I recently gave a luncheon talk to almost 300 business leaders. I was excited. But as many talks are, it was arranged months in advance, and a personal medical concern arose that resulted in some minor surgery and a bandage on my face just in time for this major event.
Now I could have entered that room full of professionals totally wrapped in a bandage, teasingly unwrapping myself as I spoke, revealing a little more with the removal of each strip, and having my audience in stitches before I revealed my own bandage. But such playful, resilient thinking was not what was going through my mind. Instead, there were my very own girly thoughts, informing me that speaking with a bandaged face would was shameful, that I couldn’t do this to my audience or myself.
My girly thoughts were insisting that if I gave my speech it would:
- upset my audience;
- make it difficult for them to listen to me;
- focus attention on my bandaged face and not on what I was saying.
Once again, I was experiencing what I wrote about in my book, The Resilient Woman: Our girly thoughts give us compelling reasons for why we should shrink from our power if we do not conform to these subtle societal standards.
The Ridiculous Pain When We Know We Don’t Look Our Best
I laughed when I finally realized that even though I “wrote the book” on this very subject, here I was again, feeling my very own girly thoughts, again. And yes, I was feeling it with all the almost-sick-to-my-stomach, feeling-like-my-face-was-on-fire, weak-kneed fear my mind could create.
To give my self some credit, I was getting head-turning stares as I walked around Albany, New York, and New York City. People were curious; I noticed more than a few double takes, which I’m not sure people were even aware of executing.
A Man Is Seen as Intriguing. . . A Woman as Damaged
I was at the point of canceling my presentation when a conversation I had with my father came to mind. He had a similar surgery on the same part of his face. I remember asking him if he was concerned about having a scar. He shrugged in his way and smiled.
“No,” he said, “it will give me character.”
In recalling this conversation, an essential difference between how society sees men and women came to mind. A man with a scar on his face is intriguing; a woman is often seen as damaged.
And I was feeling damaged.
Using Our Resilience Consciously
So I challenged myself, telling myself that what I was dealing with was no different than pushing through a really bad hair day. I realized that I could consciously use my resilience to help me through this, well, crisis, just as I had written about in my book. I recalled how I had handled other such moments in my life when I had to “show up” knowing I would be judged. I decided that if folks had a problem with my bandage, I could allow it to be their problem and not make it mine.
Much to the audience’s surprise, I began my talk with this revelation. Later, so many women came up to thank me for my bravery in coming. My decision to overcome my girly thoughts empowered them to share their truth about letting their own girly thoughts take over and they shared their stories of missing a twenty-fifth high school reunion, important meetings, a wedding—all because they feared being seen as damaged.
So when your girly thoughts literally hit you in the face, take heart: you too can learn to laugh at them, as you also learn to use your resilience consciously to help yourself through those tough times that season all our lives.
Now I hope to empower you to overcome your own girly thoughts: read the news coverage of my speech that taught me something about my own resilience, complete with a picture, at http://shar.es/EXCWJ.
I invite you to share a story of how you’ve literally had to face down your girly thoughts. It will be good for all of us to see that we’re not alone in this.
Patricia A. O'Gorman, Ph.D., is a psychologist in private practice. She is noted for her work on women, trauma, and substance abuse and for her warm, inspiring, and amusing presentations that make complex issues accessible and even fun. She has served as a consultant to organizations across the country in preventative and clinical strategic planning. Dr. O'Gorman is a cofounder of the National Association for Children of Alcoholics, and she has held positions ranging from director of a rape crisis center to clinical director of a child welfare agency, and director of the division of prevention for the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). She is a veteran of numerous television appearances, including Good Morning America, Today, and AM Sunday and is the author of eight books including: The Girly Thoughts 10 Day Detox Plan (2014), The Resilient Woman: Mastering the 7 Steps to Personal Power (2013), and Healing Trauma Through Self-Parenting (2012) 12 Steps to Self-Parenting.