At a recent networking event, a male colleague deliberately blanked me. Yes, I do think that him being male and I being female has a lot to do with why he blanked me. Not being able to avoid me in the small gathering, he came up to me pretending he didn’t know me. And when I said; “come on, we know each other, I’m Rosjke,” he immediately looked down at the floor and walked away to talk to someone else.
I was shocked. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know whether to confront him or to ignore his rude unprofessional behavior.
Having listened to Brene Brown’s book “The Power of Vulnerability” I know that being blanked is a trigger point for me. It can bring me right back to how my mother’s silent treatment felt. It can make me feel like I don’t matter. And professionally, it reminds me of me of how awful it feels to be still, after twenty years of banging the mother-daughter drum, struggling to get the counseling community to acknowledge that the mother-daughter relationship is missing from the conversation. It is hard to keep hold of my worth as a mother-daughter relationship therapist when many of my emails and phone calls to counseling and coaching training organizations go unanswered. And as a female who like all woman has been socialized to keep quiet and feel more responsible for other people’s needs than my own, making a scene is difficult. Going after him and making him accountable for his unprofessional behavior is risky because it can leave me feeling wrong, especially when I wasn’t certain anyone at that networking meeting would support me. So, I decided to ignore his disrespectful behavior and put my feelings on hold until I got home because I didn’t trust myself not to get emotional and I didn’t trust the people at the gathering because I didn’t know them very well.
The positive part of this story is that I did not disconnect from my feelings. As I write in “The Silent Female Scream”, years ago I would not have known how his hurtful behavior felt in the moment that it happened. My well-practiced cut-off switch would’ve activated before I knew what I was feeling. And it would’ve taken weeks or even months before I woke up to how his rejection felt.
But standing in my emotional truth is only part of the healing. I needed to find a way to wrap my brain around why this male colleague couldn’t bring himself to speak to me so that I don’t take it personally. I need to take the advice I give to my clients and step back and look at the gender politics at play.
I already knew that this white elderly male likes to feel important. He wants to be treated as the “silver-back” of the local counseling community. And watching him that evening only reinforced this knowing as I saw him quietly but firmly elicit adoring behavior from the women in the room.
The problem is, I am not good at placating male egos. And I’m sure he already knew that. And I know that he knew about my recent speaking tour to two counseling conferences and the Norwegian psychology students in Budapest.
As I say to my clients, this kind of hurtful behavior is both personal and not personal. It is personal because it happened to me. It brought up past feelings of not mattering. And it is not personal because the reason why this white elderly male colleague couldn’t speak to me lies in understanding him. Could he not tolerate that I was not going to feed his ego? Could he not accept that I was seeing him as my equal and not as a king? Or could he not face my greatness, that I have an international reputation and he doesn’t? Was I somehow an uncomfortable mirror for him in which he saw reflected some of his own insecurities?
I will never get these questions answered and I don’t need them to be. In asking them I am pushing back the reason for this behavior back where it belongs, with him, so that it doesn’t infect my self-worth. These questions help me recognize that this incident is about male power. Pure and simple! His inability to engage with me is a sign that male authority is fading and men whose self-worth is rooted in being the king are afraid. They are afraid because they don’t know who they will be when their reign is over.
Rosjke Hasseldine is a mother-daughter relationship therapist, speaker, and author of The Silent Female Scream & The Mother-Daughter Puzzle. Rosjke teaches mental health professionals how to become a Certified Mother-Daughter Coach. www.rosjke.com