One of the empowering side effects of our Gentle Ambition women’s leadership programme is that you will start showing up with much more confidence and authority. You become the author of your life and career and start speaking up for what you believe in, instigate and implement the change you want to see, create clear boundaries and ask for what you need.

One of the more challenging side effects is that your environment, your colleagues, your managers, your friends and family, have to get used to you showing up in a different way. And that will not only require some time for them to adjust, but might even trigger some heavy resistance and counter-moves.


What’s the insult or adjective that stops you in your tracks?

Bitch is a common word that gets thrown around. But also ”she has become difficult”, ”strange”, or in the case of one of our English clients ”might be batting for the other team”. Society is still getting used to women showing up in their full power and sovereignty. And with old habits dying hard, your new found clear message might be perceived as bossy, your new drive to change the status quo could be interpreted as your power hungry ego pushing for selfish gain. And if that won’t shut you up again fairly quickly, then we’ll bring out the big guns and attack your looks, mothering skills, fat percentage, fashion sense, intellect, fill in the blank…


Dare not! You’re not good enough!

Being called the words that hit home for us, even if they’re shared as a ‘joke’ or as a simple remark, has the potential to stop us in our tracks, have us retrieve back to our caves, and feel like the payoffs of authorship could never exceed the humiliation.

So what’s a purpose driven professional woman to do to embrace the ”bitch”? Practice shame resilience.

In her brilliant book Daring Greatly Brené Brown describes shame resilience as ”the ability to say, ”This hurts. This is disappointing, maybe even devastating. But success and recognition and approval are not the values that drive me. My value is courage and I was just courageous. You can move on, shame!”


Move on shame!

Brené goes on to share that shame resilience is made up of four key steps. The titles and bits in italics are taken from her book:

1. Recognizing Shame and Understanding Its Triggers
Shame is biology and biography. Can you physically recognize when you’re in the grips of shame, feel your way through it, and figure out what messages and expectations triggered it?

In order to apply this step it will be important for you to know what you work hard for to be perceived as. If like me you’ve got a pleasing streak, you will do a lot for being liked. And when someone calls you the opposite of a kind woman, a bitch, then you might retreat instantly. For those of you who tend to measure self-worth with success the words ‘she’s lazy or unambitious” might trip you up. Other insults that have the potential to shut us up are old, witch, stupid, unexperienced, unprofessional, ugly, fat, bad mother, unclear, aggressive, arrogant, selfish. The list goes on. Start exploring which words hold the power to trigger you.


2. Practicing Critical Awareness
Can you reality-check the messages and expectations that are driving your shame? Are they realistic? Attainable? Are they what you want to be or what you think others need/want from you?

In my recent article ”Help  at my office it’s not the men, but the women” I wrote about challenging old myths and to question who ultimately benefits from imposing certain expectations, rules and standards. Once you follow a certain statement to its source you might discover that it’s the Bikini Industrial Complex (to borrow a term from Emily and Amelia Nagoski) that ultimately benefits from giving us body hang-ups and having us consume countless diet regimes, purchase body tucking slim wear and more. Exposing the source will allow you to take a stand and to no longer buy into outdated, unattainable and unrealistic ideals. Yay!


3. Reaching Out
Are you owning and sharing your story? We can’t experience empathy if we’re not connecting.

With centuries of women being pitched against each other this might feel extremely uncomfortable for you to start with. ”I feel full of shame and you want me to reach out and feel even worse?” you might be questioning me in your thoughts right now. And yet the contrary is true – you will feel better. Brene writes: Practice courage and reach out. Yes, I want to hide, but the way to fight shame and to honour who we are is by sharing our experience with someone who has earned the right to hear it – someone who loves us, not despite our vulnerabilities, but because of them. 

Many of our clients find such a wonderful person in the fellow participants in our trainings or in one of us coaches.


4. Speaking Shame
Are you talking about how you feel and asking for what you need when you feel shame?

This will be the trickiest step of all four if you’ve not already got a shame resilience practice. Voicing our pain and discomfort and sharing what triggers shame in us. And yet if, as mentioned above, you share your experience with someone who has earned the right to hear it, you will find connection, acceptance, compassion and love in these moments of vulnerability. And you will find the strengths to return ”to the arena” and keep on fighting for what you know is right.


Finding Courage

So next time you feel unsettled because someone just called you an XYZ – and let’s be honest, many times our harshest critic is inside of us and those words are only ever spoken in our imagination – then find courage again in the knowledge that you’re not coming to work to be liked (fill in the blank) but to do meaningful work (fill in the blank).


And just to be sure you don’t miss the opportunity to take useful feedback on board (even if it’s delivered badly), watch out for Dovile Corrigan’s next article, which will help you to assess which feedback to take into consideration and how, and which to let fly by.


”The courage to be vulnerable will transform the way
we live, love, parent and lead.
Brené Brown”


Let’s make a difference. Together.


Manuela Damant
Visionary Collective Leader at Azkua

At Azkua we are on a mission to turn businesses and organisations into a force for good. And we believe that it is professional women who will be at the forefront of this transformation. Purpose driven, caring, grounded and influential women like YOU!