Defining Who We Are

Debra Littlejohn Shinder

'Figure and Profile' by Picasso


When creative women attempt to break away from the expectations and stereotypes imposed on us by society and define for ourselves who we are and what we want, we go through predictable stages.

This reminds me of the stages one goes through in the breakup of a marriage or relationship, or in dealing with the death of a loved one. It may be easier to understand if considered with that comparison in mind. Our first reaction is usually denial, followed by pain. Then comes rage. Some people, sadly, never get any further.

Anger is an inevitable and necessary part of the healing process -- but those who get stuck at that stage (or let it turn into its less passionate but more insidious variant, hopeless cynicism tinged with bitterness) rarely go on to achieve greatness -- and almost never go on to find peace and self-satisfaction.

Anger which is justified may never completely dissolve -- there will always be triggers, reminders of pain that was inflicted unfairly. There's nothing wrong with feeling it, but there is something wrong with letting it overwhelm you and become your whole life. Anger binds you to the source of that anger; you only make progress toward true freedom by learning to let it go.

There will always be people who'll misunderstand you, who'll say things that hurt you. And you don't have to lie down and be a doormat for them -- you have the right, even the duty to yourself, to speak up and let them know how you feel, whether the pain they caused was intentional or not.

Sometimes in doing so, agreement and understanding is reached; sometimes it's not. And if it's not, the best thing (for YOU, for your own mental and physical health) is to accept that this is one issue on which you don't/can't/won't see eye-to-eye, and go on. Value and enjoy the good parts of the relationship, if there are good parts. If there aren't, walk away from it, work around it, do anything except staying stuck in your rage and letting it feed off itself, and off you. Believe your beliefs passionately, fight for them wherever and whenever appropriate, but be flexible enough to see that some wars are better fought behind the scenes, without bloodshed, by quiet infiltration, rather than by overt invasion. Some require a combination of both tactics, on different fronts.

Living well truly IS the best revenge. That philosophy has always worked well for me. And it's far less stressful and has fewer dangers and more benefits than other methods.

For all of us -- but especially for women -- being talented, being intelligent, being creative, being "different" isn't easy. Our gifts sometimes seem more like curses than blessings. If we dare to take risks, we will get hurt -- by society, by men, even by our own sisters. We'll feel the pain, and often the hurt turns to anger as we work through the process. But after anger comes acceptance -- if we allow it. Acceptance is not at all the same as resignation. The latter means giving up; the former means seeing the world, others, and ourselves as they really are -- which we must first do if we're ever to succeed in changing any of them.

This is not, of course, the way I felt when I was younger. And that's one of the greatest gifts of aging, this broadened perspective that lets one pick and choose which battles need to be fought, and when and where and how and against whom. This world NEEDS the passion and anger of the young to sustain it; it also needs the experience-tempered outlook of those who've been there, done that, and gone beyond it, in order to bring the balance that benefits us all. (And "young" here may only mean "young" or new to a particular issue or idea or experience, while some may have lived and learned several lifetimes' worth in a very small number of years).

DEB SHINDER is a writer, editor, community college instructor and part-time computer consultant who lives in the Dallas-Ft. Worth, Texas area with her husband, Tom, and her teenage son.