Posted on 05 November 2018
Why does life seem so tough for young women and what can we do about it?
I had finished my cognitive hypnotherapy for anxiety clinic in Harley Street the other day and I decided to pop along to Marylebone High Street. For those of you who do not know this part of London, it is a fun place to be as there are loads of lovely shops, it’s great for designer clothes and high-end furnishings. But if you are not in a spending mood, then there are coffee shops where you can just relax and watch the world go by.
I took a window seat in one of my favourite cafes and looked out.
Then, I started thinking about something I am seeing more and more. Women, especially young women, using their phones to ‘keep their heads down’ and I know we all walk about staring at our phones now, but this is something more. These women are using their phones almost as a shield, it is like they are saying ‘I don’t want to know that you are looking at me.’
What these young women are picking up, possibly subconsciously, is that they are under relentless pressure every time they step into a public space, and it is not surprising that so many women feel they need to take some defensive action. A recent survey has shown no less than 85 percent of women, aged 18 to 24, have experienced sexual harassment in a public place.
This figure comes from a recent report from The House of Commons Women’s and Equalities Committee. The committee spent nine months looking at the issue of harassment in public spaces and concluded that it is rife, in the street, on public transport and at university.
MP Maria Miller, the chair of the committee, says that sexual harassment in public places is a regular experience for many women and girls and the report has made several recommendations, all of which I would welcome. They include getting organisations and individuals, from train operators to pub landlords, to take action to stop harassment when it occurs. The committee also recommends a public campaign to change attitudes.
Because I tend to see these things through the prism of my professional work as a therapist specialising in healing the damage sexual harassment and assault can cause, I am especially interested in changing attitudes.
There is a saying in the therapy world: ‘you cannot change what happens to you, but you can change how you deal with it.’ I fully support and recognise the truth in this saying, and will do my bit, to change what happens where I can. I hope the politicians and public figures will also work hard to make the necessary changes so sexual harassment happens to less women. And for me, I feel I can do the most good by helping people cope with and overcome the negative emotions and mental pain which can arise from experiencing sexual harassment.
I do not think this is abandoning the public debate. In fact, I believe that developing individual strength and resilience can improve what happens in public spaces, and in other types of harassment as well. The more strength individual women can develop, the easier it becomes to resist unwelcome or frightening behaviour. Hopefully we can reach the stage where it is the norm for us all to be assertive and to obtain the respect and kindness we all deserve.
So, I want to give power, confidence and self-esteem to those young women walking along Marylebone High Street with their heads down as that seems as good a place to start as any.
As I was sitting in that café, I was asking myself how I can help them to develop their inner strength and confidence, what can be done to help them, so they can literally hold their heads up when they walk down the street. Then I realised I already do this a lot, I do it with individual clients every day of the week.
With every single client I work with, building confidence and self-esteem is at the core of our work.
Real deep self-esteem is essential to our psychological well-being. It is often easiest to explain what deep self-esteem actually is by first highlighting what it is not.
It is not about feeling that you have to represent yourself as perfection in your Instagram posts. It is not measuring yourself against friends. Neither is it about earning more or getting promoted faster than your colleagues.
It is about feeling that you are okay with you. That actually you are good enough, that you like yourself most of the time. That you do not need improving and you deserve to be happy, contented and have happy, healthy relationships. True self-belief and confidence is quiet, humble and respectful of others.
Unless we all develop this, we end up chasing superficial markers of success, which as often as not, do not fulfil us. We will also lack the resilience to deal with the unpleasant things which life can throw at us.
Often developing self-esteem means looking in detail at our own beliefs about ourselves. For many of us, these beliefs may be hindering not helping us. For example, if you were brought up to believe that you are only valuable if you did well at school then you may find yourself desperately worrying about how well you do at the office. Or if you were often told how pretty you were, or perhaps that your sister was prettier than you, then you may become overly worried about your appearance and believe that unless you look fantastic, you are not worth loving.
Getting to the root of these beliefs can do wonders and once we understand where they come from, we can begin to alter those beliefs. You can still care passionately about your office life, or take great pleasure in your appearance, but it does not have to be the thing which underpins your happiness and peace of mind.
You may be asking if altering beliefs is easy? My answer is sometimes it can be a lot easier than you may think. Over the past few decades cognitive psychology and related disciplines have come a long way and we now understand much better how our thought patterns are formed and how we can change them.
Look at it this way, you know that if you eat well and exercise you can change your weight and your physical health. If you take some sessions of cognitive hypnotherapy or related disciplines such as Eye Movement Integration or Emotional Freedom Technique then you can change your thought patterns and your emotional health. Nearly always we find a positive change after just one session and you will know you are going in the right direction.
The most effective changes are usually made in one-to-one sessions with professionals like me. However, there are things you can do for yourself if you do not want to see a therapist. You can start by making an honest assessment of what benefits you in your everyday life.
When I see girls or young women like those hiding behind their phones, I am often reminded of what happens when I ask young women in my clinic: ‘what makes you happy?’
The answers may surprise you. Although it may appear that young women spend half their lives on their Instagram photos, they rarely say looking good, or even new clothes and make-up are what makes them happy. They are much more likely to say: my friends, being with my dog, my family, my music, my hobbies. I believe that we can validate and build upon this, let’s have more praise and positive reinforcement for girls doing well at sport or playing music. Let’s help people gather more time to spend with friends and family. Can we feature and praise the appearance of girls who do not look like models, but are beautiful all the same?
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