No big surprise: I love books! A ton of them are on my Kindle and most of the time I’m good with reading the “virtual” version. But sometimes I order the physical book, too. It’s silly, I suppose. There’s no need to have more than one copy. But the books I am most moved by? I want the “actual” thing in my hands.
Last week I did exactly this. I was re-reading portions of a book that has me saying, “I wish I wrote this!!!” more times than I can count. And though I’ve highlighted my my way through it in electronic form, it was clear that I needed wanted it in my hands and on my shelf. If it’s not on your shelf (or your Kindle), I highly recommend it: Cassandra Speaks: When Women are the Storytellers, the Human Story Changes by Elizabeth Lesser. (‘Guessing by the title alone you can figure out why I’m so smitten!)
It is hard to pick from so much amazing content, but there are two quotes, separated only by a page of so, that I’m offering and reflecting on today. No question, they are on my behalf; I’m hoping yours, as well.
. . . we know the truth of our own experiences, yet we are told we are lying or overreacting; we can see consequences on the horizon, but it’s still “common knowledge” that women’s emotions cloud their vision, that we tend toward hysteria — even madness — and therefore are not to be believed. . . Far from women as a species being irrational, overemotional, hysterical, lunatic or morally weak,” writes the Australian author Jane Caro, “what strikes me about women and their history is just how damn sane we have managed to stay.
Even without knowing your story, I am completely certain that you have one or more experiences of being told that you are lying or overreacting. I am also completely certain that it’s amazing just how damn sane you’ve managed to stay.
Which also makes me completely certain that there have been (and are) plenty of times in which you feel crazy! And if not that, exhausted by all the mental gymnastics required to filter others’ version of your story and hang on to your own. *sigh*
It’s a lot of work: taking in so many messages, sifting and sorting through them to discern which ones are true, which ones are not, which ones need to be paid attention to, which ones need to be completely ignored, which ones need to be addressed, which ones need to be adamantly refused. . . And it’s not like we can flip a switch and enter into complete peace and calm just because we want to. It takes effort and discipline and determination and patience and so. much. grace.
Almost twenty years ago I held a leadership position at the seminary where I received my M.Div. degree. After a few months in the job I began to notice that female employees and students would come into my office, ask if they could close the door and sit down, and then say something like this:
“I don’t know how to explain exactly what I’m feeling or exactly what’s going on, but I feel kinda crazy. It’s probably nothing . . . It’s probably me, but…”
It ALWAYS had to do with a conversation or interaction they’d had with a man on staff. Time and again it was as if their words didn’t land, they felt slightly dismissed (but not enough to be sure), they were left out of the loop somehow, things just felt “off.”
Once I recognized the pattern and the more I heard the words “I feel kinda crazy,” I learned to say, “You are not the crazy one!” I’d explain what I meant, listen more, affirm their experiences as real and true (and sane), and then before they left, have them repeat out loud (with as much defiance as they could muster): “I am not the crazy one. I am not the crazy one. I am NOT the crazy one!”
The very fact that we feel crazy is EXACTLY the evidence that tells us we’re not!
Other people and the systems within which we live and work reinforce the internal messages that convince us we’re to blame, we’re the one with the problem, we’re being “irrational, overemotional, hysterical, lunatic, or morally weak.” Exactly the opposite is true!
It’s a form of gaslighting, of course. “Gaslighting at its core is always about self-preservation and the maintenance of power/control — namely, the power/control to construct a narrative that keeps the gaslighter in the ‘right’ and [the other person] in the ‘wrong.’” (Aki Rosenberg, LMFT)
It’s not enough, of course: repeating the mantra, “I am not the crazy one. I am not the crazy one. I am NOT the crazy one.” It doesn’t magically change reality. But it can actually help. It reminds you that you are not wrong. It gives you back the power that was always yours in the first place. And it is a way of offering yourself so. much. grace.
Again from Cassandra Speaks, Elizabeth Lesser says this:
I see changes afoot. I see bold women everywhere taking what used to be called a tendency to cause trouble and rebranding it as a tendency to speak up, to confront the gaslighting, and to make our culture more caring, communicative, and emotionally intelligent.
This feels like grace, too.
Not soft grace, tender grace, grace as traditionally “feminine” in quality and characteristic (like balancing books on your head while pouring tea in the most practically perfect way).
Bold grace, brave grace, fierce grace is what you deserve. Speaking up. Confronting the harm. Being caring and communicative and emotionally intelligent. So much more. And it’s what you model for the rest of us when you “know the truth of your own experiences,” when you celebrate the fact that you have somehow managed to stay sane, when you hold onto your version of your own story, your very life, no matter what.
May it be so.