Lately I’ve been feeling torn, as I listen to, read about, and witness the growing conversation about women and confidence. Books like Lean In, The Confidence Code and my work are all part of it.
We’re putting the spotlight on the internal barriers, the beliefs and thought patterns that can hold women back. We’re bringing into our awareness the often almost unconscious, negative ways we talk to ourselves, the ways we convince ourselves we aren’t expert enough on a topic to give a speech on it, or skilled enough at x or y to launch that business.
I think we do need the spotlight on this, that yes, women’s self-doubt is a part of the problem, and we need to be talking about it.
But typically, what’s not talked about is why women have these internal barriers. The pervasiveness of women’s self-doubt makes clear: this is a social and cultural phenomenon. It was created by social and cultural factors–-the dearth of capable women leaders we see, the objectification of women in advertising and entertainment, the lack of girls’ media with female heroines and protagonists, the ways vocal and powerful women are still told they are too aggressive, too abrasive. It was created by a history of the marginalization and denigration of women and how that history shaped us to see ourselves.
Of course, that history left an internal legacy in us.
When the cultural and historical “why” of women’s self-doubt isn’t talked about, then we end up talking about what boils down to, “how women need to improve themselves.”
Without context about the “why” of women’s self-doubt, a corporate women’s retreat where women learn how to manager their inner critics, seems—even to me—like an annoying, condescending event in which a company passes their gender problem off to women, who get sent to remedial self-esteem camp. No good.
But with the wise understanding that women’s internal barriers are a result of our culture and our history, the same retreat becomes an important gathering where women let go of the limiting inner imprints their culture and history have left inside of them. It becomes a powerful juncture where they can begin to replace that imprint with something healed and empowered and whole. They do this as trailblazers, going forward in undo inner limitations that hold countless women back, so that they can lead in creating a new future for all of us.
What might this mean for you? On an individual level, if you think of working on your inner critic only as work on your unique neurosis, you are robbing yourself of the real power and meanning of that work. What I’d want for you instead, is that you remember that unbridling yourself from self-doubt is part of a collective unbridling, a part of women leaving behind a dark period of our history.
Inner critic work is big work, collective work, sacred work of historical significance. Yes, you do it for yourself, but you also do it because it moves your culture forward.