Monday, December 20, 2010

Why their insecurities shouldn't be your problem

I've been thinking a lot recently about the way women interact at work, the way we interact as mothers and as friends, and the way we inadvertently undermine our professional and personal relationships. And I've come to a pretty liberating conclusion, which I shared with my readers at The 36-Hour Day: Much of the time, it's about insecurity. But you can't control other people's behavior, only your own. Which is why you can't make other people's insecurities your problem.

There's an old saying that men kill their weak, but women kill their strong. I think that's why there's no real female counterpart to The Old Boys' Network; for men, eliminating a weak link makes them all safer, but women, focused on individuals rather than a unit in the workplace, often revert to high-school era "mean girl" strategies, trying to undermine those whose strengths makes them a threat to the others.

That's a huge generalization, of course, and so is this next one, but I'm going to make it anyway: I think insecurity is a key issue in the Mommy Wars, too. In all aspects of it, in fact -- stay-at-home vs. work-out-of-the-home, bottle vs. breast, single parent vs. married parent, one child vs. many, bio-mom vs. stepmom.

Generally speaking, instead of acknowledging that we're all doing the best we can and making our decisions based on what's best for our families, many moms tear one another down (sometimes via a Mommy Drive-By, sometimes via gossip, sometimes via our kids) in order to build themselves up. The Mommy Wars are largely about attacking people whose decisions don't validate your own, and making yourself feel superior at someone else's expense. It's especially evident in the stepmom/bio-mom battling you see on message boards and blogs -- iVillage's contradictory 15 Things Moms Secretly Want To Say To Stepmoms and Lindsay Ferrier's more even-handed rebuttle on Suburban Turmoil are two great examples. And much of it stems from insecurity.

But, you know what? Dimishing yourself in order to make someone else feel better about herself is foolish, a waste of time and energy, and I'm not going to do it anymore. There's a difference between living your life and tailoring it to make someone else feel better. That's not to say that we don't have a responsibility to help others; in many situations, I think we do. But that doesn't mean we're responsible for other people's actions.

Your successes are not someone else's failures. And their crippling insecurity or feelings of inadequacy are not your problems.

Have you found yourself putting yourself down in order to make someone else feel better? What made you notice?

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