Have you ever wondered, as I have, why women are more represented among those who use psychotherapy? Do women really have more problems? Do they strive for greater insight? Or are they just more aware?
Until now, treatment efforts have not been extended to helping women understand how they see themselves as women. We haven’t encouraged truth telling here, and I believe that an important contributing factor is because we haven’t—until now—had a term to use.
I developed the term girly thoughts to label the toxic, negative messages women tell themselves. It’s a label that is purposefully a little annoying, just like girly thoughts are, and it’s easy to remember because it addresses what women are doing when they reason the way they did when they were young girls to address what makes them feel uncomfortable and insecure. Girly thoughts are the media-driven, family-reinforced notion that women are less than if they do not reach a societal standard.
Girly thoughts sound like this:
· I am too smart or too assertive to be desirable.
· I am too heavy, skinny, or busty to be attractive.
· It\'s my fault my husband had an affair.
· I need to worry about others, not myself.
· The only way out is to anesthetize the pain.
As Sally Kempton so aptly said: It’s hard to fight an enemy who has outposts in your head.
What’s in a Name?
It is so important to have a name for this dynamic, this inner trash talk. Why? Because having a name for something gives you power over it.
As professionals devoted to working with those in recovery, we know this better than most. Once we developed and popularized the name alcoholism, affected individuals and their families had a name for what was going on, which helped them to realize they weren’t crazy; they had a disease. Research began. Treatments were developed.
The same holds true for so many things that afflict humans, from mental health disorders to global warming: naming something gives you power over it. You can begin to wrap your mind around it, you can address it, you can look at it, make plans to deal with it, take some action directed toward it. You gain some control over it.
Girly Thoughts and Codependency, Eating Disorders, and Addiction
We know women self-identify as codependent more often than men, but are they naturally more prone to caretaking than men? Women have more eating disorders than men do, but is body image mostly a female concern? Why do women in the workplace tend to be so nice and so concerned about everyone’s feelings, especially when that causes them to not share their opinions (even when that’s their job)? And why are women developing addictions at greater rates? Could there be that something literally drives them to drink, and their biochemistry so conveniently takes over and creates addiction?
That “something” is girly thoughts. They cause women to first blame themselves for everything that goes “wrong” in their lives because they just don’t measure up . . . and then anesthetize themselves to avoid feeling bad for being “so inadequate.”
This is not about low self-esteem (which is the result of this type of thinking); this is about tackling a major source of low self-esteem for many women who are addicted, depressed, and traumatized. I’m suggesting we expand our recovery focus to girly thoughts. Women must learn to view their girly thoughts as not who they are, but merely as things they are thinking.
Our Media-Rich Society
Look at any fashion magazine, television ad, or celebrity awards show, and you’ll probably reach the same conclusion as millions of other women: We’ve somehow come to believe we should use celebrities and models as our template for how to look and how to act. Unfortunately, what gets lost in this translation is that the job of the model or actress is to look beautiful. They have a team of trainers, stylists, chefs, and wardrobe consultants to create that “natural” look. If only the rest of us could be so lucky.
But are they really lucky? Many celebs also fall prey to feeling less than. Many also suffer from the same gnawing anxiety that some imperfection—some large pore, pimple, or weight gain, perhaps only noticeable to them—will cause them to be rejected This is the price they pay for their girly thoughts.
Manufactured Women: The Goal to Be Flawless
I’ve come to the conclusion that the image of what a woman should be is no longer realistic. The image of a “real” woman has morphed into a corporate image created by photoshopped doppelgängers with flawless everything, from skin to hair to behinds.
As I researched my new book, The Girly Thoughts 10-Day Detox Plan, I became fascinated by titles of the articles in women’s magazines and publications. While I expected to see articles about how our faces must be perfect, I wasn’t prepared when I found one about how to make our bottoms flawless. I was shocked. The flawless butt? Really? Is this really a goal? I guess it is, but let’s stop a minute and think about this. Is there something wrong with a woman’s backside? Does she alone get stretch marks or cellulite? The answer is no, men do as well. Is she the only gender that is likely to sag in this space due to aging? You know the answer to this. So why are we so focused on our “flawless behinds” when men have similar body issues?
The answer is our girly thoughts. Can you imagine a men’s magazine with an article about having a flawless bottom? Probably not, and for good reason. Men are not fed this constant stream of what is wrong with them.
This type of self-loathing is so ubiquitous that women embrace it as normal. But it isn’t normal, and it isn’t healthy.
What You Can Do
· Begin by identify your own girly thoughts, and name them for what they are: a toxic, self-destructive part of yourself that you have come by honestly but don’t need to indulge and don’t need to continue.
· Be aware when your girlfriends are really talking about their girly thoughts when they are putting themselves down. Give them a name for what they are doing and help them discontinue it.
· Tune into all the girly thoughts messages that surround you, and learn to laugh at how ridiculous they are.
Have Fun and Detox from Your Girly Thoughts
Once you realize that you do not have to continue to indulge this part of yourself, you can take a different path of being aware of and literally talking back to your girly thoughts, and teach your clients to do so as well. By doing so, you can decrease your stress, and you can free yourself to actually begin to like yourself a whole lot more. The next time you see an ad with beautiful feet and think you need a pedicure, you might feel better if you lace up your beautiful feet and go for a walk. Instead of thinking you need to lose a few pounds the next time you see an ad for the newest diet, remind yourself to buy more vegetables.
You can use the impulses behind your girly thoughts to establish new behaviors. Then you can begin your recovery as a whole woman. A whole woman is someone who may have an addiction or an eating disorder, but is also someone who is just plain tired of being fed this line of nonsense that is promoted by the media and perpetuated by her family and friends while she accepts it without even thinking about it. Once you embrace this dimension of who you are, it is a whole new game – one in which you begin to make the rules for yourself about what you will believe and what actions are truly in your best interest.
Patricia O’Gorman, PhD, is a bestselling author, psychologist, resiliency coach, former executive, and an international speaker known for her warm and funny presentations. She is the author and coauthor of nine books, including The Girly Thoughts 10-Day Detox Plan: The Resilient Woman’s Guide to Saying NO to Negative Self-Talk and YES to Personal Power (publication date 10.28.14), as well as numerous articles in magazines. Watch in 2015 for Dr. O’Gorman newest book—A Man’s Guide to Girly Thoughts, and her new curriculum for treatment programs, Out Your Girly Thoughts and Embrace Your Strength—A Resilience-Building Curriculum; visit www.patriciaogorman.com for more information.