The predominant reason why women wear masks, and this relates back to feelings of shame and inferiority, is a deep belief that they are flawed and not enough. This is something I struggle with, too, and a lesson I keep having to learn about myself. There is a lot of pressure to “stack up” in our culture. We feel as if there is something wrong with us, for example, if we are still single by a certain age, if we don’t make a certain amount of income, if we don’t have a large social circle, if we don’t get a certain amount of likes and shares on our social media posts, or we don’t look and act in a certain way in the presence of others. We beat ourselves up and don’t feel good enough.
Even after my Master’s degree and further education and ten years of professional work, I still often feel that I am not a good enough lawyer. I fear that don’t know enough to give considered legal advice. I also often analyse my interviewing technique and information gathering, and feel like I did not do enough to find out complete facts. I also feel flawed as a female lawyer – that I am not worth as much, that my time is not as valuable, and that I need to service cheaper clients as a form of social contribution. You may feel similarly about aspects of your career, or your femininity within it.
If our sense of who we are is defined by feelings of neediness and insecurity, we forget that we are also curious, humorous and caring—not to mention talented, skilled, and capable. We forget to experience life. I was so insecure about who I was, what I had to offer, and what I was doing as a lawyer that I lost myself. For years I couldn’t laugh, I couldn’t relax, I couldn’t enjoy things, and I was not really living. I had created an anxiety-filled black hole of life for myself. Nothing I had to offer was good enough. I didn’t feel like I could put myself forward as an expert. I didn’t feel like anyone would want to work with me. I kept feeling that if I just took one more course, or attended one more workshop, or wore something different, or had hair or makeup a particular way, or was a certain weight … So I changed how I dressed, how I wore my hair, how I reacted emotionally, controlled my facial expressions, changed my voice, and constantly lied about my age (I never felt old enough).
I keep having to learn to shut off that voice in my head that promotes doubt in my capabilities, because she often rears her negative voice when I am feeling alone or particularly under pressure. If I let her take over, then I know it is a quick spiral downwards into low self-esteem.
It’s not easy to turn off these doubtful and questioning voices in our heads, though. So whilst I am aware of the negative voice, I am also aware that what I know is pretty valuable, and that I have a lot of knowledge and a lot to offer. I have to consciously fight off the negative voice, and am always learning and re-learning how to do this. Because the negative voice is tricky, and will sometimes try to get at you from another angle. It’s about learning how to value yourself, and how to turn off the negative voices because they don’t serve you. It’s not easy, and I constantly have to be aware to fight off those negative thoughts.