Life, we’re told, can be a jungle – rife with excitement and danger as we explore tangled relationship and career paths, hunting down hot mates and jobs to feed our needs. Small wonder we feel we have to lash out and fight to survive, keep enemies and competitors at bay and stay in control.
My dad got blood-pressure problems that killed him when I was 15, but my mom held it together and built things up. It taught me to watch my back and always to stay a step ahead of everyone – to take control and hang on to it.
But control comes at a price. I was forceful and guarded. In my first jobs people listened to me and I rose fast, but I didn’t have friends.
People respect and listen to you more if you act quietly from your inner strength rather than strong-arm them. Yes, it’s better to be a lioness than a lion-tamer.
I am the monster behind all my break-ups. The underlying problem is the relationships I’ve seen my mother going through and all the abuse she endured. I swore to myself that no man would treat me that way. And today no man does, but I am lonely and out of love. I will try to let down my guard the next time love comes around. I will try to see the positive in men instead of singing the ‘all men are dogs’ song I heard growing up.
Allowing yourself to be vulnerable like this takes courage and confidence in your natural strengths to survive – the qualities of a lioness.
Many people think being in control is the best way to be. And often we think we are in control, but in terms of the big picture – politics, macroeconomics, the environment – we are not.
The idea of being in control may be ‘a necessary self-illusion’, motivating some people to perform rather than be passive. But this is counterbalanced by the downside of feeling excessively responsible for being on top of people and events. It can result in an authoritarianism that alienates people, and leaves you only able to feel strong by subordinating others.
Studies in the past have shown that people in jobs with lower status and less control had higher rates of stress-related heart disease than those in authority, but a more recent study in the journal Social Science & Medicine found that people in higher positions reported having more stress and conflict with co-workers, which impacted on their home lives. A recent study at the University of Toronto in Canada showed that executives do not get to the top because they have angry personalities – rather, it’s the stress of being in charge that makes them rant at employees. The study concluded that ‘being responsible for the actions of others creates frustration and conflict.’
There has been lots of brainwashing for women to organize their personalities around the core construct of being in control. What it often translates into is controlling other people. But there are ways of being in control or achieving self-hood without it being at the expense of others. This comes down to building your own strength, which will earn people’s respect and motivate them. I don’t think it’s a case of telling women to go soft.
It’s about being internally strong, rather than externally out to prove something. Sometimes I think that when some women set out to prove they can be as good as men, they choose the worst characteristics of being male to emulate.
In trying to develop personal strength, women often fall into the trap of trying to be like men (lions) rather than being as good as men. This type of identification with those who are stronger – ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ – is also an explanation for why interpersonal and international situations often seem to involve cycles of violence. In many cases those who are bullied become bullies and those who are abused become abusers. The problem, is that it takes the negative behavior of another (in this instance, the lion) as a starting point. The trap is set – and the lioness thinks she’s in control, but is in reality being controlled by the qualities of the lion.
The trick is to develop your special lioness qualities instead, as follows:
Spot your strengths. Male lions protect their pride.
Lionesses show their greatest strength as nurturers and in teamwork. They have the inner strength of knowing themselves and what they like and loathe, and are able to assert their own standards and convictions in the face of work and other challenges. By recognizing and using your natural strengths you can influence and direct others without their even being aware of it, and with minimal stress.
In personal relationships this can resemble Maria’s description in My Big Fat Greek Wedding: The men may be the head of the house but the women are the neck and they can turn the head any way they want. In the workplace both you and your company can gain if you exercise the ‘female attributes’ that management courses now extol, generally more participative, democratic management style (supportive, collaborative, responsive) is more appropriate to modern, rapidly changing businesses than the traditional masculine style (hierarchical, forceful and directive).
Lionesses control cubs and other lionesses with nudges, not claws or roars, and this works well with people too. In Nudge (Yale University Press), researchers Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein tell how putting a fun sticker of a fly on urinal walls in public toilets in the US was all it took to get men to aim carefully when they pee.
Find your Pride
Lionesses know their capabilities, which gives them confidence. If you don’t feel confident, assuming an air of quiet self-assurance can earn respect and authority, which will help you achieve more in life, leading to an authentic sense of confidence. Easy ways to amp up an appearance of confidence, are to: stand up straight, look people in the eye, speak in a measured and assured way – and know what you’re talking about.
Use your Voice – grrr
Let others (your partner, boss and colleagues) know that you’re willing and able to take on responsibilities. They’ll often be happy to share the burden – as well as the satisfaction and self-esteem it brings. If they don’t, be aware that you may be dealing with a control freak – usually the product of egotism or insecurity. If talking to a man, remember his natural drive is to be logical and solve problems, while women tend to focus on emotions. Clarify what you want and say what you mean – don’t talk in terms of how you feel, but the reality as you see it.
Don’t surrender to the ‘mane’ man – make a Team
In personal and work relationships it’s vital to know your rights and stand up for them. But recognize that others have rights too, and feelings. Don’t try to be in charge in all areas – workplace, social sphere, bedroom. Let your guy be the guy in certain situations, not in a patronizing way, but to get a balance between the male and female energies in a relationship. Instead of cracking a lion-tamer’s whip and criticizing and nagging, decide what you want and make requests. Emphasize a desire to work together for changes that will benefit you both.
Support the sisterhood
Lionesses in a pride hunt together most of the time, and they lick each other and their cubs in affirmative grooming, affirming pride bonds. This is a source of their
strength. It’s time to terminate the ‘bitch backlash’ reported in some surveys of female employees, which showed they felt female bosses were harder on them because they were threatened by them and erected a ‘stiletto ceiling’ behind themselves. Helping others also makes you feel good about yourself.
Choose your prey
A lioness doesn’t fight or kill indiscriminately – she chooses her battles and her prey carefully, hunting economically to preserve her strength. To achieve your goals you need to identify and deal with opposition and competition – but being constantly on the attack or defensive, trying to contain people who don’t want to be contained (or problems that can’t be) will stress you out and weaken you. Enemies can then pounce. If you can’t outrun the outsized wildebeest you’d love to bring down, don’t try – ignore it and wait quietly for something more suitable to come along. But if other predators make a move on your turf, mark your boundaries. Let them know clearly but politely what’s acceptable and what’s not. And if they persist, confront them calmly and with conviction. State your case, spell out consequences and be prepared to carry them out.
Accept the law of the Jungle
The world is not fair. Rather than wasting energy chasing after problems you cannot resolve, or prowling about restlessly and unproductively, upsetting yourself and those around you, accept reality. Do what you can to achieve what you believe is important, then accept where you are in the hierarchy and be at peace with yourself.
Inner peace is the greatest strength and one that no-one can take from you. When a woman is in touch with herself and at peace, then whether at work or at home, her expression exemplifies that of a lioness stalking her prey. She is determined, assertive and focused. There is no need to manipulate or control to achieve her objective.