Why offer a Womens Group?

Image result for women burkhas

Towards the end of Junior School, the divisions begin. Some girls hit puberty and as their minds and bodies adjust to the influx of hormones, other girls are left behind and may be scorned at for their “childish” behaviour. The “Popular” girls in secondary school tend to be those who act more “grown up” – wear the make- up, have boyfriends first, start drinking first. Girls often yearn to be in the popular group, and old safe friendships may be discarded in a quest for acceptance and validation. However once in, they can often discover that these friendships are built on sand and there is nothing but an Instagram picture and pout that may hold them together. We compete, we compare, we feel jealous, we put down, we scorn, we hate, we turn on each other, all vying, trying to find our place in our tribe within the school community.

A play written in 2013 by Evan Placey called “Girls Like That” follows a group of girls from when they start school age five, through to when they graduate aged eighteen. The playwriter was interested in exploring the question of whether young women oppress each other in the same ways’ men oppress women. He noted that “It wasn’t just that girls were bullying other girls, it’s that they were using the same tools that men had invented to oppress women. ”

This play may have been written in 2013, but much of what is depicted feels familiar to my school days 30 years earlier. Many women make wonderful female friendships, but when faced with a scenario which may replicate a school grouping such as in the workforce, those similar feelings can rear up again and women can compare, contrast, shame, put down and scorn each other, rather than boost each other. Often powerful women in the media can receive personal hostile attacks from other women and we learn that it is not safe to speak out or be seen.

What is so often lost for women is how wonderful being part of a supportive collective group of women can really be. Several years ago, I was in Morocco in a local Hamman and was fascinated to watch the groups of women come in for their Saturday morning ritual of bathing and chatting with each other. They left ther burkhas in the changing rooms, and stepped naked through the doorway, appearing to have no shame about their bodies as they all sat together. Washing, grooming, chatting, laughing and connecting before drying off and leaving. Putting back on their burkhas and stepping out into the dusty street outside. I was truly mesmorised and envious of the freedom these women apperaed to demonstrate with one another. This felt so contrasting with my perceptions of an oppressed gender due to their Burkha wearing.

Since then I have worked for many Womens organisations and have experienced the solidarity and empowerment that can come from being part of a collective supportive group of Women. This is not to diminish how essential mixed gender groups are in order to heal the rifts that are so abundant between us in our society. However, that is for another time….

Being socialised as a woman in our society is a different experience to being socialised as a man. From the minute we are born we are conditioned differently, if not by our parents then by society at large. Throughout most of history, women could not protect our own safety through physical, legal or financial means. Being likeable and acceptable is ingrained in us as a survival strategy and we are conditioned to be nice and to seek praise. So, what do we do when we feel angry and rageful, despairing, have needs of our own, have strong opposing opinions? So often many of us supress our feelings and ways of being as we feel they are unacceptable. Depression can take hold as it can feel easier to turn our anger inwards rather than outwards and make the changes in our lives and relationships that we need in order to truly thrive.

Women’s networking groups have risen in popularity in recent years, mainly based at empowering women in their business and the workforce. The power of female solidarity has been recognised and women are coming together from across the world to support and encourage one another to step into their authority.

My intention is to provide a nourishing nurturing space for women to come together and truly bring their whole selves. To be seen and met by one another, to share their difficulties as well as their joys. There can be something truly joyful and empowering that can come from feeling a sense of female solidarity and knowing that it is okay to bring your messiness. This is not to say that difficulties may arise as a result of our experiences in the past with other women, our mothers, our sisters, but this offers an opportunity to heal a part of ourselves that we may not be able to do on our own or in our dyadic relationship. I am often struck how within a space of an hour and a half a group of women can hold grief and despair for one another and equally have moments of pure delight and giggles. I invite you to leave your metaphorical burkhas at the door.

As Carl Rogers, the founder of Humanistic Therapy said, ” The Curious Paradox is that when I can accept myself completely as I am, then I can change.”

If anyone would like any information about the current Women’s Group I facilitate or to sign up to my mailing list for details of future groups, please click on the link below.

Exercise – Why do we really do it?

I passed a friend on the way back from the gym this morning at 7am.  She sent me a message saying, “I can’t believe you get up so early to go to Crossfit. “

I realise that to many it may seem like madness, some crazy fitness addiction, a punishing regime.  For many people, there is no doubt that it can become this and people can also use intensive exercise as a way to manage their anxiety and emotions. It can replace other addictions they may have used in the past such as drugs and alcohol, be part of an eating disorder and can work as a distraction or a form of control.  

I began running about 10 years ago and quickly noticed how dependent I became on it.  The run round the park became 5k, then 10k, a half marathon and then the Brighton Marathon.  Two weeks before I was due to run in the Brighton Marathon, I tore my calf muscle and was unable to take part.  I was gutted, but the hardest part of it all was being told that I couldn’t run for several months in order to give my calf the time it needed to heal. This took six months. I realised then how dependent I had become on running for my mental health.  How it had become an addiction that had helped me manage the difficulties in my marriage, my loss of self and my low self- esteem which had plummeted as a result of being a stay at home mum.  It meant that I didn’t have to focus on the lifestyle changes that I really needed to make, as each time I shut the front door I could leave all those worries behind me and get my fix of endorphins.  It was my substitute anti-depressant.  As a result of my injury, I had to take stock and work through all the emotional difficulties I was having at the time and make fundamental changes to the way I was living my life. I couldn’t run away from them any longer. Literally and metaphorically.

A few years later, a friend encouraged me to put my name into the ballot for the London Marathon.  Many people try year after year, so it was a complete surprise to get a place. This time I did it differently. I trained slowly and gently, listening to my body and what it needed.  When I had a twinge I rested, I had sports massages and a few weeks before the event, I took myself off to a yoga retreat. Running the London Marathon was one of the best days of my life. The atmosphere was electric, the sun was shinning and I crossed that finish line in disbelief.  I think I was in shock for a while.  Everything worked.  Nothing was injured.  I know that the reason I was able to do so was because of the way I had looked after my body and mind in a completely different way than I had those years earlier.  This time I wasn’t running away from anything or pounding the pavements in desperation to get that fix I needed to make my life more manageable.

Exercise for me now is incredibly important in maintaining my physical and mental health but is no longer the coping mechanism it once was. I go to Crossfit three times a week, regularly sea swim and try and do some yoga.  In this morning’s session, I lifted some weights whilst we swapped stories about what posters we had on our walls as teenagers (Pamela Anderson and bikes seemed to be a popular theme for the men). We discussed music and shared our nostalgia for gigs and the loss we feel with their absence at the moment. We discussed Freddie Flintoff and his documentary on Bulimia that was shown this week. The causes of Bulimia and how it is such a hidden illness for men, despite 1 in 4 sufferers being male.  We stretched. And we ate cake on the way out that someone had baked.

The physical fitness is important but equally as important for me is the connections, the laughs, the conversations, and spending time with a group of people in my community made up of different genders and ages that I may not mix with in other parts of my life.  As we all discovered in Lockdown, Social isolation has a huge negative impact on our mental health. Having an excuse to go and hang out with others regularly, check in how we are and discuss weekly topics under the guise that we are all only there to get fit, is an essential part of my self-care and wellbeing.