My Nana used to say, “When you know better, you do better.”
Of all the things we as “sisters” need to work on the most, it’s our perception of what strength is, what the “sister code” is and how we should manage ourselves in life, in conflict and our relationships in general. Many of us simply do not know how to do better.
Our most basic need as women is to be loved and appreciated. Men desire respect and affirmation above all else. Yet, the world has seemingly turned on its head. We as women have taken on very masculine traits. You hear brothers say this about us all the time: “She is hard, she is mean, she doesn’t smile, she is bitter, she is all about her business.” One man in a 2011 focus group for my book, Black Woman Redefined said: “Black woman are like hammers looking for nails.” I will never forget that phrase as long as I live. It stopped me dead in my tracks. I was stunned. It’s hard to hear, even harder to digest, but the time has come for us to listen, learn and commit to doing the hard work to conquering ourselves.
Clinical therapist, Dr. Sabrina Jackson, who is our resident expert for this series, put it like this: “Every word we utter nowadays as Black women is about feeling disrespected. It is true we have been for centuries. However, we can’t live in that space anymore. We have settled for being who we are not, because we are afraid of being exposed for the truly vulnerable, loving and softhearted people we are. We equate vulnerability and kindness with being weak. That is a huge problem for us. It cuts off the possibilities in our lives for growth, love, true and lasting relationships. We will tell other women don’t let her punk you, don’t let him play you. And it has become a way of living that is truly blocking our blessings and our ability to be healed.”
I agree with Dr. Jackson. So today we are going to look at how we develop “soft skills” as women, without losing that important “Alpha Chick” spirit which when lived out in balance is how we soar and achieve great success in our lives. Dr. Jackson has developed a test you can take to determine if you have allowed yourself to become too strong, too hard, too overbearing, and whether or not you are someone who is lacking the critical life skills of empathy and emotional intelligence.
Here are some steps we can take on how to become the women God designed us to be, women who are strong but not hard and have compassion and empathy for other women:
It all gets back to self-love, ladies. You must affirm yourself, encourage yourself and love yourself. Say positive things to yourself about yourself daily.
- Surround yourself with positive people who affirm and push you to greater heights personally, professionally and otherwise.
- Learn to listen more than you talk. Dr. Sabrina says, “You can only learn when you are listening.” We do a lot of talking and condemning and it is breaking people around us. Listening involves actually “hearing” what someone not only says, but what they do not say. Learn to listen with your heart.
- Develop empathy skills by reading leadership books, focusing more on the spirit and humanity of people. The golden rule is the ultimate empathy statement: Treat others, as you want to be treated. Learn to see it from the other person's point of view. Then you can respond kindly versus with judgment.
- Practice gratitude. It truly changes your heart. It makes you softer, more thankful and peaceful. Reflect and give thanks daily for all of the things you are grateful for in your life. Trust me you have good in your life. Celebrate what is good.
- Learn to practice forgiveness and to apologize quickly. When you are wronged, step back, pray, get counsel and forgive people so you can heal. When you are wrong, apologize quickly before pride or anger sets in permanently. We grow most when we are wrong, and when we find the courage to admit it and move forward better from it.
- Get counseling if you need it. Denial leads to danger, sisters. Stop covering up the pain with things and with the God of “image.” Image is nothing if you have no soul underneath. People see you anyway. No one is fooled. So stop fooling you. A truly strong woman wants to be better; she wants to be whole and healed.
- Commit to being a servant. Not to be seen at church or to have others say how good you are. The word tells us that when we do good, it should be in secret and with humility. God rewards us in the open. Be a servant, it builds empathy and compassion. And it produces hope.
Lastly, you must conquer your anger and reactions (memo to self). Dr. Sabrina says, “the next time you begin to get angry close your eyes and think about the last time you laughed very hard. You will smile.” I agree.
Sisters, I hope that this series has helped us all to realize that life is best lived when we are connected, and interconnected. We are at our best when we are interdependent and not just independent. We as Black women endure much on a day to day basis. I so get it. I live it too, but the older I get the more I realize my “sisters” are a big part of my life and my living so I had better learn to walk with, talk with them, love them, support, and nurture my relationships with them. It takes a village sisters, no woman is an island.
Let me be clear. I know that we will not like every woman we meet and vice versa. Not everyone in our “flock” can fly with us forever. Part of healing is releasing. Some relationships are best when they are ended. But, the critical thing I want us to take from this series is that being a “bad ass” or “sister thug” is not who you are at your core. At your core, at my core is a CODE. The code of womanhood and sisterhood. The code of compassion, care, support, empowerment, grace, humility, and love. Women as Dr. Sabrina says, “were designed to be an “answer” to a problem.” So true. God made woman to compliment man. To keep him from being alone. Women are gifts. You are a gift sister. Please believe it and start treating other women the same.
In the final analysis, many of us have been deeply wounded by life. We are walking around dressed well, nails done, hair done, nice car, nice home: fierce. Yet, inside we are badly broken, hurt, alone, and yes angry. We fail miserably at human connections, and at sisterhood. Healed women are successful because their inner self is whole. Healed women are not perfect women. They just live out daily the principles I described above and their lives are characterized not by their achievements or success, or by their status or titles, but by how they treat and entreat others. These women are intentional about being good people, good friends, good spouses, good girlfriends, good moms, good employees, etc. Sisters, the road to healing always starts with you. Face the woman in the mirror, love her, take care of her, and redefine her so that you can then be a true blessing to the rest of us.
Sophia A. Nelson is an Essence.com contributor, an award winning author, and inspirational/motivational speaker for Fortune 500 corporations, colleges, churches and national organizations. Her newly re-released, revised Trade Paperback book Black Woman Redefined is available in stores now. You can join Sophia's power-up daily chats via audio & Twitter.