Right after I was divorced I had the occasion to go to a doctor's office where I had to complete a form asking for my vital information: name, address, phone number, and so forth. I stopped at the box that read: "single, married, divorced, separated, widow." I didn't know what to choose. I was very surprised by my emotional reaction – I became angry. "I'm not going to check any of these boxes!" I heard myself say. What was going on with me? "I am none of these things!" the voice within continued to rant.
This was one of those moments when personal reflection is important. I realized that I resented being asked to label myself with respect to my relationship with a man: "It is none of their business!" I tried to engage this rebel within in a dialogue. "How would you like to respond?" the calm, rational part of me inquired. There was silence. The maverick seemed stumped. And then, with a quiet knowing strength, the answer floated into my awareness: "Independent."
Take out your journal and write down the phrase, "I am an independent woman." Say the phrase over and over. Record all of the thoughts, feelings, and images that come to your mind as you say this phrase. This is how a group of women responded to this statement: "I see a woman out there, on her own, and lonely." "I see a woman doing what she wants to do, when she wants to do it, going through life on her own." "Makes her own decisions." "Has her own money." "Is very strong." "Doesn't have children." "A career woman, very successful." "Hard. Unemotional." "Doesn't have men in her life." "Has her own opinions and is not afraid to express them." "Does what she wants, but people don't like her a lot."
It is interesting to note the visceral responses. On the one hand, there was a glow in their eyes as if independence was a valuable, sought-after prize. And yet, this reaction was immediately accompanied by a darker reaction. While independence could yield freedom of thoughts and actions, it often also meant not being connected with others, not having an attractive personality, not living an emotionally satisfying life that included love, family, and close friendships. What does this mean about the programming many women possess?
Perhaps women have allowed relating and independence to exist at opposite ends of a continuum and, in so doing, made it psychologically difficult to pursue the kind of life that encompasses all of what they want: love, relationships, freedom, opinions, career pursuits, lifestyle preferences, and so on. As divorced women, the apparent incompatibility between independence and connection is a quandary- do you develop the inner capacity to be independent and live life on your own, or do you "hold out," and wait for a new relationship to come along?
It is clearly time to develop a new paradigm. Among the gifts of divorce is that it provides an ideal opportunity to discover your own, unique ways to blend independence and connection. Living on your own, now more mature than before you were married, you must learn ways to take care of yourself, provide for yourself, and create a life that is prosperous and happy.
Simultaneously, as you feel ready and if you deem it desirable, you can begin to initiate connections with men and women and mold them to conform to a value system that appreciates the needs of the individual as well as the needs of the relationship. Connecting with women was addressed in chapter 3; relating to men will be discussed in chapter 10. This chapter explores you and the ways you can expand your capacity to be in relationship with yourself- independent. This must begin by confronting a perspective that women often learn in the earliest stages of life: that it is essential to take care of everyone before you consider your own needs. When a woman accepts herself and her needs as important and is willing to conceptualize, create, and maintain a life that is productive, meaningful, and enjoyable to her, then she experiences freedom and joy in all sectors of her life. This chapter will focus on ways to claim and develop this fundamental commitment to your desires and sense of purpose.
This article has been edited and excerpted from the book Transformational Divorce with permission by New Harbinger Publications, Inc. Transformational Divorce, copyright © 2003, Karen Kahn Wilson, Ed.D is an executive/personal coach and licensed clinical psychologist who is committed to helping women maintain a positive and constructive focus in their lives. She has worked with hundreds of divorced women, helping them to see the challenges of relationships as “cycles” of potential growth. Dr. Wilson maintains a successful executive, personal and divorce coaching practice with clients throughout the US and internationally. Click Transformational Divorce for more info.
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