Shattering Expectations: Empowering Mature Women to Stop Self-Suppression08/23/2023 2023-08-23 23:07
Shattering Expectations: Empowering Mature Women to Stop Self-Suppression
Shattering Expectations: Empowering Mature Women to Stop Self-Suppression
As women, we often censor ourselves to meet expectations, gain approval, or minimize our needs. But self-suppression can make us feel fragmented, anxious, and depressed. Or like a piece of ourselves has gone missing.
In this empowering article, our lead therapist, Cynthia McKay, explores how mature women can move beyond self-editing and suppression to reclaim their authentic voices and live boldly.
A World of Expectations
As women, we’re constantly bombarded with expectations. There’s always someone, somewhere, telling us how we should look or how we should — or shouldn’t — act. We all have to make certain compromises in different areas of life, but if we’re editing ourselves too often or too deeply, it’s easy to minimize or even silence our true selves.
As a psychotherapist, I’ve witnessed far too many women dim their light in order to meet societal expectations. Often, these women come to me feeling like parts of themselves are lost or missing. They’ve prioritized the needs or desires of others over their own self-expression, and some of them have done it for so long, they feel like they’ve lost touch with their voice or even their overall compass in life.
Though my generation made strides toward equality, we still carry internalized biases about how to act properly. Often that means acting more feminine, more polite, more modest. In my practice, I aim to empower women to compassionately explore where they may be self-suppressing due to these pressures – no matter their age or life stage. My hope is that bringing awareness to this issue and exploring its impact in your life can help you reclaim your voice, your passions, and the richness of who you truly are.
Self-suppression manifests when women censor themselves to meet the needs and expectations of those around them, including society at large
Awareness helps identify self-suppressive behaviors so we can move past them and find more authentic ways of being
By honoring their true passions and priorities, mature women can live life unapologetically.
What Is Self-Suppression? And How Can You Tell If It’s Impacting You Negatively?
Self-suppression involves controlling or obscuring parts of yourself to gain approval, avoid judgment, seem more likable, or conform to societal norms and biases. It often stems from the social conditioning women receive from a young age about how to act more feminine, which often means acting more polite or modest — even when it’s not called for or in your best interest.
Suppressing parts of yourself has real consequences for your mental health. It’s also devastating to your personal fulfillment. How can you realize your potential or find your purpose when key aspects of your identity are kept hidden away? Self-suppression is a way we try to preserve ourselves, but the result can often be the exact opposite. We experience fragmentation of the self instead – along with a sense that we’re hiding from our true passions, desires, and opinions.
Here are some questions for self-reflection around potential signs of self-suppression:
Do you ever feel drained after social interactions where you didn’t share your authentic thoughts and feelings?
Looking back, are there interests you gave up or parts of yourself you hid to meet external expectations?
Do you minimize your presence, achievements, or vocal tone to avoid being “too much”?
Have fears of judgment stopped you from setting boundaries or advocating needs?
Exploring these areas with compassion can provide insights to shift suppressive patterns.
Do you ever feel like you're drowning in a sea of expectations?
Playing Every Role… Except Ourselves
As women, we devote endless energy to playing the roles ascribed to us. We strive to meet expectations of how women should show up in each role – as nurturing mothers, dutiful daughters, kind caregivers, hard-working employees, polite executives and fair but firm bosses.
In our quest to play all these expected parts, we lose touch with the most important role of all – being ourselves.
Even roles with prestige and power carry societal baggage about how we ought to conduct ourselves. The pressure to conform can lead even the most accomplished women to minimize themselves and hide their authentic voices.
When we over-attach to roles, we end up minimizing our own desires and muting our authentic voices. We hide aspects of ourselves deemed unsuitable. We sacrifice our needs and lose our sense of personal identity. In conforming to fixed role expectations, the space to explore our emerging selves narrows until it disappears completely.
The costs of ignoring our fundamental need for self-expression are immense. Playing roles at the expense of our core selves leads to fragmentation, anxiety, depression. We must make space for self-care, our passions, and nourishment of our spirits.
Examining Societal Pressures and Expectations
The influences of societal conditioning and gender biases are pervasive, though often subtle. Some reflective questions around this:
What traditional gender roles or stereotypes have shaped your actions?
Do expectations around maturity and aging affect how you present yourself?
Have you ever feared being perceived as too aggressive for displaying leadership qualities?
Do you feel pressure to perfectly balance career and family? Or to be cheerful all the time?
Do you minimize your physical and verbal presence in certain contexts?
Bringing awareness to these dynamics can challenge their power over you. You have every right to your complexity and humanity, so give yourself permission to take up space, set boundaries, and honor your inner wisdom about what feels right versus what’s expected.
Finding Your Authentic Self
The journey of rediscovering your true self is unique to each person. Some reflection questions to get started:
- What activities make you feel fully alive and engaged? When are you most your true self?
- Looking inward, what core values or passions emerge that you may have lost touch with?
- What parts of your identity have others dismissed or looked down upon?
- In what situations do you most desire to minimize yourself? What expectations feel imposed?
By exploring without judgment, you can gain insights into what empowering your authentic self could look like for you.
Remember there’s no fixed destination – just be open to rediscovering dormant passions and self-expression.
Finding community support can also help create space for your emergence. Those who honor your multi-dimensional self can walk alongside you as you unpack internalized limitations. You may be surprised by how many will celebrate your true colors fully flowering.
Nurturing Your Emerging Self
The journey of shedding limiting expectations requires gentleness and courage. Some supportive practices:
- Make time for self-care and exploring passions outside others’ standards. What gives you energy and life?
- Surround yourself with those who honor your multifaceted self and goals. Do your relationships nurture growth?
- Seek out stories of women who’ve trailblazed their own path. What parts of their journeys seem relevant or inspiring to yours?
- Remember your inner light during doubt or resistance. How can you stay anchored in your truth?
The process is nonlinear so be patient with yourself if it feels like one step forward and one step back. The good news is that each time you honor your authentic voice and needs, you make it easier to do so next time. You also become inspiring to others who need to reconnect with themselves too.
Building Your Support System
A strong support system can make all the difference in overcoming self-limiting beliefs and nurturing your emerging, authentic self. Seek out communities and relationships that celebrate your growth and multidimensionality.
For many women, connecting with others who have undertaken or are currently on a similar journey of self-discovery can provide invaluable perspective and encouragement. Consider joining local women’s empowerment groups, maturity-positive organizations, or mentorship programs to find solidarity and inspiration.
Therapeutic support groups can also be tremendously helpful in unpacking societal conditioning and developmental blocks in a compassionate space. If you feel isolated or alone in this process, know that there are many who will champion the unfolding of your true colors. Reach out and find those who see your light and want to see it shine brighter. You need not walk this path alone when there are so many willing to walk it with you.
Overcoming Self-Doubt and Fear
The journey of empowered self-expression often requires moving through fear and self-doubt. Old mental tapes playing outdated messages about how you should think, feel, or act can undermine your confidence.
When self-limiting beliefs flare up, remember that you have every right to take up space and live according to your truth. Try writing down those negative narratives so you can start replacing them with more empowering affirmations about your strengths and worth.
Visualization exercises where you imagine yourself speaking and acting from your highest potential can also help build your courage muscle. Start small if needed – have courageous conversations with trusted allies or do low-stakes activities that bring you joy before moving up to more challenging steps.
Remind yourself regularly that the rewards of living authentically, though requiring vulnerability, are immense. You have so much wisdom and experience to share — the world deserves to hear your voice.
Honoring Your Evolving Journey
Shedding self-suppression is an ongoing process, and the results can be surprising so be open to where this journey of personal growth and change can take you.
Here’s just a few self-reflection questions to keep in mind:
- What interests or passions might you revisit or explore now? Any new hobbies that excite you?
- How do you want to spend your time and energy? What brings you joy and purpose?
- What makes you feel beautiful, confident, and proud of yourself in this moment?
- How might you reclaim your personal style to reflect a more authentic and more fearless version of yourself?
Give yourself permission to define success, fulfillment and beauty on your own terms. Write your next chapters guided by your values, not external expectations.
Thriving in Midlife and Beyond
The era once seen as “middle age” is anything but. Many women find their middle years and beyond are when they fully come into their own.
This is a time to redefine outdated narratives around aging and instead recognize maturity as a period of adventure, growth, and self-knowledge.
If you’ve faced ageism or societal barriers in the workplace, know that you have valuable experience and talents to offer — do not let unfair biases diminish your worth or contributions. Consider seeking out companies that celebrate diversity and value maturity. Or, look into starting your own venture centered around something you care about.
Some additional things to think about:
How might you redefine outdated narratives around aging?
What does thriving mean to you?
Have unfair biases or ageism impacted you?
How could you honor your worth and talents?
What possibilities emerge when you live wholly as your authentic self?
How might your priorities and passions shift?
How can you surround yourself with supportive communities that champion your personal growth instead of inhibit it?
Your middle years are a chance to live boldly by your own compass, not external expectations. Trust your hard-won wisdom and capabilities.
Starting the Next Chapter
At any age or stage of life, you have full permission to be your authentic, empowered self without apology or restraint.
Your middle years are a chance to thrive by honoring your evolving passions and priorities. Silence any inner critics using youth as the measure of your worth or happiness and let this new chapter unfold according to what most enriches your spirit, not the agenda of others.
And if you’re in the greater Denver area and need help, I hope you’ll consider reaching out to me. This is one of my favorite areas to help patients with, and it would be a great honor to help you!