This summer I’ve been wondering about the discontentment of women. It started with reading Madame Bovary for my book group. For those who don’t know, Madame Bovary was a cutting-edge book when it was published in 1856, for how realistically it portrayed women’s discontent with socially prescribed martial and domestic norms. The book delves deep into the empty soul-feeling of M. Bovary, who restlessly sought to escape her boredom with her husband, by pursuing enticing lovers and expensive, elaborate possessions.
Simultaneous to this reading, I spoke to a close friend of mine who has decided to separate from her husband and children. After years of a challenging marriage, plus struggles and resentments with motherhood, she decided she wanted more from her life. She wanted to feel vibrant, sensually awake, and alive.
Along with these scenarios, many of the women I work with move through their days with an undercurrent of quiet discontentment. Some feel discontent with their body, some with a daily rhythm that feels dull or meaningless, and others with relationships that have become hum-drum.
In my line of work, I see thediscontentment manifest itself in erratic eating habits, hateful feelings towards different aspects of their bodies, and battles against themselves as they try to submit to dietary habits riddled with pronounced messages of deprivation.
The women I speak to want to be healthy, in shape, and full of energy. These are all great goals, right? On the one hand, yes…they are fantastic goals. At the same time, I regularly hear a dissonance that rings behind the voicing of these goals.
Many women have a message of self-criticism underpinning their goals.
“I want to be healthy” (I have no self-control around sugar. I binge and then hate myself), “I want to be in shape” (I hate my body, it is so ugly, I am embarrassed to be in this world as I am right now), “I want to be full of energy” (after giving and giving and giving I am feeling tired. I’ve got to spike myself into a higher energy capacity so I can continue to not take care of me and do more for everyone else).
In my own struggles of discontentment, I have been tempted to numb and distract myself too. Sometimes it is easier to keep busy with tasks, stuff myself with cookies, and drown myself in movie marathons rather than face what it is that is leading me to eat excessively, weep with fatigue, and continue the ongoing commentary of how I am not doing quite right with my own health practices.
I have come to believe that the first step is not to introduce new behaviors or rules to replace unlikable behaviors. Why? Because most of the time the driving force behind personal change is a battle against oneself. Instead, just as you might listen to a wounded child, the first step is to listen to the part of your self that is acting in an unlikable way: this is the broken part, the in-need-of-healing part of you.
Compassionately engaging with the unappealing part of yourself is the way to neutralize the self-battle.
The war against who we are has to be addressed first. From this point, tender watching and learning, deep listening, and ultimate integration are what will lead to deeply satisfying change and presence in this world. Sometimes physiques shift in this process and energy is regained. Other times a deep rest occurs and weariness ensues for the next weeks and months. The personal response can take many forms.
I share this because we have all heard gobs of health rules and many have an idea of what they “should” be doing. Sometimes these rules aren’t enough and we need to work with the part of us that feels guilty for not following external pronouncements of what “should” build our health.
If you resonate with this at all. I’d love to hear your comments below as this is a path we are all on together….me included. Or, if you want to talk to me further, please feel free to reach out. I’d love to hear from you.