The other day I was ending a phone call with a woman I mentor, and she expressed to me her gratitude for being able to trust me. The tone in her voice was beyond sincere, it was like a breath, a deep exhale. It felt like a release or opening of something she had been tightly holding for years, as if in protection. In that moment, I knew instinctively that she had just opened the door to me to enter that close, tender, vulnerable space inside of her that she let very few, if any, into -- the place I call the inner heart sanctum. And I also knew her instinct to protect this place within her was there for good reason.
She, like many women, including yours truly, and maybe even you, have been betrayed by other women, backstabbed, walked over, used, lied to, rejected, befriended and then tossed aside, manipulated and the list goes on for way too long. And while you have likely also had experiences on the other end of the spectrum -- sisterhood, unconditional love, kindness, support -- the wounds you've received from other women are always lying just under the surface, like a scab that never quite heals over.
It could be the girls in school who made fun of you and made you feel cast out. Or the competition and cattiness that grew even more prevalent as you entered college or the workforce. Or the woman you thought would be your sister forever who turned out to be one of your biggest heartbreaks. I think we all have a very personal sisterhood story about women and our female relationships.
I haven't met a woman yet without at least one "sisterhood wound" that has impacted her trust of other women. Some of us trust too easily and let the wrong women in too close and get hurt. Others have little to no trust and so let in a few to none or keep old friends around mistaking years known for intimacy and trust - and so miss out on true sisterhood. Some surround themselves with lots of women friends but never let any into her inner heart sanctum, so on the outside she looks happy but on the inside she feels alone. Some women even espouse sisterhood and unconditional love, but behind the scenes, they attack, manipulate, lie or backstab.
What's your sisterhood story?
The start of my sisterhood story goes like this... From the age of 15 to 30, I didn't like women much. Other than three or so women I had known forever, I surrounded myself with men. They were easier. I knew their game. We could hang out, no drama, no competition, no backstabbing gossip. But at the age of 30, after a broken engagement and a realization that the men I thought had my back, had been hiding the fact that my fiancé was cheating on me, I found myself sitting in the middle of something I hadn't even known was missing.
It was a weekend retreat in the country with 40 other women -- all women, all weekend, yikes! We were asked to do things I felt totally uncomfortable with, but funny enough now lead other women to do -- be vulnerable, be real, share our stories, let other women support us, hug us, see us. There were several times that weekend I wanted to R-U-N all the way back to the city, even if that meant carrying my own suitcases. But I stuck it out (it was a long way back), and by the end of that weekend, as I sat in the middle of a circle with these 39 other women, I realized a deeper truth inside me, that I had been protecting myself from for so long:
It wasn't that I didn't like women... it was that I LOVED being with other women. I had just been wounded and had learned to protect myself from the very thing I wanted and needed that no circle of men would ever had been able to provide - sisterhood.
With the realization that I craved, loved and desired sisterhood, I took the padlock off the inner sanctum of my heart that had been locked up for years. I was ready and willing to love, connect with and get to know women. What I didn't realize, however, was that I was missing my "female discernment filter."
Without a female discernment filter, you treat everyone the same, expect the same treatment from everyone and then usually get disappointed and hurt when your expectations aren't met or when a woman who you thought could be trusted in your inner heart sanctum behaves badly. You don't have the ability to discern the levels of intimacy, vulnerability and trust to offer and engage in -- which sets you up for more sisterhood wounds, which none of us need or want!
For the past decade, I've been in a trial-by-fire experiment it feels like to learn how to form deep bonds of sisterhood without attachment to how long they last, how to use my female discernment filter so I don't get hurt and disappointed, and how to trust a higher power to guide me to the women I am meant to connect with and those I am meant to steer clear of.
I've learned a few essentials when it comes to trusting other women, that I now share with you so that you may strengthen your sisterhood bonds and gain the wisdom and strength to set healthy boundaries with the women you work with, live with, are in community with, and are in relationship with.
#1. You can trust a woman to be who she is.
Not who you want her to be. Not who she could be. Not who she even espouses or believes herself to be. But who she shows up as. Who she acts and responds as. Be honest and real about who a woman is and isn't based on her actions, words and choices. Don't judge her, just notice and discern how you want to be in relationship to who she is today.
#2. There are different levels of friendship and therefore different levels of intimacy, vulnerability and trust.
You are not meant to be deeply connected soul sisters with everyone. Not everyone gets access into your inner heart sanctum. Just like a bank has levels of access to get to the inner vaults, you too have levels of access to your inner heart sanctum. Some women are more like playmates or collaborators vs. soul sisters. Have a good time with them, explore your common interests, enjoy each other, create cool stuff together but don't mistake connection around common interests for access to the inner heart sanctum.
#3. Access to your inner heart sanctum, and deeper levels of trust have to be shown and felt. Here are my parameters for gaining access to my inner heart sanctum. I invite you to create your own or try these out. To gain access to your inner heart sanctum a woman must:
- Offer respect. Both inside your relationship and in how she speaks of and holds you in her relationships with others.
- Own her stuff. She doesn't project her stuff onto you and if she does, and you bring it to her attention, she owns it.
- See you fully in both your strength and weakness, without competing with or judging you. Even if she does get jealous, or your expression causes her to doubt herself, she can admit it, and doing so brings you closer. You inspire each other.
- Accept all parts of you. She unconditionally loves you, even if some parts of you drive her a little crazy.
- Lean in, even when it's hard. When you come to her with a problem or something that isn't working, she leans in, listens, doesn't blame or need to find fault. She co-creates a solution that deepens your sisterhood.
#4. Stay focused on being the best you that you can be, be discerning not judgmental of how other women behave.
Not everyone is going to play by the "good sisterhood rules." You will observe women judging, gossiping, colluding, creating cliques. Don't participate. Don't judge them or need to make them wrong. Just notice, and then from a place of self love and discernment, distance yourself from these circles and behaviors and choose to be the best you that you can be, keeping your eyes and heart wide open for the women you want to play with -- on your playground of life and within your inner sanctum.
And remember... You can always trust women to be who they are. AND you can always trust your Inner Wisdom to be your discernment filter.