This is Part I of a series. It has become the topic of a lot of conversations among my peer groups, colleagues, and the families and adolescents I treat. What do young women need to launch into the world? What is essential for them to stand firm in their communities? I will cover each of these in more detail in articles to come.
Connectedness to One Another:
A young woman needs to feel a sense of community in her peers, a sense of belonging. It is important for her to experience herself in a supportive environment of other young women who are learning to navigate the world so that she can find sameness when she needs it (and a sense of difference when she needs it, too), solidarity, comfort, and strength. This home group of her peers will help the young woman learn both how she does and does not want to move through her relationships.
As she works through conflict and adversity, these peers will teach her various ways to communicate which the young woman will carry into other relationships. It is here that she has the chance to begin to gain a confidence and experience the effectiveness (and perceived ineffectiveness) of her power in a way that only her group can provide her. If she experiences support amongst her members, this group has the chance to be one of the safest places for the young woman to express her fears, hopes, frustrations, and disappointments that she experiences as she navigates young womanhood. If she suffers a lack of support amongst her members, the young woman might begin to develop a belief that it is safer not to share these parts of her experience. It is possible for her to start to isolate, experience herself as powerless, and the risk for her to develop unhealthy behaviors as coping mechanisms begin to increase.
Sense of Authentic Self:
Here is where this young woman will be able to legitimize her feelings, her experience, her opinions. A strong connection to this place, her authentic self, is what will make it possible for her to a) believe she is capable and b) exercise her capability. This is a place where she will find resource through hardship.
This connection is not just necessary for helping the young woman to realize her aspirations, relationship objectives, what kind of person she wants to be in her world, and how she intends to navigate through all of this. This connection to her authentic self is imperative for her resilience. The relationship with her self is essential for her to know that she will be ok regardless of what happens throughout the course of her life.
The more developed this part of her becomes, the more secure the young woman will feel about the feelings she experiences in response to particular situations. She will not only feel more confident about her opinions, but she will share them more freely with those around her. The young woman will demonstrate fewer behavioral defenses (defenses which serve to distance her from others in a protective way) because she will know that there is a safety within her that is always there.
A lack of connection to an authentic sense of self can encourage a young woman to constantly look to others for validation regarding choices and decisions she considers, causes her to illegitimize her feelings, strengthen a belief that what she has to say or do is not of value. A tenuous alliance with her authentic sense of self will make the obscurity of life increasingly overwhelming. It will be easier for the young woman to believe that she will not be able to withstand the pain she experiences in the world.
Sense of Inspired Purpose:
The collective young woman being described throughout this article wants to connect and give something of value. She wants to impact her world. Some of her peers will choose to impact our world by committing their lives to the helping professions, others to business. Some will choose to leave their mark by contributing other humans to the world, and still, others will give themselves to social justice. It is important to highlight the many choices witnessed by the young woman (whether or not she perceives them as available to her, specifically, is related to the strength of her connection to her authentic sense of self).
Considering the pressure we as humans put on each other and ourselves to succeed, what it means to be successful, and the existing social constructs, a young woman faces quite a challenge as she decides how she will spend her time and energy in her world. She is confronted with the responsibility of finding out what inspires her, what gives her the most genuine sense of satisfaction and fulfillment. Then she must take another brave step and begin to do it.
It will not be enough for the young woman to simply pick a lucrative career if she is not somehow indubitably inspired and adequately satisfied with the gains returned by her efforts. To choose a path based on someone else’s wish for her, societal pressure, lack of motivation, and maybe a combination of each of these will eventually leave her with a feeling of emptiness. It is not sustainable- at least not without paying a high price that will involve experiencing a disintegration of a part of her self.
The young woman aspires to influence and inspire by translating what influences and inspires her. She searches for the most impactful way she can accomplish this in a way that speaks to her the loudest, corresponds closely to her values and beliefs and allows her to fully experience her value in her world. She pioneers her path.
The three institutions described here are cardinal aspects of a young woman’s development for which there are no short cuts. Our holistic support of these conditions of her development will encourage a safe and healthy community for her to find her way. She will possess the confidence and strength to help others find their way. The collective young woman is more resilient in these conditions and carries with her a sense of ok-ness. She passes this on to others, and we find that we all begin to strengthen.
Love and be Loved,