We are social beings and the interactions we experience within our relationships impact our wellbeing like little else...
Yet our relationships don’t exist in a vacuum. They are embedded within layers of social, cultural, and family influences/conditioning.
Below are three examples of key social influences that nourish the breeding ground for inequality and erode personal power:
1. Getting lost in our roles
Many writers, for example Eric Fromm, wrote about the tendency of our modern society to put much value on having and consuming.
Fromm theorized that our tendency towards navigating the "world of things" through our preoccupation with consuming, using, and manipulating, can have an impact on how we treat people within our relationships!
I see what he means when I come across clients (especially women) who feel more defined by their roles and the social and family expectations that come with them, than by their unique person-hood (which includes how they think and feel, and the beliefs and dreams that lurk beneath the surface of their social roles). Often when I ask them about what their interests are outside of their caring roles, they may find it difficult to express what these are...
They may find themselves coping with relatives or friends who expect things and other people (i.e. themselves) to fill up their sense of emptiness. They frequently report feeling resentful around being “expected” to meet others’ expectations, without as much weight being placed on the consideration of their own inner experience.
2. Forgetting to dialogue with our bodies
Within our western society, we are bombarded with advertisements that encourage us to fit our bodies into a ridiculous mold. These must exude a powerful influence given that only a 20% minority of women are happy with their current weight.
Society’s objectifying of the body through disconnecting it from the essence of the person to whom it belongs, seems a world apart from the Christian appreciation of the body as intrinsically tied to a person’s spiritual identity.
Within Christian theology, our bodies have the honor of being the dwelling place for the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:11), and express our calling to a life of unity with God and other beings.
“Rather than hiding, objectifying, judging, and trying to control women’s bodies so they comply with social expectations of attractiveness, or comply with the expectations of others, women, in particular, need support and encouragement to listen to the messages their bodies are trying to convey to them … What I often encourage clients to do is foster an awareness and appreciation of their body, and practice nourishing their connection with their body, through listening to what it is communicating about the state of their own and others’ well-being.” Liberating Inner Eve
Fostering an appreciation of, and connection with the body, cultivates a healthy experience of self-worth, independent of external social and cultural standards of attractiveness.
3. Pushing against social/historic disadvantages
In his 1995 Letter to Women, John Paul II acknowledged that women carry on their shoulders a heavy historical legacy of being at a disadvantage in a multitude of ways; “… we are heirs to a history which has conditioned us to a remarkable extent. In every time and place, this conditioning has been an obstacle to the progress of women … restricted by their serving role.” Saint John Paul II11
Within my counselling role I find that many of my female clients report experiencing an unequal distribution of power and consideration towards their experience within many of their relationships, or downplay the importance of attending to their inner experience and self-development.
This is despite there being a generally greater access to opportunities to pursue self-development within our modern society, compared to what was possible for women in the past!
There is a simple, clear way forward…
John Paul II encouraged us to begin the process of transformation by being aware of how these social influences impact the various contexts of our daily lives, whether our relationships, or the way we relate to our bodies.
Otherwise, we may continue to be pulled along by their currents...
In his 1995 Letter to Women, John Paul II pointed out that Jesus’ behavior, always rising above cultural prejudices, rules, and expectations of the time, involved engaging with people from a place of inclusion and empowerment.
Empowerment begins with solitude
Empowerment takes root in moments of solitude, where we sort through the various pieces of information that we receive from our emotions and reason, and purposefully respond to them from a place of reflection and inner wisdom; Even if we only decide on the next small step towards pursuing our daily plan or goals. We can do so through journaling, prayer, dialogue, or other forms of quiet contemplation...
Keeping our connection with our internal point of reference strong helps our inner wisdom and our connection with our faith, to retain their positions as loci of our personal power!
Happy reflecting, goal setting, and journaling!
E. Fromm, To have or to be? (New York: Bloomsbury, 2013).
John Paul II, Nick Bakalar, and Richard Balkin. The Wisdom of Pope John Paul II. 1st ed. (New York: Vintage Books, 2001).
“Eating disorders prevention, treatment & management: An evidence review.” nedc.com.au, http://www.nedc.com.au/files/pdfs/ NEDC Evidence%20Review Final.pdf (accessed May 29, 2017).
J. Kenardy, W. J. Brown and E. Vogt, “Dieting and health in young Australian women.” European Eating Disorders Review (2001) 9, 242–254.
Bozena Zawisz, Liberating Inner Eve: A Reflective Journey for Women.
John Paul II. Letter of Pope John Paul II to Women. Vatican Website, https://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/letters/1995/documents/ hf jp-ii let 29061995 women.html (accessed Apr. 29, 2017).