With the current controversy over if we should let sports icons continue with their careers if they abuse women, I reflect on what I could do better as a mentor. The following story is a combined story of some of my mentees and their struggles to overcome a dominating force in their relationship. There is no one particular woman in this story that embodies all these moments.
Despite her 28 years, she doesn't possess the wisdom or patience to know better. As an adult I know she's responsible for herself, but as a mentor, I want her to value herself more. She worked her butt off in college and has thrived in the workplace making a name for herself as a technical leader. She's young, bright, talented and unfortunately in love with a controlling man. Their arguments end in him reminding her how lucky she is to even be with him, which steals a piece of her self-confidence each time.
The words "I'm sorry, I love you" seem to dance out of his lips more than they should. Before an apology she cries on the phone to her best friend who is becoming accustom of chanting "leave him, leave him," but will continue to support her friend, because this friend is alone.
Does he hit her? No. But does she have the option to stand up for herself? Not in her eyes. Although I haven't known her very long, I wonder what happened in her life that she feels she must stay with someone who is smothering her career dreams. Did her parents not provide her with experiences to develop self-confidence? With the little knowledge I have of her family, I doubt her parents cut her down.
What about us? Did we, as Americans, send out messages to these women saying that this behavior is better than being single? The micro-aggressive comments, such as, "Why, you're so pretty and smart, I'm shocked you don't have a boyfriend/husband," send most women into an internal spiral of questioning. Or even at a bridal shower where a friend turns to the maid of honor and says, "You've been a bridesmaid so many times, well it has to be your turn next." Determining an individual's success based on their relationship status has caustic consequences. This pressure is encouraging women to put up with sub-standard behavior.
What is a mentor to do? Stand up to micro-aggressors, as if you're standing up to a bully. Emulate the behavior of standing up for what you believe in. Send the message that you deserve to venture after your dreams and goals, and if you happen to have a partner who supports that, then go on the venture together. If you stumble into some controlling moments, be aware and stand up for yourself. You are the root of your happiness, not anyone else.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for the National Domestic Violence Hotline.