Human beings adopt all kinds of defensive postures throughout life. The “Rebel” is a powerful one, and can give you a little bit of swagger when you’re feeling vulnerable. Each woman has her own version of this inner rebel pose, depending on her individual style. Here are some variations you may have tried on at some point—or maybe you have your own spin on:
- Bad Girl
- Femme Fatale
- Ice Queen
- Black Widow
Of course, true rebellion is more than a pose. Even at an individual scale, we must fight against injustices aimed at our self-worth, and against past or present abuses of every kind. We may choose to live “off the grid” or otherwise opt out of conventionality. This type of rebellion is empowering and essential to human freedom.
Dropping the mask
But what I’m talking about today is different: rejecting “ordinary” human experiences because we mistakenly believe we aren’t welcome in the regular world—a choice that actually limits your options rather than opening up new ones. Or adopting a dark mask to cover up feelings of pain and emptiness. Feelings of isolation, in particular, can lead us toward a tough-girl stance. The irony is that such a pose may drive people further from our lives, making real what was originally just perception.
Men notice right away when a woman is trying to appear tougher than she feels, and they know it is a sign of weakness and insecurity. That is a Playground 101 Rule, and boys learn those lessons early in life! Guys who seek out and flatter “tough girls” are often manipulators, knowingly preying on the weak and vulnerable.
When I was younger and single, I’m embarrassed to say that I thought of myself as a femme fatale, and shielded myself with sarcasm. My armor was a cutting sense of humor that would have made Liz Lemon seem sweet by comparison. It was a hard-shelled act that covered up feelings I had a difficult time acknowledging. Though there was a lot that I enjoyed about being single, I experienced loneliness and depression, too. It’s hard to watch your friends effortlessly pair off, and to rely on guy-buds for the kind of domestic chores you’d rather be sharing with a fiancé or husband—all those hours wasted with Mr. Wrong, assembling a new Ikea dresser. At my lowest point, this is how I felt:
- I am lonely
- I feel left out
- I am defective
- No one will choose me
- I am unchosen
Then, life would pick up, I’d shake the blue feelings, and the pose would be dropped for a while. Over time, as I learned to relate and date in a more healthy way, I was able to connect with men in a softer—and truer—way. I didn’t need or want the armor anymore because my confidence was real. And I had faith that someday I would find happiness with the right man.
But sometimes we get stuck in a particular pose, because it works for us and we’ve become used to it. And then we start to lower our expectations to fit around that false idea of ourselves. This is what happens when we internalize the Bad Girl/Bad Boy ideas, and start to identify with all that is wrong and broken.
Genuine emotional strength
I met with a client recently who was so used to wearing a mask of dark cynicism that she often didn’t notice it, herself. But her dates certainly did. Her hard sense of humor was turning off men who were initially very attracted to her. She went on plenty of first dates, but guys seemed to disappear afterward. She believed that she was showing these men her “true self” by regaling them with the bitter commentary she entertained friends and coworkers with. To her dates, she just seemed angry and depressed—not the gorgeous, fun girl that those who know her well get to experience. In letting only a tiny sliver of her personality shine, she was actually masking her truest self, and revealing only her darkest side.
Several years ago I met with a client who had been referred to me by her mother. The daughter had a taste for “bad boys” and her mom was concerned. Again, it was a similar situation. During college, my client had adopted a classic bad girl pose; it fit so well, and made her feel so powerful, that she really started to believe that “bad love” was her thing. Of course, if all you know of love is on-again, off-again drama, you may believe that romance with a “nice guy”—someone dependable and accommodating—is not meant for you.
But my client was exhausted by the drama and pain that came from pursuing unavailable men. She was ready to break free from the limitations that she, herself, had placed on her love life. She eventually connected with a great guy who treats her like a queen. Now they live the rebel life—together—and are happily raising their twin sons in an artist colony in New Mexico.
There is nothing wrong with a woman finding emotional strength and validation as an outlaw warrior for whatever cause she believes in. Maybe being an outsider fuels your creative spirit and is a perfectly healthy expression of who you are. But beware the idea that as a rebel, you somehow are destined for broken men and a broken heart. Being true to yourself means taking care of yourself, also. Everyone deserves healthy, lasting love.