By Shirley Brown
How often do you find yourself trying to control your emotions? When I asked a room full of powerful, accomplished women about their relationship to emotions the response was a resounding “stop them!” or “do whatever you need to get them out of the way!” One woman even said that “they are a sign of weakness.” In response to surging or even subtle emotions, women have been taught varying strategies to pretend that they are “fine” while at the same time their inner world is churning and burning. Emotions, we have been taught, are problematic and a part of what makes us less than our male colleagues and leaders in the world. If we are to be accomplished we must stop being emotional!
I’ll never forget a dinner with friends when one of my mentors who happened to be a man said “Someone is being emotional” in a derogative tone and then gave me a long sideways look showing disapproval. I looked at him, sat up taller and gave him a big giant smile – – letting him know that I was proud of who I was and that I feel. Proud that I was a woman. It has happened to all of us whether in our own families or around a board room table. The message women get is that they need to control and manage their emotions but I think we have it all wrong. I believe that women and our emotional capacities are exactly what this world needs right now.
Louann Brizendine, M.D. states in her book The Female Brain that while women and men have the same number of brain cells our brains’ wiring are remarkably different. “The principal hub of both emotion and memory formation – the hippocampus – is larger in the female brain, as is the circuitry for language and observing emotions in others. This means that women are, on average, better at expressing emotions and remembering the details of emotional events.”
That’s right! The very design of a woman is to have more emotions than our male counterparts. It is part of our biological and indispensable design. Human beings were designed very specifically and women were given more capacity in the emotional and language realm. And yet, somehow we have bought into a belief that to be successful a woman needs to act more like a man. That ‘we must be less emotional and more logical’.
I recently attended a conference for women entrepreneurs at Cornell University and the keynote speaker was a sharply dressed high-figure earning woman who was speaking to us about how to make a lot of money and be “successful.” Her presentation was precise and her presence commanding. I admired how comfortable she was in presenting her materials and then the words “Ladies, you have to stop being emotional” came out of her mouth.” It was like nails on a chalkboard. You could almost hear the male mentors that had worked with her to make her multi-million dollar business. But I ask you now, do we need more multi-million dollar business that tells women to stop feeling? Do we need to train more women to think like a man does? I don’t think so. I believe that we need more women who are facile at feeling and understanding her emotions and using them as the tool that they are.
Each of us has core values. These values are the essence of what guides us – much like our north star. Moving through life when something happens that challenges or threatens our core values what happens? Well, emotion rises! It’s a perfect system. But if we are suppressing or hiding our emotion instead of listening we miss the opportunity to identify what we are needing to honor our core values. You see, emotions are our early warning system for living life true to our values.
It takes some work to begin paying attention and feeling what we are feeling and then practice of identifying what it is that we are needing in that moment but when we do this work we develop an inner strength and our emotions become a welcomed part of being the powerful women that we are.
Header image credit: Krystle Fleming
Shirley Brown is a Certified Professional Coach. You can read more about her work here.