Reserved.
Published by Familius LLC. www.familius.com
Joy from Fear: Create the Life of Your Dreams by Making Fear Your Friend
by Carla Marie Manly PhD.
If you find yourself running away from fear, you're running in the wrong direction. Fear demands that we move toward it, face it, and hear its messages. When we fail to do this, the price is high-chronic anxiety, sleeplessness, damaged relationships, skyrocketing pharmaceutical use, and more. In her enlightening book Joy from Fear, clinical psychologist Dr. Carla Marie Manly explains that fear, when faced with awareness, is the powerful ally and best friend we all need.
About the Author
Dr. Carla Marie Manly has become recognized as an authority on fear and fear-based disorders such as trauma, anxiety, and depression. With a doctorate in clinical psychology and a master's degree in counseling, Dr. Manly merges her psychotherapy skills with her writing expertise to offer sound, digestible guidance. Recognizing a need for greater somatic awareness in society, Dr. Manly has integrated yoga and meditation practices into her private psychotherapy work and public course offerings. Visit her website at https://www.drcarlamanly.com/