In my job I am lucky to work with some incredible people as clients, particularly women, who I feel privileged to know and journey with. They are successful in demanding careers. They inhabit their workplace, poised, articulate and on top of their game. Other women look up to them and want to learn from them. They are everything that is good about the 21st Century and a role model for our daughters.
Yet they are falling apart on the inside.
This is not about glass ceilings, misogyny or harassment (although that can be in the mix). It’s about success in spite or maybe, because of, what and where they come from.
Emotional injury, traumatic experiences, or just a lack of good enough parenting from parents who did their best, is the perfect environment to raise a daughter primed to feel not quite o.k. or not really good enough in the world.
Such women make fantastic employees; the workplace gives them an environment in which to pursue the affirmation that was lacking in their family. The workplace conveniently has rules – do well and you are rewarded. This is comforting and the pursuit of the reward means ever increasing efforts, they are first in the office, last to go home and take work with them on holiday. The need for positive feedback is ever present but that which is forthcoming is never enough. Often they talk of Imposter Syndrome, a sense that they have somehow tricked their way into their job, that at any moment they will be “found out” and all the prizes of success will be taken away. Finally, when this happens, what they believe to be their true status of “not good enough” will be laid bare to be judged by others.
This is an exhausting way to live, and the hard reality is that all the promotions, bonuses or recognition in the world are not enough to heal that early emotional injury. Chasing it just means increasing stress and anxiety and that the gap between the outwardly successful woman, and the internal childhood pain gets wider, leading to the falling apart behind the mask of confidence.
Healing lies in stepping back from this learnt way of being and taking time and space to explore the past injury. Making peace with this is an individual process, often it means grieving the early lack of good enough care, it takes time and can be uncomfortable, but doing this means a new, more solid foundation from which to live live in the present.