Female tribalism, it is not a well-used phrase, but it is something that affects all women… for good or for bad.
It is natural for us to seek friendship, acceptance, and inclusion, but if we are unable to find it, a huge void may appear in our lives. My deep-seated feeling is other women will relate to my struggles with female tribalism. I have experienced being ‘an outsider’ — rejected by other women, because their social group has no place for a sensitive soul like me.
My new autobiography, Revenge of the Wilting Flower, seems to have hit the bullseye, reminding readers of their own painful experiences with social disconnect. I am receiving messages from women who are telling me their heartfelt stories of despair. I am not a trained counsellor; I do not know each person’s personality or unique circumstances and am unsure how to respond to readers who trust me with their secret pain. I am nervous about replying with the wrong words and am uncertain I can provide the suitable support that they hope for.
My long-term goal is to write about how I resolved my struggles with female tribalism, in a later book. But I now know how long it takes to complete a project that big, it will take me years. And now that I have cracked open people’s wounds, I feel it is my responsibility to offer some helpful information now.
Seeking the Warm Place of Belonging
My life centered around trying to find my place in the world. I yearned to be accepted by my peers and ultimately, myself. But if you are like me, we can be very harsh on ourselves, because we have learned others will inflict cruelty on us.
Part of my personal story is that I grew up with a rigid and comforting belief system, raised as a Christian fundamentalist who was taught all non-believers were bad, and those within my church were chosen and blessed by God. There were hundreds of strict rules, including not associating with outsiders. After I had my two children, I felt uncomfortable passing on this rigidity and extreme bias to my daughters. But my conditioning fought back savagely when I challenged my faith and beliefs, and my life imploded into a black hole.
After I eventually climbed out of my hellish pit and the sun shone down on me, I looked around and saw that our planet had become a rubbish wasteland. I was devastated and thus began my inadvertent journey to become an environmental activist, exposing our addiction to waste, pressuring businesses to change and educating people as much as possible about what we are doing and how we can fix this mess.
Between my leaving the church and making a new life, there were years of… N O T H I N G… Oh… and pain! With earnest desperation I attempted to make friends with other women, but my efforts were hit and miss. The good encounters and friendships meant the world to me, but the hole inside was voracious and I would try to get each new acquaintance to fill it. I was overly familiar and tended to smother the few people who offered me kindness and frighten them away.
I Was the Powerless Puppy Cruel Women Loved to Kick
I once holidayed on a remote island where dogs roamed everywhere. I witnessed some young children playfully kick and push over an adorable, tiny puppy. It was quite wobbly because it was so young and because of the abuse. When it shakily tried to stand up, the children would kick it to make it fall over once more and they laughed at their handiwork. It was horrid. Why did they do this? For fun. For power. To hurt something that was unable to fight back. Above all, to appear cool and powerful in front of their friends. Those little boys were establishing and fortifying the hierarchy of their mini social group.
As a grown woman, with no confidence nor tribe of my own, forceful women who belonged to their own tribe, would treat me like that little puppy. Verbally hurting, rejecting, insulting, isolating, and ostracizing me. These were not battle-hardened women who were just released from prison, they were regular mums from the local school my children attended. As my fear and isolation worsened, more women became emboldened to join in and take their own turn at kicking the puppy. The horrendous situation lasted an interminably long time and there were many women involved. I was so depressed and stressed that I had an accident that left me with a scar on my eyelid and a scar in my psyche.
I will not elaborate on this part of the story as I discuss it in vivid detail in my memoir. I will skip ahead to today. My lovely social media supporters see me as a bubbly, smiley, happy, pro-active person. So, it is quite a shock for them to read my autobiographical story and they become upset — usually for two reasons. One is they are heartbroken for my suffering, which they are just finding out about, and two, they personally feel my pain and my wounds, because they have them too.
Many Women Feel Isolated and Lonely
Many women are hurting deeply. They are isolated, lonely, and desperate to find meaningful, loyal friendships with others they relate to. They are searching for their modern tribe and failing, that is why my book hits so close to home. The messages I am receiving are similar, “I am so sorry for your suffering. If I had known, I would have been your friend,” and “I relate so much to your story, I too don’t feel I belong anywhere.”
Interestingly, their context is a little different to mine, though the result and feelings are the same. While I came from a staunch religious background and found it hard to connect with others because of my Christian values, the women reaching out to me care deeply about the environment and are struggling to connect with others because of their environmental values. They are finding it difficult and painful to navigate a world where they are surrounded by people who do not have the same empathy for our planet. It saddens me that this is causing women to feel isolated, and even fearful to talk about their environmental concerns. Some feel judged simply for setting a good example and are worried they may damage their relationships, should they try to educate their family and friends.
I feel somewhat responsible for bringing their pain to the surface. Reading my story has made raw some women’s trauma and left them feeling exposed. I want to provide advice and reassurance to the amazing people who are offering me heartfelt kindness and trusting me with their delicate, personal stories. I would like to thank them, their willingness to be my friend during my lonely years, means the world to me. But there is no need for them to feel guilty. I am sure the story of my life would have been the same if they had met me or not. I had not yet discovered who I was. My lack of confidence was concealed by my over-talkativeness. I often inserted myself too far into people’s lives, until they expelled me like a splinter. I may have cake stalked you and then freaked out if you talked about something my church prohibited. Like Yoga. No, I am not kidding. There were thousands of things that would trigger my social anxiety.
No one matched my profile. No one knew me or understood me, including myself.
To those who relate to the social aspects of my story, I am sorry you are struggling to find your tribe. I wish I could offer you a blueprint for building wonderful friendships, but I cannot. I desperately want to say, I have found my tribe… this is how I did it… or come join my tribe… but can do neither. I failed to integrate, but I am no longer chronically depressed, perpetually lonely, and constantly empty, so something worked… right?
Rather than tell you what to do, I will tell you all the things I did. The irony is, the things that you may expect to work failed for me, while the things you would expect to fail, worked. This trial and error process spanned one full decade. There were lots of crisscrossing and threading of different approaches with ever so many failed attempts, so please forgive me if this sounds a little all over the shop, and apologies in advance if you do not like what I have to say.
Every Tribe Finds Someone to Oppress
Kind gestures and gift giving are obvious ways to build a healthy tribe. I have read many suggestions about kindness making the world a better place, and it does. But what I do not hear, is that giving can make people feel uncomfortable, as they may take it as an inference that we think they are deficient in some way. Coming from both an Italian and a Christian background I learnt that giving was a wonderful thing to do and it became a big part of my personality. Earlier in my life, gift giving enhanced the warmth of my tribe, and later in life I hoped that my generosity would help me find my new tribe. But there was no counter argument to help me have a balanced view of gift giving. I made so many mistakes, and I made them repeatedly. This was the case with all the different ways I gave of myself, whether the other person desired it, or not. I didn’t use unbiased intuition. I had a habit of only listening to my heart, while ignoring my gut… it caused me to cross a lot of lines, that created emotional discomfort for both the other person and me. If your heart tells you to do something kind, but your gut tells you the other person might not want what you are offering… listen to your gut and ignore your heart, no matter how hard that is. I made hundreds of poor judgement calls by following my heart and presuming what other people wanted or needed (sorry Mick, who features in Revenge of the Wilting Flower).
If it is not someone intimately close to us, we need to respect their parameters, using our powers of observation, to perceive how close they want to allow us to be. Someone once shared a simple illustration with me that helped me understand the nature of friendship. “It’s like a dance. They take a step. Then you take a step. Then they take a step.” If we find we are taking many more steps than the other person, we may be ignoring our powers of perception, because we want more from the relationship, than they do. I know a lot about this topic because I was forever treading on other people’s toes, so I can most certainly tell you, how not to do it.
It is important not to presume we know what is best for someone else and assume we can better their life by our kindness. It is not our call to make. Be perceptive about what the person may want from us. If they want too much, it is okay for us to restrict what we are prepared to give. On the other hand, if they want less than what we want to offer, we may have to restrain our giving, to respect their desire for privacy and dignity. If the recipient does not respond with excitement to our offer, do not resent them, just seek out others who want our help. There are too many people in need, to be humiliating ourselves and wasting our time giving to those who neither desire nor need what we offer. And if we do give, even with sincere intentions, it seems to automatically make us feel we should be appreciated. And if we do not feel appreciated, we feel resentment. But did the other party ask for that thing in the first place? Did they express gratitude, but we still judge them as not being grateful enough? Do we give to those who do not want it, only to feel rejected, exposed, and dirty afterwards? Be respectful and selective, do not push the other person to accept something they are indicating they do not want.
One day in the supermarket, I saw a kind assistant offer to scan an item for a gentleman at the self-serve terminal. The customer was able bodied and did not need help, but out of politeness, he accepted and allowed her to help scan one item. Because he accepted that first offer, the staff member kept offering to help more and was being very loud. The gentleman politely declined, but she kept repeating over and over that she was willing to help. The customer continued to decline, but the lady refused to accept his words and kept insisting. She was making a loud scene in front of the other shoppers about being available to help him. He clearly wanted to scan the remaining items himself and no longer wanted assistance. It became awkward and uncomfortable for everyone.
Forcing our kindness onto people who do not want or need it, can just stress people out and make them feel humiliated. I have often made this mistake, but for me it was cake baking. I would bake for people, to be kind, but it ended up being a selfish act because it just made other people uncomfortable. I recommend not making my mistake, but rather, allow everyone their dignity. Often this means holding back so we avoid placing an unwanted weight on someone who has not asked for it. You are precious and beautiful, only give the parts of yourself that the other person will value. If they like cheese and bread but do not like cake, give them cheese and bread. Do not give them cake and expect them to be grateful (sorry Frank, who is also featured in Revenge of the Wilting Flower).
Whether it is our intention or not, gifts create emotional debts, so only give with a completely pure heart, expecting nothing in return.
Every Tribe Finds Someone to Oppress
By far, the most challenging, amazing, and effective things I did, were to see a counsellor, and go on medication while I sorted my personal issues out. I shed a million tears and worked my butt off to apply the advice from my therapist, Jodie. I was shocked when she mentioned we needed to work on my low self-esteem, because it meant she really saw me. To most people I would appear loud and brave, however, that does not mean I have confidence in myself or my actions. I am tactless, talk too much and cower beneath unremitting fear of causing offense. I am forever trying to change who I am, but once in the company of other people, the veil drops, and I slip right back into my old habits. Because of this, my story ended up being not just about changing my behavior, but also changing my circumstances and surroundings.
Much of my suffering stemmed from challenging my childhood beliefs. I felt guilty about letting go of them and even guiltier about adopting new ones. The only way forward, was to allow myself plenty of time and space, without deciding to keep my old, or adopt new beliefs, or pressuring myself to join a tribe. And importantly, to resist the urge to judge myself through the eyes of my peers, both past and present. And by extension, to respect others and try not to make them feel guilty about their chosen values. Hypocrisy alert! I do condemn certain behaviors with my activism, “Don’t bag your bananas!” However, I will not criticize someone personally and my objections about environmentally unfriendly behavior is broad. I never identify an individual.
I do still struggle with trying to reconcile my Christian upbringing with the world we live in. It is incredibly difficult for me, to see our world as it is, while still holding onto some of my previous morals. Our global society is rewriting what acceptable human behavior is at lightning speed, allowing no time for adaptation or adjustment. Just when I think I have become open and understanding, the world forces more extreme opinions onto me. It feels like I am in a horrendous real life game, where I work on myself to find a balance between holding onto my values, while accepting the world around me, only for the world to go, “Right, you’ve reached that level, NOW TAKE THIS!” and throw stronger, more polarizing viewpoints at me that demand respect, while not respecting my right to hold my own values. Healthy analysis and debate that does not recite the trending mantra, are forbidden. Not only is society aggressively dictating what my opinion must be, it is even scripting my response and berating me if I choose my own reasoning and wording.
Overnight, new ‘rules’ are created and if you are not immediately onboard waving your banner or affirmatively signaling on social media, you are targeted for intense hate. Not because you are vocally opposed to an issue, but simply because you are not ready to express an opinion that society suddenly insists you should. “You must believe this, and you must believe it now,” or, “You are a bigot, you don’t care, you are supporting ‘A, B and C’ because of your silence.”
One amazing zero-waste hero of mine has a quarter of a million followers on Instagram alone. She has traveled the world supporting the zero-waste movement and is respected for her positive, can-do attitude and generosity with her knowledge. Her social media pages are 100% on message, everything is about minimalism and leaving an environmentally small footprint. My zero-waste hero had scheduled a completely innocent post — a lovely photo of her mobile home with a mountain behind. She is stuck in limbo because she recently upheaved her whole life, moved out of her long-term family home and into a mobile home with her husband, and headed off for an adventure, a sprawling zero-waste public speaking tour outside her own country. Then COVID hit, all her events were cancelled, and she kept being moved on by authorities because she was not allowed to park in one spot for long. Her income would have dried up and she was suddenly displaced.
Often, she was out of mobile data range as she tried to find somewhere to park her van for the night. Well, on the day she posted the scenic photo of her mobile home, society had suddenly decided she should have posted a black square. With that one innocuous photo of her mobile home, the world labelled her a hater. Many ‘loyal’ fans turned on her, as did other social media influencers, with hundreds of nasty comments that attacked her personally. I was mortified that someone who had been so kind, for so long and had given so much of herself to improve the planet, would be treated with such disrespect. I tried to defend her, but my comments attracted more hate to her page and nasty comments personally attacking me. She has not posted since and that was three months ago.
Our always-on culture is a ruthless, hateful thing. I cannot and do not want to integrate into a world that has so quickly deteriorated into the current volatile state, nourishing each-other’s hate and insatiable desire to kick the puppy, with never ending justifications and an elevated sense of entitlement.
In addition to that reactionary attitude that grates against my sensitivities, I have become acutely aware of human behavior and the concealed power games people, especially women, play. To understand my own willingness to conform to the rigid belief system I was raised in, I researched human nature, psychology, and the mechanisms of groups. I read books by experts, quizzed my therapist, interviewed strangers on the street and micro-analyzed the behavior of those around me and my own reaction to them. I learnt why my life seemed to be a cycle of the same events, same relationships, and same outcomes.
Be Kind but Not Too Kind
Kind gestures and gift giving are obvious ways to build a healthy tribe and a happy society. How many positive memes do we see that tell us to show kindness as the solution to many of the world’s woes? Of course, kindness is wonderful, and it does make the world a better place. But what I do not hear, is that giving can make people feel uncomfortable, as they may take it as an inference that we think they are deficient in some way.
Coming from both an Italian and a Christian background I learnt that giving was a wonderful thing to do and it became a big part of my personality. From an early age I copied my family’s example and embraced gift giving, which enhanced the warmth of my tribe. Later in life I hoped that my generosity would help me find my new tribe. But there was no counter argument to help me have a balanced view of gift giving. We were pretty much taught to impose ourselves onto people and literally instructed how to remove their personal boundaries, when they tried to maintain some distance from us, so that we could better convert them to our religion. I do not recall any instruction about tempering ourselves with respect for the opinion or privacy of others.
As an adult, it is all I knew how to do, force myself onto people, regardless of whether they wanted my company or my gift, or not. I made so many mistakes, and I made them repeatedly. I had not trained my unbiased intuition and I did not know how to use it. My habit was to only listen to my heart, while ignoring my gut… it caused me to cross a lot of lines, that created emotional discomfort for both the other person and me. If your heart tells you to do something kind, but your gut tells you the other person might not want what you are offering… listen to your gut and ignore your heart, no matter how hard that is. I made hundreds of poor judgement calls by following my heart and presuming what other people wanted or needed (sorry Mick, who features in Revenge of the Wilting Flower).
I now know it is important to respect the parameters of others, using our powers of observation to perceive how close they want to allow us to be. Someone once shared a simple illustration that helped me understand the nature of friendship. “It’s like a dance. They take a step. Then you take a step. Then they take a step.” If we find we are taking many more steps than the other person, we may be ignoring our intuition, because we want more from the relationship, than they do. We may even be unaware ourselves, that we are using ‘giving’ to be closer to that person. I know a lot about this topic because I was forever treading on other people’s toes, so I can most certainly tell you how not to do it.
It takes a lot of self-discipline, to not presume what is best for someone else. And to be humble enough to not force our kindness onto those who are not wanting it. For some people it is completely natural to be perceptive about what others may or may not want from us. But for people like me, it requires diligence to not give. And if someone wants too much from us, it is okay for us to establish limits. But how do we know who wants what? If the recipient does not respond with excitement to our offer, that is a good indicator to withhold our generosity. Do not resent them, just seek out others who want our help. There are too many people in need for us to be humiliating ourselves and wasting our time giving to those who neither desire nor need what we offer.
And if we do give, even with sincere intentions, it seems to automatically make us feel we should be appreciated. And if we do not feel appreciated, we feel resentment. But did the other party ask for that thing in the first place? Did they express gratitude, but we still judge them as not being grateful enough? Do we give to those who do not want it, only to feel rejected, exposed, and dirty afterwards? Be respectful and selective, do not push the other person to accept something they are indicating they do not want, whether it be our company or something physical we want to gift.
One day in the supermarket, I saw a kind assistant offer to scan an item for a gentleman at the self-serve terminal. The customer was able bodied and did not need help, but out of politeness, he accepted and allowed her to help scan one item. Because he accepted that first offer, the staff member kept offering to help more and was being very loud. The gentleman clearly wanted to scan the remaining items himself and kept declining further assistance, but she kept repeating over and over that she was willing to help. The customer continued to decline, but the lady refused to accept his words. She was standing meters from him and was yelling for all the other shoppers to hear that she really was available to help him. It became awkward and uncomfortable for everyone.
Another one, that I did: my husband was working on a business project, based in his colleague’s home. One day I dropped by and my husband’s workmate and his wife were in hospital as she had just given birth to their second baby. There were dirty dishes in the kitchen, and I know how difficult it is to come home with a newborn, I had spare time, so I washed the dishes. But when the wife returned, she was furious and took great offence. My motive was pure, to simply be kind, but I had not understood the boundary I was crossing.
Forcing our kindness onto people who do not want or need it, can just stress people out and make them feel humiliated. I have too often made this mistake, usually in the form of cooking. I would bake for people, to be kind, but it ended up being a self-indulgent act because it just made other people uncomfortable. I recommend not making my mistake, but rather be perceptive to their real needs, which may be their desire for respect and dignity. This may mean holding back from giving, so we avoid placing an unwanted weight on someone who has not asked for it. You are precious and beautiful, only give the parts of yourself that the other person will value. If they like cheese and bread but do not like cake, give them cheese and bread. Do not give them cake and expect them to be grateful (sorry Frank, who is also featured in Revenge of the Wilting Flower).
Giving to people who do not expect it, and who value us, is the best feeling, and it is the kind of goodness the world needs. But giving has the potential to be toxic, whether it is our intention or not, gifts do create emotional debts, so only give with a completely pure heart, and only to those who want it.
The Roles We Play
We all have roles to play, and we do not realize it, so we keep playing the same games with the same types of people. These social roles are like invisible magnets and we are not even aware we are being drawn in. We repeat the same behavior that matches our personal status, based on the people around us, and end up interacting and responding in the same predictable way. I am a people pleaser and want everyone’s approval. This places me on the lowest rung of the social pecking order, allowing, no, inviting those above me, to intimidate and demean me so they can assert themselves to improve or maintain their own position, or experience the thrilling tingle that comes with power. Those of us who have a gentler nature, have our power sucked from us by those above, because they are secretly frightened of us. We may find our strength and assert ourselves above them, so, they constantly make pre-emptive strikes to keep us down.
Even if we associate with different kinds of people, we are all somehow pulled into a pre-determined role and subconsciously start acting out that part. Put a bunch of alpha people together and they will subconsciously sort themselves into the predictive social hierarchical order. Some of them will take on the role and more passive behavior expected of those lower down. I have often experienced the opposite, befriending people like myself, only for the same pecking order to miraculously manifest, with lovely people tapping into their repressed aggression and treating me unkindly. Goodness, I am ashamed to say I have even caught myself doing it!
Because of the invisible tentacles of supremacy and control inside every group, I cannot promise you or myself, that one day we will find our tribe, nor will I insist female tribalism is the solution to our feelings of social disconnect. Because every tribe has the same hierarchy, and sooner or later the roles will manifest and you will likely find yourself back in the same position, having those all-too-familiar experiences and feelings, no matter what the common thing is that brought you together.
How I Climbed Out of My Lonely Despair
I was fixated on having friends and being part of a group. But eventually, I realized that inserting myself into a tribe, just created the illusion of agency, while in reality, because of my low-ranking social position, I was perpetually giving agency to those above me. Every tribe forced me to the bottom and sucked my power, transferring it to those above. My life was always going to be the same unless something drastic changed. And change it did. I did not ladder climb and become the assertive person I always wanted to be, I worked within the parameters of my personality and my trauma. I found the things that were effective for me, but they might not resonate with you or be possible in your circumstances.
One of my biggest personal wins, was to learn to enjoy my own company. I know this sounds simplistic and it may not feel possible or even desirable for you. It took me years to achieve, because I leaned on other people to validate, approve, and support me when I felt alone or was emotionally floundering. Alone-time, to me represented rejection, that I was not good enough and perhaps I was an unworthy, bad person. In my alone time, I was unable to disarm my introspection and would sabotage the serenity of silence. Instead of being my own best companion and enjoying the peace, I would abandon myself. Being alone = being lonely.
Many are the reasons for being alone or feeling we do not have a tribe. It is possible the people near us are unwilling to give us a chance, our personality may not resonate with the area in which we live, or the values or culture of those around us. Or perhaps like me, we may be overcompensating for our loneliness and putting too much emotional pressure on others. I had one dear friend — she was such great company, many women wanted to be close to her. I felt honored she invited me into her life. But as the years passed, she remained my only local, long-term friend and from my perspective, she was my best friend. I wanted a close, consistent friendship, whereas she had oodles of friends. She would give so much of herself to the other women beckoning for her attention, constantly taking their calls, and seeing them frequently. Whereas I was orbiting outside that inner circle, she was happy to slot me in with a catch up once every 6–12 months. She wanted to slow waltz our friendship, whereas I wanted to fast tango. My wanting more than her, made me feel unvalued and resentful, when she did not actually do anything wrong. Sadly, I ended up sliding out of her life.
Often though, social disconnect is out of our control, we may have an inordinate number of antagonistic women in our life. It could even be that some people may react badly to our kindness because they have problems dealing with their own sensitivity, so they are hostile and project their unprocessed issues back onto us. Not being part of a female tribe does not mean there is anything wrong with us. Just think of the lady who posted the photo of her mobile home and was hated-on for it… our timing might just be out.
Rather than resenting our lack of company, I recommend learning to enjoy it. It is almost impossible to flick a switch to make painful alone-time suddenly feel enjoyable. My husband repeatedly beseeched me to enjoy solitude as he does. But the negative voice in my head made it an uneasy refuge. I would coil around the vast wells of panic I created, gnawing with razor sharp teeth at all that was wrong with myself and my situation. But eventually I was able to coerce my apparent dysfunction, into something positive. Not fitting into the world allowed me to find a comfortable place inside myself.
I am approaching 50, and honestly, it is only in the past few years that I have learned to not only enjoy my own company but love it. I celebrated this huge milestone by gifting myself a traditional tatau, or tattoo, in Samoa. For me it was a symbol of self-approval and ownership of myself. I now easily choose my own company, over socializing. But that may have something to do with residual trauma from the years of social belittling I have been subjected to.
My tattoo was very painful to receive, like thousands of tiny blades tapping into my flesh. Well, it literally was tiny blades being whacked into my flesh. ‘Ta’ means to strike, and ‘Tau’ means to reach an end, a conclusion, as well as battle or war. Tatau also means rightness or balance. The process of tattooing is highly sacred in Samoa and is literally a visual representation of one’s life and represents courage and perseverance. I bled heavily beneath my skin afterwards. It was an apt experience for all the painful social abuse I had received. But at least now I own my scar and it is beautiful.
Another step in my personal growth, is I no longer stalk people for friendship. I even go so far as to avoid it now. And when people do occasionally invite me over, I am filled with dread about what could go wrong, and usually something does. There is a 49% chance I will say at least one thing I regret. And there is a 49% chance that someone will say something that leaves me feeling demeaned. That leaves a 2% chance that the encounter will be mutually beneficial. With those odds, it is no wonder I rarely engage socially. If I do socialize, I am poised on the edge of preemptive suffering which does take the shine off the experience, even if nothing does go wrong. And if something goes wrong, I can feel distressed for days, weeks or even months afterwards. But I am no longer upset about my lack of a social life. Solitude is now my safe, happy place. I am quite delighted to have finally tapped into my inner introvert and it is working out simply fine.
I am not advising that you mimic my emotional entanglement with social interaction, or that you avoid socializing. You may indeed feel upbuilt by it. But if you find yourself feeling sad about your social life, you might learn from my experience. My life is significantly improved by not complicating it with power plays, my usual tactlessness, and the inevitable, sickening experience of feeling exposed. Or the distress when I fear I have upset someone or said something unkind.
Recommending enjoying your own company, as a solution to problematic female tribalism, may not be what you had hoped to hear. Shouldn’t I be promoting small communities get together and build each other up? Anyone who follows my pages knows I am extremely friendly and highly supportive of community groups. I believe they are brilliant and vital. And we probably all agree that there is great joy in having an awesome catch up with a bestie. But what about all the times it goes wrong?
But even without a permanent tribe, we do not have to miss out on female connectedness completely. We can still have exquisite interactions with other women on a short-term basis. Some of my most beautiful and memorable interactions with women have been when I spend an hour or a day with someone, and move on, while it is still in the pure, earliest stage of the friendship. This happened with many gorgeous women I met in Sri Lanka.
I Found My e-Tribe
My interest in the environment has created personal fulfillment, as well as an e-Tribe for me. I know this will not suit others, but it works for me. The online world can be volatile, but it also offers a place where we can be drawn to each other because of our commonalities and passions. And I have to say that my followers are special beautiful people.
Online, we do not have to complicate our relationship by misinterpreting body language, or a tactless remark that slipped from our lips, that we will kick ourselves over for hours. We can build each other up and if people are not respectful, there is the power of the almighty ‘block’ button. We can care and support, without exposing too much of ourselves. For me it is safer than face to face interaction. I am terrified of confrontation and if someone is unkind to me in person, I cannot say anything because I do not want to appear mean. Like that little puppy, I feel powerless to protect myself in the real world. But online I can control who enters, how long they stay and how much of my time I want to offer them.
My husband is forever saying to me, “People have too much access to you.” This has been the story of my life. Craving other people’s approval, means we expose ourselves, hoping for a friendly pat of approval, but often it allows the ‘kick the puppy’ phenomenon to rear its cruel head. If we can approve of ourselves, then we will enjoy our own company, and rely less on the approval of others and in my case, I have implemented a zero tolerance for disrespect.
I imagine some people will be keen to tell me all the wonderful virtues of friendship, but I already know. It is not being able to enjoy it, without painful complications, that has caused me to create my ‘Plan B’ for happiness. Please read my memoir to understand the full context of how hard I tried to make ‘Plan A’ work. I do still value the occasional social encounter, but this puppy is always on high alert for a swift kick to come her way.
The opportunity cost for you may be different if you have less trauma in your history than I. It depends what is more important to you. If companionship is high priority, it may be worth the risk. Is personal peace more important? Then the risk may not be worth it. Each of us is entitled to do our own risk analysis and make the decisions we feel are best for us.
I tend to be very enthusiastic and often do too much of something. I used to have two heaped teaspoons of sugar in my coffee. I whittled it down so now I no longer take any, or if I am in the mood, perhaps just a sprinkle. My view of friendship and socializing is similar, I have weaned myself off it, exceedingly small amounts are all I need. The sweeter I make my life with my own interests and personal acceptance, the less I need reassurance from others.
My social problems, I finally realized, were not my lack of company or external approval, it was always seeking validation elsewhere because I never thought I was good enough, which prompted me to push myself onto others. I eroded the joy of many potential good times, with self-doubt and anxiety. But I have changed my attitude and have removed much resentment from my life and replaced it with gratitude. I can now look back and instead of resenting all the social disconnect I experienced, I can visualize each and every person who showed me kindness, whether it be for a day, or spanned over months or years, and I feel gratitude for them. I am grateful for every little or big part of themselves they gave to me. Even the worst of the worst mums from my daughters’ school provided me with a plethora of material for my memoir!
I often feel like the world is spinning so fast that I am flying off the surface and into space, with a bungy cord strapped to my ankle. At these times, I no longer anxiously seek solace in a tribe, to ground and validate me. I have had to learn to survive on my own, and that has left severe trauma that makes tribalism and friendship, a scary thing. It pains me to admit I have fostered happiness without a tribe, it is not the story I wanted to tell. And I feel guilty for people who may offer me friendship, hoping to rewrite my narrative, to make soft the hardness of my reality and the sharpness of my knowing. In the past I would have opened my arms and thanked people for trying to get close to me. But these days I cautiously raise my tattooed arm to protect myself from the uncomfortable, vulnerable place, that is familiarity.
Other than self-love, my golden key to healthy relationships with other women and female tribes, is to respect what the ‘other’ wants to give and accept from you. Be perceptive as to the nuances of their social dance. Match the intensity, pace, tone, timing, and frequency of each step. Too much, too little, too fast, or too slow may have the reverse of our desired effect and cause us to slip out of relationships we had hoped to foster. Be kind to others, but also protect yourself, if you feel any part of you is under threat.
Out of necessity, I have sacrificed something I always valued, but I do not feel bad for myself nor think I have settled for some inferior life. I am proud I have learned how to be happy, without placing that power in other people’s hands, to abuse if they choose. Instead, I sit out the back amongst my lettuce and parsley and listen to the birds. And if I am spinning out of control, I go for a walk to a nearby park and Tim carefully stitches me back together again. I am so fortunate to have a happy marriage and children at home, so I always have great companionship. It took me an awfully long time to realize how blessed I am and to fully appreciate my home life. I do not need more.
And if I do something online that society deems unacceptable, and I am cancelled, I could now walk away, and be content with myself and my life. Is that not the goal? To be happy with what we have.
I am no longer on a desperate, unending journey for acceptance from others to prove I am good enough. Because…
I am enough.
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