The Invisible Compression - Uncomfortable to Meet u
A few weeks ago, I met up with an old university friend for lunch. He is a well-educated, professional individual. During our conversation, I shared with him some of the work I do with women around Power and Influence. As I was describing the patterns I notice in my work with women and myself, I could see the discomfort and unease growing. He leapt into a monologue - this was old news, we have long progressed beyond these issues in society, and my work is irrelevant.
If we could replay this moment in slow-motion, we could watch how the conditioned Good Girl took over my executive functions and body - I was perfectly willing to entertain the possibility that my male friend had extensive knowledge in the field of Women and Power, he certainly thought he did. As Rebecca Solnit, the author of "Men Explain Things to Me" (2014) described in her essay, women are conditioned to doubt themselves and feel that this is not their world. Men explain things to us all the time, whether or not they know what they are talking about. Her essay puts specific attention on the idea that men seemingly believe that no matter what a woman says, a man always knows better (a phenomenon that would later be labelled “Mansplaining”).
As I found myself in the midst of mansplaining, again, the Good Girl didn’t feel comfortable taking much space in the conversation, because who is she to know? She is the best listener and will never make anyone around her feel uncomfortable or god forbid, embarrassed.
As the Good Girl takes over my brain and body, I am already in a self-doubt mindset (one of the most common features of The Compression), feeling silenced and invalidated, receiving advice I wasn’t asking for, from a dear friend. Having “The World” mansplained to me. Why, after 45 years as a woman on this planet, 18 as a Clinical Psychologist working with women, I was just wrong.
As the minutes pass, I am trying to push down an enormous wave of anger making its way from my pelvis to my belly and up to my chest. Bottling up an adaptive, healthy emotion arising when my boundaries were crossed, like the Good Girl in me so obligingly learnt to do. Taking a big, deep breath, while feeling like flames of fire are literally about to come out of my eyes. Now, don’t get me wrong - I love men, and I love my friend, but this is one of those painfully familiar moments in a woman’s life where she is silenced. Her knowledge and experience are discredited, and if she dares to break the Good Girl conditioning to express her anger, she is often shamed and gaslit. Why are you so mad? Can’t you take any feedback? I’m just trying to help you. Or the crowd favourite, I was just kidding. Don’t you have a sense of humor?
Let’s face it, nobody likes an angry woman. She is not fun to be around.
Can you feel the Compression?
The Good Girl Who Lives Inside the High-Functioning Modern Woman
Freezing in the moments that matter the most, being taught to please others, to not say NO, to not to speak up, ignore your own discomfort, consider others first, accommodate everything and everyone, bottle up your anger, to not be too much or too sensitive, stay silent, to not take up space, be selfless, apologetic, low maintenance, upbeat and chaste, oh and would it kill you to smile?
Following nearly two decades as a Clinical Psychologist, providing psychotherapy, teaching, and supervising, while spending thousands of hours working with strong, professional and successful women around challenges varying from the boardroom to the bedroom, I kept noticing the same invisible compression in every woman I had ever worked with.
The compression expresses itself in various ways that are physical, cognitive, emotional and spiritual. This compression manifests itself in every aspect of our lives, from the workplace to relationships, parenting, and even our inner thoughts. It can occur daily or only in specific situations, high-stake or low-stake moments.
The compression is the invisible clash between a woman’s authentic self, and the good-girl-woman-mother-wife conditioning traits and expectations that were passed down to women throughout centuries.
We live in a new world that holds an abundance of possibilities for women, but our bodies and minds operate within the old-world operation system as if it is still unsafe to be our full authentic selves. Unconsciously, we rely on the unspoken guidelines and protection of the Good Girl Conditioning, although it no longer serves us. We are disconnected from our voice, intuition, and our visions for ourselves and the world.
Noticing this pattern in every woman I’ve worked with, inside and outside the therapy room, was both mind-blowing and eye-opening. I came to understand that this is not a private phenomenon; this is an invisible, cultural compression that is deeply rooted in the social conditioning that has been passed down for millennia. Centuries of women needed to give away their power to survive in society - Complying with the Good Girl conditioning used to be a matter of psychological and sometimes physical survival, we had to comply. It's ingrained in all of us. Fortunately, times are changing now. To harness women’s potential, intuition, and visions, we need to acknowledge the depth of this compression and do the brave work of taking our power back.
The Good Girl conditioning permeates our lives and manifests as compressing behaviours:
Being obedient and compliant: Girls and women are taught to be polite, and respectful as a form of obedience to authority figures and others. When politeness and respect are paired with compliance and obedience, we place girls and women in a compressed state that impacts women’s capacity to say No and set safe boundaries for themselves.
Avoiding conflict and confrontation: Girls and women are conditioned to be peacemakers and avoid conflict or confrontation, even when their boundaries are crossed and it may be necessary to stand up for themselves or others, women are expected to look away and make peace.
Prioritizing others' needs over our own: Girls and women are taught to prioritize the needs of others, such as their boss or colleagues, family members, friends, or romantic partners, over their own needs or desires. When individuals are conditioned to prioritize someone else’s needs they learn to disconnect from their own needs. This internal disconnection is viewed as feminine and preferable.
Being nurturing and caring: Girls are conditioned to be nurturing and caring, particularly towards children, partners and elderly family members. They are expected to provide free caring labour as part of their feminine nature.
These behaviours and traits were, and still are passed down to girls, as desirable, feminine, and "good", either explicitly or implicitly. They are reinforced through relationships with family, friends and partners but also media and other cultural influences.
Although The Compression is a result of systemic social conditioning, once women become aware of the inherent clash between being “Good Girls” and having power and influence, there is much work to be done to unlearn and rebuild women’s relationship with power. To begin the journey of taking back power like never before and transforming the relationship with it, It is important to get to know the 4 pillars of mastering the New Power. Please don’t be confused, there is no fast-fix or fluffy coaching advice here. Becoming powerful requires recognizing the invisible compression of The Good Girls and practicing the new story of power. It takes time, but there is practice for mastering it.
Power is a tricky word for many of us because we tend to associate it with a negative impact, a shadow if you may; power over others, or abuse of power. This is not the power referred to here. Before we dive into the 4 pillars, let’s make sure we understand what Power means.
Power is Impact
In this new age of abundant, “the power is within you” coaching and self-helping your way to power, it can become confusing to understand what the hell power really is. In social psychology, power refers to the ability of an individual to influence the behaviour or attitudes of others. Power is having a tangible impact or bringing a change, either in one’s relationships, interpersonal dynamics or the actual behaviour of people in your life or the world at large. Overall, power can be understood as the ability to bring about change or achieve one's goals through control or influence.
The 4 Pillars for Taking Back Your Power:
Eve, The first influencer of the Female Brand
Or, stop believing shame, guilt and other self-harming voices.
To start any discussion about women’s shame and guilt it may be helpful to refer back to the first story about the first woman, Eve (for this article we will leave Lilith, the first wife of Adam, out). Whether you were raised religiously or not, you would have heard about the biblical story of Adam and Eve. According to the story, or at least how the text was interpreted, Eve was created by God from Adam’s rib, as company for Adam - the first human being created. They were placed in the Garden of Eden and told by God that they can eat from any tree in the garden, except for The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The two are completely innocent until Eve is tempted by a serpent, or perish the thought, is curious and follows her intuition about the interesting fruit. She offers Adam a bite and he accepts submissively. They are both expelled from the garden, and Eve becomes the first sinner of our time. The one to blame for all the pain and suffering of this world on top of their expulsion.
The idea that Eve's judgement and actions are inherently sinful, that her sense of curiosity and intuition are dangerous at their core, is the subtext of this story and unfortunately, in many ways is still the subtext of our culture. This is not a simple, innocent story about the beautiful Garden of Eden, this is a warning text for humanity about the dangerous wild woman who’s connected to her curiosity, intuition, life force, or god forbid her erotic nature - planting shame and guilt in our minds for daring to go down that path. After all, who wants to know the difference between good and evil…
It is important to comment and acknowledge, especially as a psychologist and trauma expert, that attributing shame and guilt solely to the story of Eve oversimplifies the complex nature of these emotions and their presence in the human experience; shame and guilt are universal emotions that can arise from various sources - but it is equally as important to uncover the implicit messages that have been fed to us for centuries and acknowledge their unconscious impact. The subtext of these stories has been internalized, and as a result, women unnecessarily suffer feelings of shame and guilt in so many moments of their lives, especially around decision-making, following their intuition or connecting with their wild-erotic nature.
The practice of recognizing and healing the wounds of shame, guilt and other self-harming voices is a critical step in taking back your power. As we can only recognize what is conscious and what we pay attention to, this skill takes work and practice, but a new sense of being yourself is waiting on the other side.
The Only Way Out Is Through
Or, get in touch with your emotional body.
Although on the surface we are experiencing a surge in self-help books that encourages us all to embrace our emotions, for the majority of history emotions were viewed as feminine and weak. Our culture values and prefers intellect, logic, rationality, and tidiness when it comes to emotional expression. “Why can’t I be rational about this?” I hear that in the therapy room all the time. Women were taught, either explicitly or implicitly, that they feel too much for centuries - emotions are perceived as the opposite of rationality and thus expressions of raw emotion are often labelled ridiculous, shameful and embarrassing.
We were conditioned to tone down emotions and seek a quick closure for our emotional energy.
The unfortunate but organic implications mean that a woman who wants to be taken seriously resents her emotions, and disconnects from her body (where emotions live). When we are not in touch with our emotional body, we are disconnected from our authentic selves and therefore can not access power. Our emotions are our intrinsic system of safety and communication, they motivate us, keep us safe, and help us build connections with others. Our emotions exist for a reason, they are natural and justified, when our ability to access this part of us is disrupted we cannot be our powerful selves. Our power is in being strong and vulnerable at the same time. This is at the core of the New Power. It is the practice of acknowledging the depths of our emotions, feeling them and working through them, to hear what they are trying to tell us. It is essential to heal and reconcile with your emotional body, not only in order to take back your power, but to rewrite what it means to be powerful for a better humanity. To create power that is strong but rooted in vulnerability, a power that is fierce and empathetic.
Do Good and Take No Shit
Or, practice setting boundaries and saying no.
One of the most common patterns women present which is rooted in the Good Girl conditioning is people pleasing and the apologetic stance toward setting boundaries. We are taught to be compliant, and that our worth comes from our sacrifice for others. We must constantly prove ourselves by compromising our own needs, often without thanks. It is simply an expectation.
We are so conditioned to accommodate and make everyone around us feel comfortable that setting boundaries or saying NO is viewed as uncompromising, unwomanly and sometimes rude. We are inhibited from voicing our needs, and from setting boundaries. So often we end up in relationships (romantic, familial, professional) where we are taken advantage of and it is considered normal.
This is a pattern we need to change, it doesn’t have to be this way. Taking back power means training women to break free from the Good Girl Conditioning Jail by practicing saying NO. It opens time, space and opportunities for women to learn about their boundaries, reassess and build safe relationships. It is possible to be loved as you need and respected while being firm about your limits. It is a critical skill in becoming who you are meant to become.
Your Desires are nature’s plan for your future self
Or Follow your appetite
As we dismantle the confines of the Good-Girl conditioning and the impacts of The Compression, although many opportunities may be presented, the practice of listening to our intuition and daring to follow our desires is quite foreign to the Good Girl in us. This is not career advice or advocating impulsiveness, but flagging that women tend to think of listening to their desires as being selfish. Let’s make it clear, we don’t choose our desires or what we are drawn to. Desires are the special codes of our purpose and potential higher self.
Within every woman, there lives a wild woman, filled with creativity, ageless knowing and intuitive wisdom. We’ve been disconnected from our desires for too long. Thoughts like “I can’t ask for that”, “that’s not appropriate”, “I can’t think about myself and go for it” or “I don’t know what I want” are a reflection of the disconnect from our desires and intuition from social conditioning. A woman’s intuition and wisdom are her greatest gifts, therefore the practice of carefully listening to your desires is your unique New Power map toward a full expression of being you in the world. The world needs women’s visions now more than ever, we can’t afford to go to sleep and play dead about it.
The New Power Movement
“One person plus one typewriter
constitutes a movement”
Pauli Murry was a poet, writer, activist and the first African American to earn a doctorate of jurisprudence at Yale. One of her greatest inspirations, which I came across while reading Elizabeth Lesser heart opening book “Cassandra Speaks” is Pauli’s insistence that anyone can be a change agent.
My wish for humankind is to tell the story of women in our culture, to acknowledge the invisible compression resulting from the Good-Girl conditioning that women are facing and teach every woman how to take her power back so we could rewrite the story about women & power. I dream of a world in which women master the new power and impact the world in all the magnificent ways they dream of.
As featured in Brainz Magazine:
Follow The New Power Movement and Dr Neta Fleiderman for more