12/13/2011 07:06 pm ET Updated Feb 12, 2012

Why Being A 'Bitch' Isn't A Bad Thing

"You're turning into a bitch," my friend said when I told her she couldn't drop her kids off so she could do errands because I was busy. I was so taken aback by those words that I offered to change my plans to accommodate her. I didn't like being called a bitch. After all, I'd always been a nice girl. The word bitch stung and confused me about how to handle myself.

After being a consummate people-pleaser throughout my twenties, I began to see the light of self-empowerment and decided I was entitled to put what I needed first -- sometimes. Friends didn't like me not being the go-to girl for favors. It was rarely reciprocated and I got tired of feeling taken for granted. When I finally began to turn people down, "bitch" was often used and I'd cave. My desire to do more for me was tempered by that word and I retreated back to my excessive people-pleasing.

Until I had a wake-up call.

One morning, my husband (now ex) said he wanted Italian food for dinner. He was a good person who enjoyed that I allowed him to make all the decisions. I went along with him from the beginning and we fell into a pattern of him choosing and me agreeing. I thought that's how it should be. That night I developed indigestion and asked to go to a restaurant where I could eat light. Hubby insisted he was set on Italian. I tried to make him understand that I didn't feel well and there was nothing I could eat in the restaurant he had chosen.

"Could we please this one time go to a restaurant that works for me?" I asked.

He got huffy and said, "I'm going for Italian! You can come with me or not."

I'll never forget the look on his face when I said, "not!"

When he saw I was serious, he jabbed that the people calling me a bitch were right. I was turning into one and better wake up and go back to being a nice girl. It was the first time I ever went against what he wanted. In the past I'd have gone for Italian and sipped a cup of tea while he ate. But I wanted to eat, just something light, and for the first time believed I had a right to.

Hubby stormed out. He wasn't used to me taking a stand. I licked my wounds after his bitch jabs. Only this time, logic overrode people-pleasing. I wasn't a bitch for having indigestion! I had a right to want a restaurant that I could eat in too! Ahhhh.... The light of self-empowerment got a little brighter.

This was the first time I recognized how people use words like bitch to stop a woman's progress. The underlying message behind the name-calling is things like:

• "You're not giving me my way so you're a bitch."
• "You're saying things I don't want to hear, even if you're right, and that makes you a bitch!"
• "Women should be soft-spoken and agreeable and if you're not, you're a bitch."
• "Why are you being such a bitch for [contradicting me; getting the boss on your side; not inviting me to dinner with other friends; getting me to lower my price so much]?"

And so on. That realization made me realize the word "bitch" is used as a verbal weapon to manipulate women and helped me get past it and move to a place of real empowerment. As people got used to the "new" me, I heard bitch less and less. Bitch is used on women who are learning to say "no" and speak up more by people who are used to soft compliance. I was still courteous and kind -- not a bitch!

If you try to stop being a people-pleaser and get called a bitch, do an honest appraisal. If you've done nothing to deserve it, take it as a sign you're making progress. Many women get called a bitch as they transition from people-pleaser or soft-spoken wimp to someone who values her needs and recognizes they are important. The name caller is frustrated and wants you to return to being more "agreeable."

I call that a "Better Bitch" -- a woman labeled unfairly because people don't like her new, empowered persona. You're becoming a better, healthier person, and they want to stop you. What I call "word darts" are used for that. You're not aggressive, selfish or a bitch for taking better care of yourself and speaking up for you. Those words mean you're transitioning in to an empowered woman who'll get much more and be happier. That's a good thing!

Now that I understand this, when someone unfairly calls me a bitch, I just smile and say, "Thank you!"