by Jody Ripplinger MA LMHC
Anyone living in New York would agree this is one of the most fast-paced, aggressive, competitive and impersonal cities in the world. Yes, we New Yorkers are notoriously driven. If we weren’t born in New York, we gravitated here because we felt drawn to the idea of excellence and success. It makes sense that we fall into the habit of bigger, better, faster to keep up and excel. But such a relentless approach to life can have unwanted side effects and ultimately, is unsustainable.
Many of my clients at Citron Hennessey Private Therapy seek treatment not necessarily because they are unable to function effectively in their careers, but because they want to extend their pursuit of excellence into their personal lives. Many of my clients are “peak performers”, who on the outside appear to “have it all.” But having it all isn’t all there is, if you’re secretly struggling with the internal, lived experience of being inside your own skin. Despite the old adage, you can’t buy happiness, most of us still ascribe to the notion that we can feel good inside if we get it all right on the outside. Many of my clients carry a sense of hidden shame because to have inner emotions that are difficult to manage, such as fear, anger, or sadness is believed to be weak. And permission to allow oneself such emotions is rarely given, especially when “there’s nothing to complain about.” Using drugs and alcohol becomes standard practice to dull or numb ourselves on the inside, which over time can make things worse.
As a high-functioner myself, I moved to New York way-back-when to pursue a performing arts career on Broadway. I was driven, competitive, aggressive and determined. These qualities served me well, as they do for many of us New Yorkers, but still I suffered from high anxiety, feelings of loneliness, disconnection, and “not good enough” as I constantly and unconsciously beat myself up to do better. I lacked empathy, compassion and patience with myself and others. I succeeded in my career, but at the expense of my relationships and emotional wellbeing.
In other words, I was relying exclusively on my masculine energies to function and succeed and had lost touch with my feminine self. Sound familiar?
More recently, I have become convinced that most of us New Yorkers – men and women alike – suffer from the same imbalance of masculine and feminine that had plagued me for years. Contrary to what our culture would have us believe, masculine and feminine qualities are a part of being human, and are not exclusive to male and female. When we look at masculine and feminine traits, we see that many of us high functioning New Yorkers who suffer from symptoms of anxiety and depression, also lack access to our more feminine nature. So many of us mistakenly believe feminine qualities are weak; but to the contrary, we are increasingly learning how strong and necessary these aspects are to our wellbeing. Unfortunately, many of us either reject or objectify the feminine and we’re suffering as individuals and as a culture.
I have begun to introduce the concept of developing feminine qualities to balance and complement the overdeveloped masculine side to my peak performance clients and it’s really resonating, especially with men. Straight-identified men today are increasingly frustrated with the constraints of their gender roles, but don’t know how to do things differently. Most feel the need to keep up with the pace of New York, and believe that letting down one’s guard or “softening up” equals annihilation, while at the same time, feel full to the brim of overwhelming and difficult-to-handle emotions that are not going away. They feel disconnected and anxious and then beat themselves up, using a masculine approach to fix the problem of hyper-masculinization. It doesn’t work.
Many New York women, as well, have adopted an overly masculine approach to life and career, as I did, in order to “make it” and share power in our hyper-masculine city. Straight-identified women, it seems, either feel the need to deny their feminine side or if they cultivate it, they do so through the male lens and become hyperfeminine and hypersexualized.
Identifying and choosing to cultivate feminine traits as a way to become more whole and integrated is helping my clients tap into an intuitive knowing of what has been missing in their personal lives, and even in their professional ones. We all have access to our masculine and feminine energies and both are needed for full, meaningful and healthy lives. As we contemporary humans continue to move up the hierarchy of needs, more of us are seeing that self-actualization is a process of addressing our internal needs, and for us New Yorkers, that especially means balancing our masculine with our feminine. Doing so may not only create a deeper sense of inner peace and improve our relationships, it may – according to the Harvard Business Review - even help you climb the corporate ladder.
Here are 7 feminine qualities to get you started:
Empathy: Being sensitive to the thoughts and feelings of others. Vulnerability: Owning up to one's limitations and asking for help. Humility: Seeking to serve others and to share credit. Inclusiveness: Soliciting and listening to many voices. Generosity: Being liberal with time, contacts, advice, and support. Balance: Giving life, as well as work, its due. Patience: Taking a long-term view.
I would add that receptivity is an important feminine trait that many of us lack. Try opening receptively to your own inner experiences, especially the difficult ones, and you’ll begin to notice more ease and energy at your disposal. Try opening receptively to others and you’ll find defensiveness and hostility will reduce and relationships will improve. Learn to embrace and express your feminine as a core strength and resource for full-bodied living, wellbeing and success. You’ll be glad you did.