It is both a joy and a challenge to be a young woman today.
There is joy because of the immense possibilities that lie in front of you. There is the chance to pursue education, travel the world, explore your sexuality, find someone to love and be loved by, raise a family, and create a genuine career. Fantastic.
Yet here also lies challenge. As a young woman possibility is in greater supply than experience and there are many riddles to be worked out, skills to be learned.
Making others happy before focusing on yourself
Feminism has pushed the gender role limits a long way but most women still have at least a tinge of focusing on others’ needs and wants in order to make others happy so they in turn can be happy. I think this originates from growing up with parents’ whose own unmet needs leave them hard pressed to fully recognize their daughters and sons.
These parents, living inside their own clangor, have a difficult time helping children learn to listen to themselves. Emotions in children can be overwhelming to parents who are struggling in their own lives and trying to do their best. Perhaps without even meaning to, they teach their child to be pleasing, as a way of minimizing the conflict in the family and the internal world of parents.
But this pleasing behavior — in contrast to a more rooted generosity — can get in the way of young women knowing themselves. Stepping more fully into adulthood, it can then be confusing to distinguish actions that are congruent with the self from those that stem more primarily from anxiety about another’s happiness?
Side note: There is something to be said for making others happy. If we didn’t do it then we would have a rather brittle or unfriendly society. But there has to be a balance.
To find a way out of this confusion about motivation, it’s necessary to pay real attention to your thoughts and feelings. This takes time and effort. It also requires the reflection and participation of someone else. This where working with a therapist can be of real value. Through the sustained contact with the therapist there is a chance to disentangle what is authentic desire and ambition and what may have been imported from someone else.
How can therapy help a young woman?
A good therapist brings open curiosity to the therapeutic meeting. This curiosity, coupled with compassion, creates a space beyond the conventional need to be polite. Within a good therapy, there is room for any thought or feeling; even if it seems not ordinarily nice.
Often young women feel rushed to make decisions that can then lead them to their goals: “If I don’t know what type of medicine to practice, how am I going to decide the right track for medical school?” or “If I don’t meet someone by the age of 32 I won’t be able to have children by the time I’m 35.” This pressure makes it difficult to slow down and take the paths that most reflect you as a person.
In gaining some space from ordinary notions of the “right way” there is increased freedom to consider what makes actual sense for your life. If you find yourself struggling in a relationship take the time and talk it over with your therapist. Are there patterns and struggles from your own upbringing that would cause struggle in any relationship? Also you and your therapist can talk about what kind of individuals you are compatible with. It is only from within life carefully lived that we can know the right decision in a personal way.
While you are on your current path I believe it is key to invest in therapy to have support and consistent mirroring. Therapy can help you know yourself better so that the choices you make, in time, are made from a place of true self-knowledge.