I am the eldest of four sisters. But we are not a Sisterhood. I have female friends – but Sisterhood has always eluded me.
Yesterday, writing in my journal, I realised why.
The relationships we have in life, both with our own gender and its opposite, stem from our first experience of males and females – and, in the vast majority of cases (at least in the Western world), this means our parents.
My earliest memory of male behaviour (as told in greater depth in a post last week) has become the psychological bogeyman under the bed of my security. I watched as the most important man in my life, my father, went off with someone else in front of me. Not just once, but many times. Worse, this other was a blood sister.
Today, I want to look at the way this has tainted my ability to trust, and form warm close bonds with, the wider Sisterhood of life.
The Divide and Rule ethos adopted by my parents, and the lack of honesty about what was going on, meant that we girls did NOT pull together and support one another in strong, loving sisterhood, because we were so ambivalent about female bonds, so hurt and so afraid.
My early experience of a fellow girl/woman, therefore, was of a rival – and, even worse, a rival who WON. I learned early that I was a second class citizen, unimportant – not, as so often happens in families, because of a male sibling, but because of a superior female one.
I had NO experience of a man being able to like/love lots of children the same because the primary man in my life was unable to. I had no experience of a woman being there for other women because of the competitive nature of relationships in my family: My mother (who was, herself, threatened by my father’s bond with this sibling and also by his habit of having other adult females as close friends) was not able to be either honest or sufficiently mature to ameliorate the sisterly devastation that was going on.
In our family, there was only one princess. There was no prize for second place. It was divisive, cruel and hideously unfair – and it played dangerous havoc with our developing sense of ourselves as girls, then women – and, most tragically, as sisters. Instead of love, there was suspicion and covert competition; instead of relaxation, there was endless watchfulness. There was no trust. How could there be? We could not trust our father’s fairness – and, although it wasn’t her fault, we struggled to trust the favoured sister. We were unable to trust one another because of this toxic unspoken fight to gain my father’s favour and battle it out for the non-existent second place in his affection.
And so, ALL females became potential threats. For me, at least. ALL females were tainted with this certainty that they would take over, steal, be preferred, leave me feeling unwanted yet again. Sadly, this wound extended to all friendships. It intensified when I started being interested in men: I looked, subconsciously, for my father in order to win him back from the younger sibling. I chose men who had a proclivity for either favouritism or unfaithfulness.
I had absolutely no trust, or security, when it came to making friends in primary school. Convinced always that I was one step away from disaster, I watched a close friend’s behaviour with other pals neurotically, certain that it was only a matter of time before I was replaced by the princess.
My first, and most enduring, relationship lesson around other girls was that, unless you were Number One, you were nothing. You were forgotten, driven away from. As a consequence, I had awful problems with attachment: I wanted to be the best, the most loved, the favourite; I wanted to feel safe – and, of course, I never did. This has damaged my ability to relate to women, and trust men, hugely. It is a massive wound which has been bleeding for well over fifty years.
The husband I chose was par for my damaged and dysfunctional course. He and his type were all I knew. They met a terrible need.
In my child’s mind, a friend’s new female pal would, inevitably, squeeze out the old one (me). It wasn’t possible to have two or more at once – and remain safe. Therefore, loving and trusting were not safe either.
I did not understand, at that formative age, that it is possible to love and like loads of people in different ways, without having to put one on a pedestal and ignore or banish the rest. I did not understand the concept, let alone the reality, of non-competitive loving-kindness and sisterly support between women. I did not understand that someone’s interest in other friends was healthy and normal and not a sign that I was no longer wanted.
I am now nearly sixty – and have denied myself the wonders and delights and deep soothing womanly bond of Sisterhood all my life. I have not trusted other women – and I have not trusted the threatened little girl within my own soul, that child who has sought, in vain and so often, to win the first man’s favour.
Maidens, Mothers, Crones, we all reflect the Goddess – and, when we act in a divisive and competitive way, we devalue something precious and wonderful. When we put men first, and fight over them, we are throwing the Goddess’ gifts back in her face.
Healing my tainted and damaged womanhood needs to come first.