I’ve been learning some interesting things lately and I’d like to invite you along: to also learn, to converse, to just sit back and read, whatever you’d like.
I was recently listening to a podcast (Worklife with Adam Grant) where the host had a conversation with Brené Brown about vulnerability. (By the way, if you haven’t heard Brené talk about vulnerability, you really should. There’s a link to this particular podcast below as a start.) As she was talking about shame in relation to vulnerability, she explained that, rather than “women” and “men,” she likes to talk about “people who pursue feminine norms” and “people who pursue masculine norms.” That was the first thing I found interesting. Her distinction helped open the door to hear what she said in a way I may not have had she talked about men and women. She said that people who pursue feminine norms tend to seek perfection and feel vulnerable when they don’t achieve it. And people who pursue masculine norms seek strength and feel vulnerable when they don’t achieve it. This was a revelation! It explains so much of my inner life! I feel both of those equally! I berate myself for not being perfect when I don’t measure up. I also berate myself for not being strong enough, tough enough. They’re both there!
If this aspect of a binary gender person’s self can look like a circle with a central point (perfection or strength), I can now see myself as an ellipse with two foci instead of one focus. It gives me space to have more compassion on myself. Most people find it challenging to be vulnerable with a single-focus source of shame. Imagine how challenging it is to wrangle with two. Since hearing this and forming this picture, I have found evidence of it popping up regularly. For example, after not feeling well and not exercising for a while, I went for a long walk. At about the 3.5km mark – halfway – I realized my pace was very slow and I was feeling like this was hard work. I’ve walked this 7km loop many, many times and it gets me sweaty and is work at my usual pace, but I don’t often feel winded and concerned about getting back home. My inner dialogue was about picking up the pace and ignoring my body’s signals of feeling spent. I felt a strong need to prove my strength, even if only to myself.
This new insight has been a helpful way of understanding my nonbinary self. With an understanding of this pull to prove strength, on this walk I could be more conscious of my inner dialogue and interrupt the spiral of self-recrimination. I could, instead, recognize the source of the thoughts and, in the moment, give myself grace. “You’ve been unwell. You haven’t done this in a while. Your body is recovering; it’s allowed to not be strong right now. And in your lack of strength you’re still a good person who is loved.” As a person who lived as a woman for many years, I recognize and am well aware of the urge to perfection. I’ve been working on that one for a while. I want to be able to see lack of perfection in myself and still feel acceptable, lovable, competent and capable. I’m making progress with that. Now I see the similar urge to strength and can begin to work on that, so in my lack of strength I can still feel acceptable, lovable, competent and capable.
I know the Spirit is on board with this plan because since this insight, I have had an unusually strong reaction to my COVID vaccine, I’ve fallen down the stairs and hurt my shoulder, and am currently suffering some throat infection. I’m not feeling very strong. But I’m still loved by God and my family, still competent in what I do have strength to do, still capable of accomplishing useful things.
What thoughts do you have? What do you think of “people who pursue masculine norms” and “people who pursue feminine norms”? Do you recognize the urge to perfection or strength? Do you recognize shame when you fall short of the ideal?
Link to that podcast:
Worklife with Adam Grant and Brené Brown