Maureen Murdock, in the opening lines of The Heroine’s Journey: Women’s Quest for Wholeness, writes about her work as a therapist. She details the cry of dissatisfaction with the outward success she saw from women, particularly those between the ages of thirty and fifty.
That the dissatisfaction would often show up as a feeling of emptiness, sterility, and even a sense of self-betrayal.
Many women were left questioning, what is all of this success for – the financial, academic or artistic success – when it left them exhausted, suffering from stress-related illnesses, overworked and scheduled, and with little inner fulfilment or joy.
“This was not what they had bargained for when they first pursued achievement and recognition. The image they held of the view from the top did not include sacrifice of body and soul.”
She concluded that the reason women were experiencing so much physical and emotional pain on their heroic quest, was that they had chosen to “follow a model that denies who they are.”
When I first read these lines many years ago, I was stopped in my tracks by the enormity of them.
This explained so much to me. My mind was swimming with realizations about so many aspects of my life, my career, my work, my health. It left me reeling, elated, but mostly with these resounding thoughts thumping through my brain like an incessant beat on a heavy metal track:
It’s not just me.
It’s not me. There is nothing wrong with me.
I reflected back on my career.
I thought about the endless struggle to succeed.
The excruciating workload, decades of suffering through 12-16 hour days, always being ‘on’, never showing vulnerability or any perceived weakness.
Cramming every waking moment with work, more projects, meeting more deadlines, achieving more goals, getting higher degrees, striving for more financial rewards.
Endlessly ignoring my body and the signs of tiredness, then exhaustion, illness and the inevitable burn outs.
The molding, sacrificing, struggling.
If only I worked a little bit harder, was a little bit more like the men, removed more of my perceived womanly weaknesses, fitted in better, delivered greater results, then all of those feelings of emptiness and not belonging would go away.
It will finally be worth it.
But it wasn’t.
We wonder why women don’t stay in workplaces past a certain level.
We talk about glass ceilings, quotas and flexible work, child care and job share.
What we don’t talk about are the issues at the very heart of women’s lives that eventually drive those who have found themselves on this heroine’s journey (whether they know it or not) running as fast as they can from the structures that have kept them caged.
We don’t talk about the feminine betrayal.
Of us as women betraying the feminine within our cells.
The fact that we’ve denied the core of who we are for so long that it has taken away our very identity as women.
That the betrayal shows up as stress, burnout, depression, isolation, divorce, anger, and sometimes even as cancer in our breasts, our ovaries, our bones.
That it’s not our fault, as we didn’t even know it was happening.
We don’t realise that the betrayal wasn’t really ours to own, but that of the patriarchy that existed all around us. And inside of us.
The balance we are really seeking as women is the balance between our masculine and our feminine.
For both to reside peacefully, with equanimity inside of us.
To be able to craft our own definition of success and not have to betray our feminine aspects as we make our way in the external world.