Meet our friend Abigail Green. She is a stylist, photographer and writer who believes in “discovering and living out evolving personal truths during our numbered days here on this mysterious, spinning earth.” She is a self-proclaimed seeker and sharer, and we always love what she has to say.
I’ll never forget the moment she looked at me and said, “Abigail, you don’t know how to claim your own needs and desires.”
Instantly, I knew these words were unarguably and unavoidably true. And yet, something deep within me wanted to both argue and avoid them. Something in me wanted to continue believing, “I don’t need to have needs or desires”. This was the moment—the pivot point—when I realized just how deep seeded my own self-denial really was.
I faced my own distorted ideology:
I can be myself without being aware or vocal about my needs and desires.
To be selfless is to spend all of my energy perceiving and tending to other people’s needs and wants.
To need or want things (emotionally, physically, relationally) is to inherently be burdensome to others.
I was living out of a twisted value system that suggested in order to grow others, I must shrink myself. To make space for others meant to require less space myself. As I begin the process of unraveling these distortions (and yes, I am just beginning—unlearning is always harder than learning), I am beginning to talk about them with other people (both men and women), and I am finding that I am not alone in this awful, shrinking habit.
Although I believe the kindredness of shrinking relates mostly to females, I think it’s important to note that men are no exception. I am one of many who have believed the distortion that my full self with my fullness of needs is “too much”. It seems to me that the emotions American culture seems to honor for women are smallness (bodywise and dreamwise) and selflessness. Because of this, we are all disillusioned to believe we cannot bring our full selves to the table—which could be the actual dinner table with family, the negotiating table at work, or the coffee table with a friend. In corporate, friendship, and marital settings…there is a pressure to hold back our opinions, longings, and dreams—often for the sake of “not coming on too strong”.
But I have to believe there’s a place at the table for us.
Us, the undefinable.
Us, the unboxable.
For us women who are a hundred different things. All at once.
Strong. Sensitive. Passionate. Opinionated. Ambitious. Firey. Gentle. Eager. Perseverant. Pensive.
The list goes on and on. What a beautiful mystery to be sensitive and softhearted, and simultaneously brave and strong. They are not in juxtaposition, but rather, dance partners in the waltz of the female design. As women we were divinely created to welcome and nurture (which requires tenderness of heart), and equally created to ignite and contend (which requires endurance and fervor).
What we (sometimes) lack in strength of physicality, we often make up for in strength of emotionality. What I’m not saying is: women are stronger than men. Nor am I suggesting men are holistically stronger than women. But rather, we are strong in our own complementary yet unique ways, and because of this, we don’t need to be intimidated by each other’s differing or even overlapping strengths. Instead, we can celebrate and propel each other.
I believe many men are often (consciously or subconsciously) expecting women to shrink, out of their own insecurities of their identity and emotionality. If fear and anger are the most honored male emotions, then it is safe to say that many men’s emotional beings have been shrunk by society too. If the message is preached to men that sensitivity is inherently negative, how can they invite others, particularly women, into a safe place where their sensitivity AND strength are welcomed and prized?
I am not aiming to place blame on one gender or the other.
I am aiming to suggest that women and men alike have important and necessary roles in making space for each other at the table.
What would it look like for men to say to women: I am not intimidated by your strength or leadership. I respect it.
What would it look like for women to say to men: I am not intimidated by your sensitivity or depth of emotion. I relate to it.
Perhaps then, we could collectively bring our honest and full selves to the table.
Perhaps then, we will stop competing with one another and start championing one another.
Perhaps then, we will be liberated to claim our needs, desires, dreams and emotions and thus cease our shrinking and instead occupy the space we were divinely designed to fill.