I recently reread a book that I originally purchased five years ago when I was trying to “fix” my failing marriage. The book, Fascinating Womanhood by Helen B. Andelin, purports to teach the reader what characteristics define the ideal woman. It explains the laws which she must obey if she is to be admired, loved, and appreciated, and gives instructions on how to go about becoming more feminine.
Originally published in 1963, this book is written from a patriarchal, Christian viewpoint. Virtually every page provides material that would cause any good feminist to scream out in indignation, or perhaps go searching for a match with which to send it all up in smoke. My now-partner picked up the book from where I had left it lying on a table and when I came back to the room asked, “why in the world are you reading this crap?” So, I want to make it clear that I’m not actually suggesting that anyone go out and buy this book...
But I guess even the murkiest of literary works can sometimes provide nuggets of wisdom, and Fascinating Womanhood has its share. Much of the advice the author provides is specific to a married woman’s relationship with her husband following traditional gender roles. However, a lot of the focus is on self-improvement of one form or another, and there are quite a few ideas that could be adopted to help any person in any number of their relationships.
Complete acceptance of others is one quality that is often touted but seldom followed. How many times have we heard the adage that you can’t go into a relationship with the idea of changing the other person? But so many people still try, usually with frustrating results. If we cultivate the attitude of complete acceptance of others it can be very freeing. Recognize that we are all human beings who are part virtue and part fault. Honestly accept the total person, including all imperfections, and don’t try to change them. Being less concerned with the other’s faults allows you to concentrate on all the good qualities they exhibit. And probably the best way to help someone else’s self-growth is by recognition and belief in their better side.
Every person has qualities or characteristics that deserve appreciation, be they intellectual gifts, physical prowess, or other skills or special abilities. When you become interested in another person and listen to them talk, find traits they exhibit that deserve recognition and admiration. Then express your admiration in a way that is heartfelt and sincere, and also be specific.
The desire to be admired, which we all possess, can go hand-in-hand with a fear of humiliation. If someone has been ridiculed or belittled in the past, or treated with contempt or indifference, they will very likely suffer from injured pride. In addition to expressing admiration of others, it is best to eliminate remarks that have the effect of crushing another’s ego. Be sure not to ridicule or belittle others, even in humor.
There are bound to be times when people around you become discouraged, and it is a great relief to find someone to confide in. When you develop the attitude of complete acceptance, then those around you feel able to trust their precious thoughts and emotions with you. When a disheartened person comes to you, it is usually not practical help that they need. The most valuable help that you can provide is to build the person up with approval and hope. Do your best to remove self-doubt and reestablish self-esteem in the other. Picture the person as a success, even if they aren’t one right now. And don’t let their gloom rub off on you.
Inner Happiness/Worthy Character
It is uplifting to be around those who are genuinely happy. Deep inner happiness is something you can cultivate to carry you through the ups and downs of life with tranquility. It comes from a development of the personal spirit and is not to be confused with seeking temporary pleasure. Two essential ingredients to this happiness are the complete acceptance of yourself and the appreciation of the simple joys of life.
Inner happiness evolves from development of the entire character, and this is an ongoing process. Important qualities of a worthy character are traits such as self-mastery, unselfishness, patience, gentleness, honesty, and self-dignity. Be accepting of your weaknesses and mistakes, but continue to strive toward greater character development.
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I realize that these pieces of advice are not always easily followed. But I recommend trying to incorporate them into your own life, and then witness the positive reaction in yourself and those around you.
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WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU’RE ANGRY??
The author of Fascinating Womanhood uses the analogy of steam gathering in a teapot to depict the inner turmoil one feels when angry. Anger is a real emotion that we all experience, and at times it can be intense. But how to properly express yourself without causing the situation to escalate? There are different techniques for dealing with anger:
Suppressing anger, like turning the flame off under the teapot, is a mistake. Suppressed emotions can be seriously damaging and can lead to a self-induced numbness, an inability to feel both pain and pleasure.
Releasing anger with harsh words or violent actions is like turning up the heat and blowing the top off the teapot. This is obviously not ideal.
Self-control, tightening the lid on the teapot, causes steam to build up pressure inside. Presenting a calm exterior while holding emotions within will lead to inner turmoil and resentment towards others.
Talking things over with the person you’re angry with is an attempt to turn down the heat. However, in the author’s experience, doing so will probably lead that person to feel defensive and result in an argument.
According to Fascinating Womanhood, none of the above methods of dealing with anger truly solve your frustrations without causing further damage to yourself or your relationship. Thus the successful way of dealing with anger is with a
Spunky display of emotions. This causes the teapot lid to gently bobble up and down, releasing steam. It is important that this fiery show of anger be mostly on the surface, that underneath you aim for an inner calm. Acquire a list of adjectives that are fitting for the occasion, and make use of exaggeration in your speech. The idea is that you give vent to your emotions in a way that is not harmful. It is a way to communicate your thoughts when you have been offended or mistreated, and a manner of preserving your self-dignity. Releasing steam in this way will allow for a tranquility of spirit to emerge. Even if the situation that provoked your anger does not change, your reaction to it can. Anger can become just another fleeting emotion that you embrace and then let go.
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Kim initially intended to write an additional sidebar outlining “advice from the book that didn’t make the cut”—for example, “women shouldn’t wear herringbone prints, make financial decisions, or be educated for a career”—but decided against it.