the scurrying thing

By April 26, 2013 48 Comments


Recently, I was being interviewed, and the interviewer asked me this:

“Why do women have such a difficult time with criticism?”

There’s a hint of a blaming tone in the question, so first things first, let’s set that aside. But then, can we look with curiosity at why criticism – or the fear of criticism – seems to hold back so many brilliant women?

In the interview, I shared my usual responses about how women are distinctly affected by criticism:

1. Many women value and are deeply attuned to relational harmony and connection, so criticism feels particularly troubling to them. If your life is centered on positive connection and finding common ground with others, criticism hits you differently.

2. Women have been socialized – whether by family, peers, school, or the general culture – to not rock the boat. To be likable and always nice. Doing things that bring criticism is the opposite of that! It challenges our deeply ingrained conditioning. Being criticized also puts us in a tough spot because it’s difficult to stand up for one’s own ideas in the face of criticism, while also maintaining the respectful “nice girl” persona the whole time.

3. Third, research* suggests that women read facial expressions and negative body language with greater precision than men, which means at all times women are literally getting more information about how people are reacting to us. This can be a strategic advantage, but it can also distract us from persevering with a project or idea when others are uncomfortable, resistant, or just not fans.

In the interview, I gave those answers, but then I realized I felt like I hadn’t gotten to the heart of the matter yet.

There was something else there, something I don’t normally talk about, and I wanted to try. So I said this:

“On an even deeper level, my sense is that women cope with living in a highly patriarchal world by trying to find safety and legitimacy through their own competence, through doing everything right.

Criticism can feel like a gash in the middle of something very important we are building – something that will shelter us and keep us safe.”

I know that’s been true for me. Let competence and hard work and doing what the teacher says be my ticket in. Let it be my island of safety too.

I’m feeling my way through this idea. What is that thing we are doing? That I am doing?

It feels to me like always being in scurrying mode, always hiding a little like it’s duck and cover time, and hiding by studying super hard, working super hard, getting it right. Doing it right. Producing work of the highest quality. Yes, because we are smart and competent and we can but also: to be safe. To be on solid ground.

And my sense is that this behavior in me and in other women around me has something to do with trying to find refuge, legitimacy, that ticket in – in a world that has been shaped by a masculine perspective and values.

I want to know how this resonates for you, even if you, like me, don’t quite have a clean or crisp way of articulating what exactly is going on there yet.

Thank you for reading and being on this journey with me.

Love to you,


*A few of the many studies on gender differences in reading facial expressions and body language are discussed here, here, and here.


Join the discussion 48 Comments

  • Wow Tara. Dead on! My need to get it right completely stifles my creative flow. For years I thought “getting it right” would bring me closer to what I really wanted while also keeping me safe from sticking out like a sore thumb. I hoped getting it just right would somehow create acceptance and protect me from criticism. Thank you for unpacking this for me and I’m thrilled to know I’m not the only one trying to get it right. From now on, rather than getting it right, I’m going to get it GOOD, for me. XO

  • I’ve never thought of it as scurrying, but that is very often how I feel. I’m in a hurry to be prepared, to get things right and to perform. Ironically, my most successful ventures and projects have been executed ‘on the fly’. They’ve been a result of making a gut decision and the willingness to let go of the opinions of others. Inevitably this process has led to awesome outcomes, that I never imagined. I’m not sure I could’ve created them if I’d tried. Surely there is a lesson here.
    Can we not trust that we know enough to proceed on our own instincts?

  • Babs says:

    Beautifully articulated! This is an area that does’t get talked about enough. It is as if our honesty exploited and the very identification of possible reasons why “we have such a difficult time with criticism” opens us to even more criticism.

  • Susan O'Connor says:

    Really intriguing thoughts. I do my best to resist the idea that I live in a patriarchial society, because I don’t want to accept that. But let’s say for argument’s sake that it’s 100% true and it’s holding us back in ways we don’t even understand. Is there a way to free ourselves mentally? What would that look like? For example, how do we embrace those feelings of “not being safe”? Does our desire to be safe keep us from taking chances, from reaching out, from letting ourselves be vulnerable or seen? I wonder how we would take our place in the world if we could look back on a history full of flawed, powerful women who had done both good and bad things in their roles as, let’s say, US Presidents, CEOs of 90% of Fortune 500 companies, highest-paid creatives, pioneers and traiblazers, etc…

  • Marj Britt says:

    Tara, this is really PROFOUND… It is probing into the realms of Second Tier Consciousness (work of Suzanne Cook-Grueter, Ken Wilber, AQAL, Integral and Don Beck and the Spiral)…
    Their stellar research shows that entry into the Quantum Shift that is about the Tipping Point takes us right back to our needs for SAFETY, for SECURITY…and even for SURVIVAL.
    What I’ve found in my life is that often in attempting to ‘go beyond the perceived context’…the ‘criticism of the culture’…things that have the edge of criticism seem to simply ‘come up’. And it often “can feel like a gash in the middle of something very important we are building”. I’ve done a lot of the building, thus I’ve gotten a lot of the ‘come up’ in my life.
    My pattern (conscious and unconscious) has been to try to ‘explain’. It can even be gentle, yet it almost always it gets interpreted as defending… For me, it is exploring, sometimes things that, for me, are not negotiable. The next thing that can happen is that in our heightened way of ‘getting more information’, we then literally feel the shift in the energy…and we don’t feel safe.
    My response to this ‘not being heard’ is often to go into Silence, not wanting to risk the sacrifice of the Sacred… I’ve come to call it “Transcend and Avoid”, a term I first heard from Terry Patten on Evolving Wisdom… Now, I recognize it as one of my “Leading Edges”. The healthy WAY is TRANSCEND AND INCLUDE…
    BTW, I am the 74 year old Grandma that wrote a post on your Grandmothers Blog yesterday! I think you and I need to get acquainted!
    Much love to you for all that you are doing… Marj

  • Tara, you articulate something I’ve been feeling throughout the New Year. Your words about needing to find safety in the face of patriarchy but also our highly attuned sense of what other people are thinking and feeling by reading body language is dead on. How do we embrace what we know and continue to know as women while also being dangerous for goodness and cultivating our own sense of safety? It’s a question I’m living through right now and your post validated that this is beyond me. Thank you for your words & wisdom!!

  • Meeta kaur says:

    Thank you, Tara for such an insightful post. I’m starved for respect and legitimacy as a professional writer and activist in the broader world of men, women, children, dogs, and cats! And at the same time, this course, meditation, and a willingness to stay flexible and creative about life habits, patterns, and openings influences how I walk in the world. I am emanating a different energy and aura and I believe this attracts those people who will give us the support we need and challenge us ways we need to be challenged. This is where the unhooking from praise/criticism comes in as a shift away from approval to problem-solving. It’s a magical formula that automatically shows how brilliant we are and at the same time helps us get what we want. Can’t thank you enough for these blog posts and seminars. Truly life-changing!

  • Sandra says:

    I think it’s important and valuable that these conversations go on, that we share and support each other in any endeavor, at work, or at home. But, as a woman of color who helped knock the educational and business doors down years ago, for the women who are now superstars, I’ve decided it’s time for me to stop explaining, apologizing or beating myself up over any effort I made to deal with a game stacked against me. Back then there were too few of us to get the support women have today.
    But I’m finally resting on what I saw then, men are not superior, better, or even right. They happen to have more cards, but that can and is changing. “They” are not my standard. My inner voice is my standard. Anything I’ve done to help move the world forward is valuable, whether or not I achieve all the “things” society says I “should”, or “appear” the way “they” want me to appear.
    Kudos to all who are striving to open up the remaining doors, but I hope more of us will keep in mind what we really want personally, not what the “cause” says we should or should not want or have.

  • Darlene Cary says:

    “scurrying” is a perfect image of our mental gymnastics we do as women.

    I would add we do this in order to be “validated”. Our sense of worth comes from Outside ourselves, rather than from within.
    I like Meeta’s comment above of “unhooking from praise/criticism”.

    I think it’s doubly hard for women solopreneurs working out of their home, since the outside world doesn’t know what that really means, or that it’s a “legitimate” business.

  • Katie says:

    I appreciate the thinking you’ve done about this. Oh my, how much have I ducked & covered over the years! But I am ready to be done scurrying.

    I am very practiced at hearing criticism and understand its many constructive and destructive forms. But I have a big problem with it when I don’t feel heard or listened to.

    Some people take anything other than absolute “cooperation” (obedience)–say, asking for clarification, problem-solving, etc–as “having trouble” with criticism. I think we are expected to take it blindly, preferably with a smile. When it’s about dominance and submission (often shown in body language, tone or facial expression), not improving or understanding, yeah, I have “a difficult time with it”!

  • Teodora says:

    Here’s my take on this matter; something I’ve been struggling with for years. I have come across men that are intimidated by my power and ambition. But I have also come across men who have embraced me for the entire person that I am, competitive and driven but at the same time vulnerable. When the vulnerability was lauded and not criticized, my other qualities started blooming beautifully, and I felt myself become more of myself. More creative, more open, more able to embrace change. My best work comes from not being judged or criticized but accepted for all of myself. That is when the true self comes out and I can make a positive impact on the world. I do not have a problem with how women are socialized, I have a problem with how men are not, and in misunderstanding our vulnerabilities they end up hurting us. The only way this cycle can end is by raising both genders in a way that they accept each other as their complement, and in this way accept the masculine in the feminine and vice-versa.

  • Anna Sontag says:

    As soon as I read Tara saying that she knew she needed to go deeper and take a risk in this new territory, I knew she would be on to something! The scurrying metaphor is perfect — once with my older sisters we were crossing a city street and cars were more than a safe distance away, yet they “scurried” across in an ‘I’m an obedient, good girl’ aka submissive way.
    Similarly, when we as professionals, students, consumers, writers are presenting our ideas and work, we may respond to questions or comments more defensively than men, putting up a mortared perimeter when all we need is to beckon our perimeter guard forward? Our experience has taught us that when we have the perfect answer, when our writing is polished, when we stand up for ourselves so strongly in an “A+” way, that we survive … and so we come to believe that is necessary.

    When we examine men’s responses to questions and feedback, they may take it less personally, less seriously, as less of a threat. They may make a joke to deflect the comment back to the other person, or they may do any number of things other than making a full and complete proof of legitimacy.

    Is it unreasonable to refer people with comments or questions to the research behind our position, with a brief and respectful explanation — as opposed to bowing and genuflecting in response? How can we intentionally explore a softer more integrous and confident response that maintains our position of expertise, allows continued exchange (sometimes this interchange may be a joust — which a full line defense would have squashed the option of), and recognizes our mutual power and expertise?

    This is an area rich for exploration — How can we change from reacting to comments – even criticism – to responding in a grounded, confident, dynamic place, respecting both the other and … US?

  • Catherine McNider says:

    I have been battling the Patriarchal regime my whole life, as I had an uber-patriarch as a father. I won’t even go into my own experience of suffering under the hands of such ignorance and dominance, but will instead add that we as women are only at the beginning of reclaiming our power after what, 13,000 years of handing over the reins from matrilineal society. It comes down to evolution and consciousness, which at 12/21/12 was the tipping point to our collective awakening.
    Believe me, this consciousness raising is not fast enough for me or for many women who still underestimate their power and voice, who are still trying to heal from the millennia of abuse and dominance; we’re still battling within ourselves the internalized messages of: ‘we’re not good enough’ from the treatment as second if not third class citizens. And women to women, don’t support each enough either, it’s still a competitive atmosphere, and/or threatened by other women’s strength, gifts, etc, that they don’t support them and so make themselves feel better because they muffled their sister who was trying to make it better for ALL. Women are as much at fault for perpetrating criticism or worse; banishment from the community or giving the woman no choice but leaving the community for lack of support. We are by nature I believe more sensitive and nurturing, so when we don’t get the nurturing we need either by the father who is supposed to model how one moves out into the world, we retreat and recoil from the shear lack of our nervous systems not getting the necessary experience and modeling so we have the confidence to face the competitive atmosphere of the world. I can’t speak as a woman who had a nurturing supportive father to say, that’s not it either, I can only speak as one who is still struggling to be heard and acknowledged in my fields. Is this self perpetuated story? Yes! All our stories are self perpetuated, self generated for lessons karma has cut out for us, and the world graciously responds in kind! This is what we are all coming to wake up to, taking responsibility for our own actions…but at what point does someone extend a hand and say, ” I see how hard you are working on yourself and trying to offer the world healing, and I want to help you get it out there, you are a way-seer, whose way has not been seen, and needs to, how can I help you?” I don’t care what ego of mine has to be demolished in order to wake up, to stand up, as long as it’s constructive and toward that goal of self actualization and awakening to the reality of we are all one and letting go of all that bars me from awakening ! The struggle is within, the world just mirrors it and it’s a damn fractured mirror I am endeavoring to mend with all my heart and soul. This Playing Big is a cry from my soul to be heard, to come out after the many long and painful years of being treated as less than, betrayed continually, not good enough, not packaged right, whatever…I AM and that is good enough, so boys…you cannot stem this tide of the awakening feminine no matter how much you rape us, squash us with the glass ceiling, wake up to your own wounded feminine and stop being so threatened !! Let’s work together for crying out loud, Mother Earth is fed up !! I am fed up! With my own bubble I can’t seem to break out of no matter what the f*ck I do, I keep doin’ ’cause it’s that or die, and I ain’t dyin’ for nobody’s stupidity or ignorance…I just will, like water, flow where there is an opening and quietly do my personal work even if it doesn’t reach many people; it will add to the collective raising of consciousness anyway. At the heart of me, I want this world, this earth to awaken above these petty battles/wars to the truth of our magnificence and divine beingness and godliness, and that I’m told is one of my flaws…so be it, “neither this nor that, both and neither”: I care and don’t care. I can only stand in witness to this holographic farce, and cry my way HOME until I have broken through to that moment of all moments when ‘all things tell me what they are’ and I struggle no more and stand permanently in neutral. Criticism will fall off me like rain and only love will I hear, as there will no longer be any obstructions within me to Love. Criticism will be a bullet through smoke, to that end, I continue to let go and relax as best I can, though sometimes like now, I feel to stand up and be counted amidst the warrior women…..

  • kelly says:

    Hi Tara,
    I love the way you answered that question and even more so your reflections afterward. To be honest, my first reaction to that interview question would have been anger, anger that someone (perhaps a male interviewer) was asking this question to generalize all women. Also that it was a trap to get me to give this idea credibility by even answering such a question!
    However, after reading your answer, I have to admit that I totally agree and criticism does have a big impact on me.
    thanks for sharing your insight on this matter.

  • Justine says:

    Hi Tara,

    This really resonated with me. I am a late 30s female cultural anthropologist (profession traditionally gendered as “female” for being “soft”, i.e. qualitative methods) working on a consulting project. My clients are middle aged Latin American economists (profession gendered male and dominant, i.e. “hard numbers) and their criticisms of my work (many of which stem from not understanding anthropological methods, not understanding the very real constraints of the project) have been incredibly difficult to take. And I’ve watched myself internalize the shortcomings of the project (as MY personal shortcomings), rather than seeing the external factors that played a part. Nevermind that they hired me because they wanted data that was richer and more qualitative than the “hard numbers” they are used to working with. I realize I’m personalizing my response to what you wrote, but it struck a deep chord with me, with my struggles right now, as I’m trying to sort out my response to their criticism and to own my work and my own unique contributions, including the shortcomings. And, yes, the criticisms send me into scurrying mode, to do more to make up for the shortcomings — and worse, to go back to the scared place of “I’m never taking on a project like that again because it took way too much out of me.”

    Thank you for sharing this — it really helped me today.

  • Maryanne in SC says:

    Yes, yes and YES. If I can’t produce what’s expected, I fear I will be cast out of the family, the team, the tribe. This is something I’ve thought about for a long time. It’s rooted in parental expectations and knowing that failure was just not accepted / permitted …and certainly not loved. I’m in my 60s now and just beginning to get it: that a mistake is an ordinary thing. Make ’em and move on, smarter and wiser.

  • Cindy says:

    Wow! You hit the nail on the head in identifying a universal feeling that most woman have in their lives at some point or always. That feeling is very difficult to articulate but you did so and so honestly. Thank you, you have helped me in so many ways!

  • Thanks for this post, Tara! A perfect follow-up to the interview with Jac McNeil yesterday.

    A few thoughts:
    I wonder sometimes if, since we are already hearing a lot more criticism than men through body language and tone of voice, that when the criticism is said verbally, we then experience it at loud speaker volume. And since our capacity for criticism has already been taxed by the time the criticism becomes verbal, we then recoil – and in addition to the reasons you stated. The volume is turned up even higher. Not sure what next steps are, but understanding the interplay more accurately is surely a step. Especially for “in the moment” when we could possibly name it and help ourselves to better self-soothe and stay anchored when a storm is brewing.

    Also, you mentioned “masculine perspective and values”. I’ve begun to wonder if it is not also the masculine process. I see that men use their gut and intuition for information, but their decision making process is typically rounded out by the thinking part having all of it’s information and being inline with a gut instinct. So they don’t make the decision final till that moment. Whereas women are often able to collate information much more intuitively and step out with decisions that are strongly gut based – and that sometimes fly in the face of the facts. So how can we get better at understanding and developing that intuitive process more consciously so that again, we are anchored more in ourselves and then model more strongly this different process where we act without or against the facts? I think often in business this happens, but then when questioned about the facts, we are not consciously prepared to defend our work, and end up scurrying instead of being able to speak strongly and powerfully about our process – which like one commenter said, has often produced her best work.

    So when we are often looking for safety in this patriarchal world and then feel angry cause we can find the right safety for our different way of being, I wonder what it would be like if we were more able to provide our own safety in the form of standing in our own power and having a very strongly set anchor – and being able to calmly though powerfully educate the other half?

    Because I am not sure that giving up listening to feedback is practical or prudent – and the striving for excellence and achievement that accompany many of the more masculine-based values in our society are also serving us well. I think it is maybe more about standing in our power and providing this other strong voice into the conversation – which is what your wonderful work is so often about. This is just the crucial step we are involved in making. To change the system, we need to be a part of the system.

    Thanks so much for your post – I just love this stuff and appreciate the space you are making for these conversations to take place.

  • playcrane says:

    Thank you once again for sharing your thoughts.

    This one was helpful to me personally and as a professor whose stude to are mostly women.


  • Hello Tara,

    I need to reflect and add more at some point, but just off the top of my head, I’d say you’d have to put your researcher’s cap on and take a look at how things have functioned/function in matriarchal societies. I don’t know if this has ever been studied–though it would make rich fodder for an anthropological dissertation-but it is hard to know if patriarchy really lies at the root of this particular social behavior and motivating feelings without looking at how things work in a non-patriarchal society. Off to cogitate more…thanks for all you do and your way of shining light on some valuable, thought-provoking questions. (Though of course, it is not really necessary to know the root cause of women’s tendencies in this are to find ways to combat and change them should they be having a negative impact–on both the woman and the larger society which needs her contributions.) Probably run-on, but what the heck! It’s FRIDAY!

  • Tara~
    Thanks for this article. I hope you don’t mind my non-woman perspective. I’ve been wondering about criticism, too, and really appreciate your gender-specific angle.

    1. My wife and I had an intimate conversation just last night, and without divulging too much, she’s seen her tendency to do almost precisely what you’re describing. So, your words help me see her. But they also help me see me and my hard-working ways almost in the same way. Some women have described me as particularly sensitive; so, I wonder if it’s possible that some men also can feel extra signals in body language and verbal cues.

    2. My line of work for over 20 years has required me to “criticize” not other people but people’s work and ideas. It just comes with the territory – and it has been at numerous times very uncomfortable. My (male) colleague Mark McGuinness’s book Resilience: Facing Criticism and Rejection on the Road to Success has helped me understand more the psychology of criticism.

    3. I took a walk this morning and reflected upon how I naturally influence in the world as someone who challenges ideas and the status quo. I said to my best self, “Challenge ideas, not people or personalities.” And that distinction can make a difference. Still, when we take our ideas and work so personally, it’s difficult to make that distinction when our work or ideas are being criticized.

    I hope some of this contributes to the conversation,

  • Katie J says:

    Tara – I work in engineering (a highly patriarcal world!) and I strive for perfection in every project I work on. And you are absolutley right, competency is my safe harbor. The trouble is that criticism is more likely to be voiced than admiration (at least in my line of work). And the tiniest bit of criticism can feel so much worse than the good I feel from compliments (even big ones!). why is that? how can I learn to feel the criticism on the same magnitude as the complments?

  • Tara Mohr says:

    Yes, isn’t that interesting about your about your most successful projects?! I know that’s true for me too.

  • Tara Mohr says:

    Such good questions Susan – questions I am thinking about a lot these days too.

  • Tara Mohr says:

    Marj – love to you too, and thank you so much for the thoughtful comments.

  • Tara Mohr says:

    Mmm, I hear you. Thank you Colleen!

  • Tara Mohr says:

    Thank you Meeta!

  • Tara Mohr says:

    Sandra – “My inner voice is my standard.” So beautifully said. And yes, I love Lianne Raymond’s distinction between ambition and self-actualization – and the guidance to act/build/create/achieve out of that instinct for self-actualization, rather than out of fears, shoulds, or egoic ambition.

  • KD says:

    I am 55 years old and am just now learning how to ease up a little on perfectionism, over-performing, not rocking the boat and silently trying to shift. It’s been baby steps. The 10 minutes I just spent reading your post and the comments has literally been a huge chunk of insight falling into place. I’ve also noticed that the shift to a more compassionate society is creating some real monsters-who want it to stay the same.

    I might also question whether it’s just body language we’re reading, or actual energy and intention from another person. After roughly 8 years of internally shifting my inner thoughts, I am convinced it makes a huge difference in a very real, tangible sense. These comments show me I am not alone. A huge thank you, everybody! Just knowing all of you are ‘out there’ makes me brave.

    And Tara, I certainly don’t know how you come up with all this, but I haven’t heard one word, in all you’ve written or said, that doesn’t resonate. Strongly. This post is a true gift. Gratitude.

  • Tara Mohr says:

    Justine, I’m so glad to hear that. It sounds like you are being a change agent in your field and that always brings some criticism, of course. I’m glad this could be of support. Hugs,Tara

  • Tara Mohr says:

    Thank you Jodi! xox

  • Tara Mohr says:

    Smiling over here! Thanks June!

  • Tara Mohr says:

    Oh KD, thank you. That makes me so happy to hear.

  • Tara Mohr says:

    Yes, i think it’s because cultures that focus on critical thinking also have a strong slant toward criticizing… it’s a problem! but we also know from the research that negative events stick in the the human brain much more powerfully than positive ones. so both those things are at play. you might need to build in more ways in your life of getting (or remembering) the affirmation and positive stuff.

  • Tara Mohr says:

    Jeffrey – thank you for all the thoughtful comments. Re: #2, I love Julia Cameron’s idea that criticism, when it’s really accurate/effective, often feels liberating to the person being criticized because it illuminates for them what’s off about their work – probably something they could sense but didn’t quite know how to pinpoint. and yes, i love that distinction you make in #3. for me, the way to get around “taking it personally” is this: http://www.taramohr.com/2012/03/some-loving-reminders-about-feedback/

  • JRW says:

    Hello Tara,

    Thank you for your thoughts about criticism and I love the way you address the subject personally and as a work in progress. By that I mean that you know that there isn’t a RIGHT answer/response that you arrive at immediately. You’re feeling your way in to what this might mean for you – and that takes time and the ability to trust in your own inner process and experience. The conclusion (if such a thing is possible because inner processes are very fluid and ongoing) that you, me, others reach will be profoundly personal.

    While we may all have a recognisable reaction to being criticised – it aint nice and it doesn’t feel good – what the criticism hooks into and helter-skelters straight back to is our infant and childhood experiences of being found wanting.

    Now if our primary caregivers were on the whole loving and kind our childish transgressions would have been held in a much wider field of love and appreciation. This means that I would know that it was the behaviour and not me as a being that was dissapproved of. Even in these optimal circumstances, a small child’s evolutionary distress and fear at finding themselves even momentarily ‘outside’ the tribe is a truly terrifying and literally mind-blowing experience. A loving parent instinctively knows this and doesn’t leave their little one too long in that place before pulling them back into the safety of their heart.

    Sadly, most of us had less than optimal experiences with parents who were often too caught up in their own distress and difficulties to notice ours. So we might have been left in that nowhere territory for just a little too long.

    Worse still, some of us had downright cruel, harsh, abusive and negligent parents who frankly didn’t give a f*** and from whom we never heard a word of kindness nor approval.

    This is the baseline and indeed the blueprint for how we handle criticism as adults. Patriarchy, racism and any other societal prejudice that defines someone as ‘other’ are extra layers that smother our nascent selves.

    Being criticised now as adults will, at a speed faster than light, take us back to that place. In an instant we’re that child again, our bodies and mind rigid with primal fear. Equally as fast our habitual defenses against feeling that fear will come into play; shock, anger, blame, compliance, resignation, numbness. We all do it differently, but we do it.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that we as women and men (men don’t like being crticised either) are not WRONG or FAILING if we find criticism difficult, we’re just expressing our humanity.

    So, let’s cut ourselves some slack and open our hearts up to that precious little being we were and who still inhabits every moment of our adult lives. This way we stand a chance of developing the inner strength and resilience to withstand and grow from the perceived knockbacks.

    Peace, love, goodwill, JRW

  • Carmen says:

    Thank you so much for this post it feels so right on for me. I’m an Actor and come across many self imposed and industry projected pressures to figure out how to get it right, or, be perfect. I often find myself trying to get a bunch of boxes checked in order to tell myself I’ve done all I could to be accepted in the field. Sometimes this makes me not want to network or shy away from self promoting because I’m not ‘completely ready’. Although all actors suffer this, I find that men are more inclined to project a ‘take me as I am’ right now confidence. In part maybe because they are represented in a wider number and variety in roles on tv/film/theater than women. Also, like you mention it may be how they are socialized.
    I’ve found that taking Improv class has been a wonderful reminder and practice for me to live in the moment, go with my gut, and try not to please the audience but trust that I am enough. You literally can’t over prepare as you dont know what’s coming! It’s frightening at first but also liberating to risk being unfunny, bad or boring and coming through still alive and OK to try again. I have to trust that my gut and previous training & experience will help me respond to my partner with something that may not be perfect, but is good enough, honest, and unique to me…and sometimes damn funny!

  • selena says:

    Wow! I had planned to post my thoughts, but all the other women before me, have already said what I am feeling. It feels GREAT to have this blog and to be in good company! Yea!

  • Gina Lee says:

    Tara. I think you are spot on. Please keep up what you are doing. You have been a tremendous help to me, and countless other women, I’m sure. I have plenty of something to say about all this but I also have a lot of anger right now about the patriarchal world we women are living under…… been on my mind a LOT lately. Thank you for what you are doing. Please keep going.

  • Sylvie Spraakman says:

    Brilliant insights. I think that explains perfectly why women, in general, do so well in school, but then aren’t succeeding as brilliantly as men in the workplace or on the corporate ladder. We look for safe places – school is an easy place to excel and be safe, whereas to excel in the workplace, you need to put yourself out there and take risks, and that’s not so safe, but there may be huge rewards.

    Thanks for going beyond the superficial in this post – your reasoning really does get at the root cause.

  • Jenny says:

    Loved your insights, thank you.

    I believe there is also something here that has to do with a woman’s emotional connection to her work and ideas. Meaning we own our work and ideas, throw our hearts and soul into them, much like an artist would. I believe woman are artists in their work, they often create from a different place than men. You here women say their work is like giving birth, nurturing and growing a child. I have never met a man who has come close to saying anything like that. I believe it is because we as woman have a maternal nature with our work and ideas that sometimes makes criticism feel like someone just called our baby ugly. As artists, mothers of our work, I think we need to acknowledge that our work and ideas are not who we are. That despite the idea or work that someone didn’t think was exactly right, we are still intact, full, and human. Elisabeth Gilbert has this brilliant Ted Talk that I think you might love, which speaks to this in a way that only she can! Here it is: http://www.ted.com/talks/elizabeth_gilbert_on_genius.html

  • Monica Shore says:

    I really connected with the thought you shared about doing things right (being perfect) just to remain on solid ground. On the day that message came to my inbox, I was being particularly hard on myself. My new boss (a woman–helpful because of the reference to patriarchy) had given me an extremely challenging job to complete with very little direction. I had every reason to enjoy being trusted, but because the whole context was new and I deeply wanted to ‘succeed’ no matter what, I was paralyzed with fear. Before even trying to start, I felt like I had failed, and that feeling was agonizing. Now that I’ve completed the task, I look back at that moment and think, why did I react like that? I’ve noticed that no matter what I have in front of me, I can’t settle for anything less than excellent. What an exhausting pressure to live with! I’m also just feeling this one through and I thought I’d share a sense of understanding to your message. Thanks for letting yourself be vulnerable in front of all of us. It certainly gives me courage to do it too.

  • Jennifer says:

    You know how someone can say something that resonates immediately in your heart as Truth? That’s what happened to me with this post. The idea of coping with a society that doesn’t value our true selves by finding safety in our competence is deeply true for me. I feel like you’ve shaken something loose in me and I’ll be processing this for a while. Peeling the onion. Thank you so much.

  • Tara, thank you so much for this empowering post just before going work. As an anthropologist I studied gender related inequalities and also multi-ethnic issues in the West.Besides my own training company to empower girls and women, I also work for a NGO in Europe for about 7 years. Your insights on our coping strategies with living in a highly patriarchal world by trying to find safety and legitimacy through our own competence, through doing everything right, is so GREAT. I am very much wondering how you and others think of colored women in this context? From my own experience (I migrated 32 years ago to EU when I was 6) I feel the pressure doing right often double. Sometimes I feel powerless but most of the time I get courage and hope by practising yoga and vipassana meditation. Thank you so much.

  • Zabrina Way says:

    Fascinating post. I think it’s absolutely true that women “scurry” in these situations, because it’s expected of us. We’re held to impossible standards — women need to be attractive but not distractingly appealing, family-oriented but not if it interferes with work, smart but not “too smart” for their station, proactive and unafraid to speak up, but also unfailingly polite and patient… the list goes on. The statistics are disheartening.

    When you’re a woman in the workplace, especially in certain industries, you feel the need to be a perfect overachiever in order to prove that you even “deserve a place there” let alone simply equal the men there.

    I’m not sure what the answer is, but reconnecting to my inner mentor and learning my inner critic’s voice has been very helpful.

  • Erin says:

    Tara, I so appreciate your insightfulness and willingness to articulate this…. For many years an image came to me about characters in my inner life, based on a childhood memory of my dad trying to kill a mouse. I recognize one part of my inner life feels like this scurrying little mouse, rushing around, trying to please, to do it right, to hurry up and get everything done… and all the while she’s scared of this big man with a shovel, hovering overhead getting ready to come down with a smack. I was so touched to see you use the word “scurrying” as this so speaks to me. It’s been powerful for me to grow the friendly witness to the whole dynamic, not getting identified with the mouse or the man with the shovel, but also, how interesting to add the perspective you describe as trying to find legitimacy or refuge in a world shaped by these masculine values. Anyway, yes, another big topic which is very alive for me: Where is the true refuge? Thanks for writing. xo

  • Dave says:

    Are men allowed here? If so I’d just like to say that perfectionism hurts everyone. My female boss has been one of the hardest people I’ve ever had to work for, and I nearly gave up the job entirely with feelings of inadequacy and depression – and it was perfectionism that was to blame imho. I believe she feels she must never make a mistake, and therefore none of her underlings are allowed to either. (One of her asides to her friends I heard about was “If I worked for me, I’d probably sack myself!”) – which sums her approach up really. So my advice is go ahead, make mistakes and learn, and the world will be a happier place. And support each other in putting forward and increasing the belief that we are fallible and human, but no less worthy because of that, and hopefully the critics will affect us all less and less.
    Many thanks for your Blog posts Tara, the world needs more people like you I think!

  • Demetrice Cabos says:

    Vipassana is a way of self-transformation through self-observation. It focuses on the deep interconnection between mind and body, which can be experienced directly by disciplined attention to the physical sensations that form the life of the body, and that continuously interconnect and condition the life of the mind. It is this observation-based, self-exploratory journey to the common root of mind and body that dissolves mental impurity, resulting in a balanced mind full of love and compassion. ..`,”

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