Women’s Groups Redux

I spent the weekend at the Psychotherapy Networker with a Group of Women. As you know, I have renounced groups, renounced my ill-fated attempts to fit in and stand out simultaneously, renounced renounced renounced. If you’ve seen any of my videos , you know how I like to repeat repeat things.

Not only did I survive but I learned a few things. Like a participant anthropologist, I studied and practiced the ways of women. I learned that while we usually prefer to agree, it is possible and even stimulating to disagree as long as we attend to each other’s feelings. This requires an atmosphere of mutual respect and caring, and a willingness to be challenged at a fairly deep level. And, of course, humor! Disagreeing about child-rearing or religion, for example, is a lot easier after some rowdy banter about sexual exploits, or lack thereof.

I learned, too, that competition between women is complicated business. We rarely brag, unless it is about our children, yet we occasionally compete in misery. It is relieving and even fun sometimes to share stories of embarrassment or failure, and we play ‘one upswomanship’ with each other on the badness of it all. Now, this can be a very good thing. I pity the members of the other gender who are unable to show weakness; and yet I wonder if our relative comfort with weakness perpetuates our position. Are we polishing our glass ceiling?

Anyway, I managed to play well enough, and felt accepted by The Group. Mind you, although I have renounced groups, I do enjoy good company. What I renounced was carving myself up to fit the image that I thought people needed to see. It isn’t easy feeling all that longing to join and still take conversational risks. In one workshop, we learned about women’s characteristic response to stress: tend and befriend. Me, sometimes I fight. But I applaud all the women who manage the mental gymnastics of including their authentic and diverse selves as they nurture their friends. You know who you are!

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