The Courage to Be Yourself: A Woman’s Guide to Growing Beyond Emotional Dependence
By Sue Patton Thoele; published by Conari Press
I am a bit addicted to self-help texts of the seventies to nineties, and am often fascinated by seeing which ideas fall away with time and which ideas stick. I was on cloud nine when I uncovered a gold mine of old self-help books at a Unitarian Universalist book sale. The version of Thoele’s book I found was published in 1991. Since then there have been several updated versions. This is one book I often find myself suggesting to clients and referring to in my own life.
It acknowledges the social factors that have led many women to learn to suppress their own needs in service to others. One may argue whether women do face extra pressure to conform and think more relationally. What I personally believe is inarguable, is that all women ( and really anyone) could benefit from learning to leave relationships if they are destructive, develop greater self compassion, and the courage to be assertive when needed. For my generation of those born in the seventies, these social factors still have an impact on how we navigate our needs and the needs of others. Although this book is directed at women, I think it will benefit really anyone who experiences insecurity.
In “The Courage to Be Yourself,” Sue Patton Thoele’s message is clear: Women can learn to develop the emotional maturity to accept and assert themselves. Her book suggests that crafting emotional maturity is about “making decisions based on what is right for us rather than on what we fear.” Rather than deciding not speak up at a meeting because we are afraid of feeling uncomfortable or not taking that art class because we are afraid we won't have the time, she encourages making empowered choices based on what we know will nourish our hearts.
Many women receive strong social reinforcement for acting out roles as caretakers, supporters, and cheerleaders. Therefore, women may find they have valuable skills in these arenas. However, many women receive weak social reinforcement for acting out roles as independent thinkers, self-nurturers, and leaders.
In order to increase a woman’s emotional independence, Thoele’s book provides exercises and reflections to actually practice the language and skills of greater emotional independence.
“The Courage to Be Yourself” focuses on the process of maturation required to be yourself; this includes the need to understand that each person has limits. In an age of seemingly endless pressure to be all you can be, coupled with the rise of the entrepreneur mythology of endless energy, goal-setting, and solo achievement, I found this idea particularly sobering but freeing.
Women are encouraged to consider and honor their own limits in terms of work, relationships, and other commitments. In addition, women are encouraged to consider how much their fear of rejection or social disconnection may hinder their ability to express themselves, asking, “Do you perceive rejection as life-threatening?” Finally, Thoele encourages a deeply compassionate relationship with responsibility; she states, “When we become response-able – that is when we learn to choose our responses freely and consciously – we are free to build a life of continued growth and increasing happiness.”
The overarching essential gift that I received from this book was the tough and tender message that it truly is a deliberate exercise in courage to be yourself. Here are the three main messages I took from this book:
1. How you habitually talk to yourself can strip you of courage or encourage you to make “creative choices” based on your unique preferences, goals and wishes.
2. How you habitually relate to others can have you hiding in a corner and saying “yes” to everything (and everyone) who comes along, or have you coming from an empowered internal foundation in which you recognize that you can choose your responses to circumstances and have a right to select what you agree or do not agree to.
3. The courage to be yourself can be learned, through concentrated effort and healing of old wounds, coupled with a willingness to bear the possible discomfort of others as you grow. The pain and discomfort of growth and the flexing of your courage muscles can be born with encouraging fortifying doses of compassionate self-talk.
I recommend this book for any anyone who has ever struggled with developing healthy interdependency – so pretty much everyone, I suspect. This book provides a way to language a difficult process of being able to balance the need for connection with the response-ability to listen to one’s own wants and needs.
I found this book highly readable; engaging thanks to some of the personal disclosure by the writer; and informative for its practical exercises to help women learn self-awareness, compassionate self-talk, and constructive communication skills. “The Courage to Be Yourself” is a useful book that I believe, in its continuing revisions, will inspire folks of all ages for generations to come.
You can find her book at www.amazon.ca.