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  • SuePattonThoele

Overestimating Strength

Sometimes our greatest strengths are also our greatest weaknesses. For example, we may let ourselves be treated poorly because we understand the reasons and wounds creating another’s behavior. Understanding is a valuable trait of feminine wisdom, but when it leads to accepting the unacceptable, it becomes self-sabotage. When a client, Maddie, tried to understand why her neighbor had stood by while her dog attacked Maddie’s, the neighbor—let’s call her Cruella—unleashed what professional mediators refer to as a character assassination. Maddie left the conversation reeling but tried to talk with her neighbor again a couple of days later. Cruella continued the assault, almost gleefully attacking everything she knew Maddie valued about herself and her life. Maddie came to me because she was distraught that someone whom she had considered a friend, and done a lot for, could think of her as such a terrible person.

Although Maddie was heartsick, she understood Cruella’s attitude was probably fueled by jealousy and kept attributing Cruella’s behavior to wounds from a difficult childhood and abusive marriage. As we talked, it became obvious that Cruella was entrenched and not interested in working things out. While Maddie’s understanding of Cruella’s motivation was commendable, trying to make her feel differently was probably impossible and even a little grandiose. Because Maddie is a therapist noted for her communication skills, she wanted to believe there was something she could do.

Maddie’s strong need to be liked, exacerbated by the fact Cruella had bad-mouthed her in the neighborhood, blinded her to reality and led her to overestimate her power to change the situation. Maddie had the courage to recognize she had less clout than she wanted, and our work turned to helping her heal her wounds and manage her deep need to be seen and liked.

As strong, compassionate, and understanding women, we are sometimes under the illusion we can make everything better. Not so. If you find yourself thinking along those lines, it’s time to ask whether you are overestimating your influence and, if so, why?

During your day...

  • Accept yourself as is.

  • Have the courage to admit—and be okay with—not having all the answers all the time.

What you think of me is none of my business.

—Terry Cole-Whittaker

Excerpted from The Woman's Book of Strength by Sue Patton Thoele. Available on Mango and Amazon.


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