Note to Self: You are Not God’s Gift to Men!

Via Suzanne Jones
on Jun 24, 2011
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Recently I posted a status on my Facebook page declaring I was having a “good hair” day. Only my best friend and confidant Amber could know what that meant. She immediately wrote back, “DO. NOT. CUT. YOUR. HAIR!!”

Amber knows me like no one else. She knows that when I start to acknowledge that I look good, panic sets in and I begin to engage in self-sabotage. She also knows that this little quirk of mine is a result of a repeated dynamic in my long and unhealthy marriage. Not a day of my 18 years with my (then) husband went by when he did not comment on my looks. To be fair, he never ever criticized my looks. He never told me I needed to lose weight or had cellulite. He always told me how good I looked. Every day. Actually, it was more how sexy I was. How hot my ass looked, or how physically painful it was for him to suppress his manly urges that were brought about by my foxiness. I came to despise myself for looking good and causing him so much pain.

When I would share my unhappiness with friends they didn’t understand. “My husband barely notices me. I wish I had a problem like yours”, they would say ~ and I would feel stupid for complaining.

Still, each time he told me how sexy I looked, I panicked. In my experience, there was a direct link from looking good to feeling obligated to provide something I wasn’t comfortable providing­—and this connection was established well before my marriage.

When I was about 10 years old, I remember feeling extra special in my new poly-nylon print dress. Seriously, this thing was silky, clingy, colorful and just plain fashion forward. I reveled in prancing around my house in my dress feeling free and joyful and expressive and ok, kinda sexy. How could I not feel awesome in such a frock? Yet the moment I tap into that memory from 35 years ago—the memory of feeling pretty, and uninhibited, and expressive—I immediately tap into the memory of the “consequences” that came with those feelings. The consequences of being grabbed; being groped; and being touched in a way that caused me to feel instant anger and shame toward those feelings of joy and self expression.

That memory was the first of many similar scenarios during my childhood, teenage and early adult life. I became increasingly angry with myself as time after time, feeling attractive or just plain good about myself lead to manipulations and abuses at the hands of older male authority figures. How could I have let this happen again? I would wonder over and over. Then I would vow not to feel good about myself again.—a preventative measure.

However, it’s really not so simple. At such a tender young age, when we are the victims of the inappropriate actions of adults, our wires get crossed. Our brains are not yet developed enough to give us the proper perspective. Instead of seeing the situation fully for what it is, we are at risk for concluding that we are actually causing this behavior in the adult—that somehow we are responsible. On top of that it’s possible that we get caught in a vicious cycle because somewhere along the way we try to make sense of things. Very often the only way to do that is to “come to terms” with the notion that this is what makes us special, or lovable. So as we grow into adults we are at risk for subconsciously seeking this scenario out~because we equate it to worthiness and love.

It wasn’t until after I found out the truth about my husband that I began to see clearly why I stayed with him. I stayed because I had not yet seen clearly that I was subconsciously looking to repeat a pattern of behavior that had become my lodged in my belief system—the belief that my physical looks and my feelings of confidence and self expression immediately meant I was obligated to accept the unwanted advances of men. And here’s the clincher: Eventually I had decided that I was better to stay in an emotionally abusive and dysfunctional marriage where I felt preyed upon by just one man, than to be out in the world and vulnerable to any number of men. I understand now that though I had the illusion of safety while I was married, my marriage was slowly killing me without my notice.

So here I am, three years post divorce and thankful for my incredible friend and rock, Amber. When she says, “DO. NOT. CUT. YOUR. HAIR!”, I know what she is really saying is you have every right to look good and feel good and have fun and enjoy being with people. She goes on to remind me that I have the right to do all of those things and I have the right to say no. To internalize these two things—feeling good and saying no is a lesson I wish I had learned back when I was sporting that groovy poly-nylon dress. Unfortunately I didn’t and the majority of girls around the world don’t either.

So, at 45 years old—I’m strapping on my dancing shoes and heading off for salsa lessons with my friend Amber’s voice in my head: Dance, be free, feel good, look good, have fun. You get to feel all of those things—and you get to say no.


About Suzanne Jones

Sue Jones, Founder and Executive Director of yogaHope has practiced yoga for over 15 years and is a leading voice in the subject of mind body practices for self regulation and personal empowerment. For the last six years Sue has trained, inspired and lead hundreds of volunteer yoga teachers who have donated their time in substance abuse rehabilitation centers, domestic abuse safe houses and homeless shelters for women. She dedicates much of her time to researching the effects of yoga and mindfulness practices on survivors of trauma and those suffering from traumatic stress response. Sue’s life and work have been profiled in Yoga Journal, The New York Times, Shape Magazine, Body + Soul Magazine, Martha Stewart Whole Living Magazine and on CNN Headline News.


41 Responses to “Note to Self: You are Not God’s Gift to Men!”

  1. Sue says:

    Thank you Lindsey. I know that I am not the only woman who has had these experiences and I am very thankful that I get to help empower others through understanding of my own experience. I'll let you know how the dancing goes 🙂

  2. Kara-Leah says:

    Awesome article Sue – thank you so much.

  3. Sue says:

    You're welcome Kara-Leah <3

  4. Yogini5 says:

    What you've experienced in your marriage is the flip side to what many women experience–their mate convinces the woman she is unattractive, a shrew – and the guy doesn't want to be with her except to use her for the resources she brings to the marriage.
    Both are marriages without the foundation of equality, teamwork, and non-objectification.

  5. YesuDas says:

    You are fortunate to have a friend like Amber! Congratulations on getting out of that trap and learning to see yourself more clearly!

    I'd be interested in your response to this piece of mine:

  6. deb says:

    i too am a victim … packing on the weight when i get hurt so i won't be attractive to yet another man that will prey on me. no one seems to understand … you're blessed to have such a friend who knows and supports you.
    many blessings….

  7. sue says:

    Please quit being a victim and trying to blame the world, pull up your dam panties and quit being a man hater, your problems are because of sitting around making stuff up to worry about…I think this article is complete crap!

  8. Katherine says:

    It might feel like crap to you, but this is the "experience" of many women whether it's in their heads or not. At the extreme, women with these experiences who refuse to acknowledge them become women haters as well and deny us all the right to feel sexy and free. I think it's a good thing to bring the "messed up" out in the open, and acknowledge how to deal with life in a healthy way. So that we all can live sexy and free and empowered lives.

    Encouragement is a better tool than blame in my opinion. :o)

  9. Sandy says:

    Another brilliantly written piece that captures the dynamic that many people do not know is at play. When being attractive is used against you, repeatedly, it’s so difficult for your own self (at it’s best) not to be a trigger to reliving painful memories. That’s a very difficult thing to have to navigate.

    Thanks for this article, it brings up another critical point… Could be a whole chapter in your book one day! 😉

  10. amelia says:

    i second your emotion, deb. thank you sue for elucidating that connection in yourself so others may begin to do the same.

  11. Sue says:

    Yes, they really are two sides of the same coin, aren't they?

  12. Sue says:

    Loved the article. I am firmly believe that as we begin to allow ourselves to feel healed and whole we become more connected to Source. When that happens, we naturally stop looking outside of ourselves for fulfillment. Your article is dead on! Thanks Scott.

  13. Sue says:

    Glad to hear you're in the process and being patient and loving toward yourself. It's so important to suspend judgment around our experiences and allow them to bring us clarity. xo

  14. Sue says:

    I wonder why this triggers so much anger and criticism? This article addresses the fear and self judgment behind such energy if you care to give it a read.

  15. Sue says:

    Thanks Sandy! I have taken your advice and started to move toward writing a book. Stand by:)

  16. Sue says:

    Oh Deb, I completely know that roller coaster. There are a lot of us out there that understand… you just have to reach out 🙂

  17. Sue says:

    Thank you. I don't mind the nastiness because i know it comes from a place of fear. I have compassion for people who are negative and contemptuous (though I don't have them in my inner circle of friends, of course). I used to be more like that and I know what it feels like to carry around that energy.

  18. lynnsdecor says:

    wow, this just struck a cord. I, too, had inappropriate groping by a male for most of my teenage years and it screwed up my thinking too….but no one ever put it the way you did…it make so much more sense now why I've ruined 2 marriages and why i'm unhappy in this 3rd one…thank you.

  19. Pamela says:

    Protective mechanisms come in many forms, this was yours and now, you don't need it to be you and be free. Good for you, enjoy your life and express yourself x

  20. Daniel says:

    The story about the nylon print dress reminds me of a beautiful story from Sandra Cisneros' *The House on Mango Street.* It's the vignette called "The Family of Little Feet." Having gone through what you have, you will love that book if you have never read it. Thank you for your post.

  21. connie says:

    deb, that is exactly what I’ve always done…it’s sad and oddly comforting to know that others out there do the same…I pray, and I try to value myself for my more eternal qualities… but I always find myself back in the same cycle…

  22. Deb, the percentages on sexual abuse are grim and confusing. But sharing stories has got to be one of the finest ways to help others. That was a generous offering. And thank God for friends, eh? I am so happy that you have a healthy, loving relationship of trust there. All the best to you, Hilary

  23. Sorry, Sue, didn't mean to write "Deb", was looking at the comment above and ….

  24. Fred says:

    Something here does not ring true to me. Is it possible that you very much enjoy the attention you are able to attract, but this is what makes you feel ashamed, that you enjoy it so much?

  25. Sue says:

    Thanks Pamela

  26. Sue says:

    I will check it out!

  27. Sue says:

    Thanks Hilary. Yes, thank God for friends!

  28. Sue says:

    yes Fred. The attention is a double edged sword. As I mention in the article, it becomes our sense of worth, so we subconsciously seek it out. Then we feel like we are "obligated" once we attain the attention. Like trying to untie a desperately tangled knot, sometimes you need to tease apart the string so you can see more clearly how they are tangled, before you can begin to accomplish the task. Thanks!

  29. Sue says:

    I know that feeling Susanne.

  30. Fred says:

    I think a sense of obligation is the right instinct, if you have encouraged a man's ardor. Not of course a requirement. You always have a right to say no. Miscommunications happen. But, if this is always happening, then you should take responsibility for your role in it. I hear what you are saying about your sense of worth. We all want other people to see us as special. I guess a lot of people would say you need to find that inside yourself. My own view is that you won't find it there either, but look for it in a handful of people that are close to you. Let them see the real you, for love that lands on the real you belongs to you forever.

  31. Sue says:

    I absolutely feel that you need to find that sense of "wholeness" inside yourself. As evidenced in this article… and I also feel that having friends that don't judge you is important, but nothing helps unless you suspend judgment of yourself.

  32. Fred says:

    Yes, I agree you must find a basic sense of wholeness inside yourself. But, I think that search can backfire too. If we dismiss the importance of people nearby to us, we may turn to more abstract or broader social validation. Instead of needing to be "loved" we need to be "loveable," which sounds like it is inside of us but is really just wanting everyone to love us instead of any single person. I sort of got that from your writing about "the One," not so much that you had put too much into your relationship with your husband, but too much into the Prince Charming fantasy and how it all looked to everyone. I know we can get burned by putting too much into another person, but I think the bigger danger is putting too much into ideas that are not another person. I am thinking out loud.

  33. Sue says:

    I like it Fred. I hear what you're saying. And I agree. I think there is a balance to be found between loving and honoring yourself and feeling whole, and trusting the love and support of others. The struggle is to know deep inside you that you are whole AND to not isolate yourself from real intimacy (by way of pulling into yourself entirely, or as you mention~gathering a large group of admirers so you feel loved but you lack intimacy and have the illusion of being safe from harm). I struggle with this constantly. Thanks for the lively discussion!

  34. […] Yoga or not, most men I know have been wounded deeply and are struggling to make sense of the female […]

  35. Fred says:

    I am with you on everything you say Alex, except I don't think the "what did you expect" reaction comes from the "father" culture. I think the father culture would lean more toward "you are not responsible for anything because you are just a girl" (so therefore you need me always to protect you and tell you what is right and wrong). This is not helpful either.

    We know there are predatory men who coerce young girls into sexual relations. But, I wonder how often it happens that a young teen, feeling the first stirrings of sexuality, is the willful instigator? Of course, this does nothing to absolve the man; he is old enough to know better. But, it seems to me you cannot tell the girl that she was not responsible, because she will always know she was. And, if we pretend it never happens this way, we are leaving her to feel that she alone is corrupt, while everyone else was a victim of predators. Probably better to tell her she is responsible, but forgiven.

  36. Joe Sparks says:

    You set your life up to make that happen. I am proud of you, you are courageous, it takes a lot of guts to have to feel those old painful feelings, like you did when you where powerless, they are just feelings and not reality, even though it feels real. But no one is hurting you now, and what your ex said, kicked up those old hurts. Only those old undischarged feeling make you or any of us feel powerless, not another person, unless you let them, like you did when you where young.

  37. […] constantly told how fortunate I was to have such a sensitive, agreeable, attractive, loving yogi for a husband. When I say constantly, I mean at least twice a week. I was talked to by women who said they would […]

  38. Harleigh Quinn says:

    What really happened (I learned after being with her for a decade before she finally went nuts on me as well) is that she goads and cajoles you to do what she wants you to do and takes no responsibility for it at all.

    I had nothing in my relationship turned marriage with her and she had everything. She finally completely lost it when I finally decided she would NOT get any of the settlement from a car accident she caused that resulted in the totaling of my MINI Cooper S. Suddenly I was the worst person in the world.

  39. Harleigh Quinn says:

    I, who had paid for half of her nearly new S2000 while buying myself, NINE YEARS LATER, a 2005 MCS which I was paying for with no help from her (though she promised she would do the same for me that I had done for her), who had bought the new engine for her S2000 after she blew up the first one, who spent nearly every penny I had on her, had no new clothes for over 6 years while she had a new wardrobe nearly every week, who forgo'd the surround sound system I had wanted for EIGHT YEARS to pay for her taxes in 2008 with my own money only to be told "So?" by her when this was brought up, was suddenly the worst person in the world because I would not share the settlement for a car accident I nearly died in.

    Narcissists set up victim complexes. They have no compassion. They work off of sympathy.

  40. Vision_Quest2 says:

    Easy, brother, there are vipers everywhere. Not all of them play off of conventional physical beauty; and not all of them could be your ex-wife or ex-girlfriend, either. Borderline Personality Disorder is very real, and unfortunately there is no cure for it. Nor does it merit institutionalization.

    Doesn't mean they are nice people just because they can't control their disease …

  41. […] 40+ years I have been in a dysfunctional relationship with my body. Like one of those old couples that you see in a restaurant who just sit there in silence—this […]