|Case Studies Jan/Feb - Page 3|
No matter how intelligent, well educated, independent, and successful women may be, they often harbor vestiges of shame and self-doubt, of which they're not even aware until enforced aloneness—like a failed relationship—brings these feelings to the surface. For this reason, I decided to focus on making the invisible manifest by bringing the subject of aloneness into the foreground of our sessions. So I told Lisa that I, too, was a woman alone, albeit twice divorced, and with two grown sons. I selectively disclosed some of my own early encounters with aloneness.
As a single woman in my late twenties and early thirties, I could more easily tell myself that I was merely "between relationships" than face the fact that I was actually "alone." I led a stepping-stone life: grateful to be "rescued," first by one man, and then another, the warmth of dependency being preferable to the chill of aloneness. My aloneness felt dark and opaque, like slipping into total disconnection from the world. What I didn't know then, I told Lisa, was that the disconnection I was feeling came not from others so much as from me.
I took the chance that Lisa could identify with this younger version of me, and at the same time accept me as a "good enough model" of a woman at ease and confident, whose professional and personal satisfactions in life didn't depend on a partner. I hoped she'd realize that she stood in good company with millions of other women—that with or without a man, she was capable, not only of surviving, but of thriving.
The next time we met, Lisa said that hearing my story made her wonder whether her own shame-filled thoughts had kept her from developing a personal life. "I've been thinking about how much shame has shaped my decisions—why it's so important for people to see me a certain way, even if it's not truly me," she said. She told me she had a favorite aunt, who couldn't bear the reality of becoming an old woman in need of help, no longer the young sexy woman in control that she always was. Watching her aunt withdraw from the world, Lisa "felt her shame like a weight on my soul. Maybe that's why I balked at having to give up Sam—the romantic myth of finding the perfect man, maybe marriage, but staying together for sure, and somewhere down the line, having a child."