One of the things about going through a life transition is that one inevitably re-evaluates one’s self worth and one’s friendships.  As Jean Shinoda Bolen so eloquently says “once you are on your own, once you can’t return to who you were and who you were with, once you are in a new landscape – in a place and among people who are new to you, and you to them – then who you used to be no longer defines you.  There is no beaten path or broad well-traveled road to follow.  In this new wilderness of mind and reality, if you follow your own instincts – which may be a strong impulse, intuition, or curiosity – you can make a path where there is no path, one that becomes truly your own.” I have found that I am different in two major ways, since I separated from my partner of almost 16 years.

The first is that I am better at listening to myself.  Rather than putting the needs of everyone else in my family first – my former spouse and my kids, I listen to myself and if it’s possible, I take my needs and wants as seriously as my family’s needs and wants, rather than always putting my needs at the bottom of the priority pile.  No guilt.  No fear.  Just realistic appreciation that I have as much value as everyone else in my family: equality rather than patriarchy.  As those of us women who have some of the Artemis archetype within us appreciate – we have “the archetype of sister, with brotherly feelings of equality with men and feelings of sisterhood with women,” and the “ability to concentrate intensely on whatever is important to , undistracted by the needs or judgments of others,” Jean Shinoda Bolen.  I am re-learning that I have these traits, but certain aspects of them were buried.

The second is that I am better at telling those around me what I want, need and won’t put up with.  As my Buddhist studies teacher recently pointed out, having compassion for people does not mean that you become a masochist – you can still have boundaries about what behavior you’re willing to accept.

It was recently suggested to me that I should ask myself a question when I fall asleep, to see if I dream the answer.  The other night, I went to sleep and woke up, wide awake at 5am having had an epiphany: “I find it difficult to spend time with people who are not happy with themselves, yet will not take steps to help themselves.”

I have found in my life that occasionally people pop up, some who you really connect with on many levels, others who you’re happy to avoid, who have this way of complaining about or being upset about certain things in their life – their home, their job, their body or its functioning.  So, as the supportive friend, you listen.  You commiserate.  You mention that you sometimes feel that way too.  You suggest alternative solutions to coping with this issue.  Yet, the issue continues.  Every time you’re with that person, it comes up – they talk about how much they hate their job, how much they hate their city, how their thighs are too big: people who look for the bad.

In the past, I would deal with this by finding ways of avoiding their company: not answering their calls, claiming I was busy, and so on, rather than addressing the issue directly.  This, does not however, create a learning opportunity, which is important as a coach and as someone who believes in the constant evolution of themselves.  And, does not address two difficult situations: a) you can’t avoid the person – you work with them or they are a family member for example or b) you have very strong feelings for the person yet this issue persists.

Then the solution becomes one of choice.  Is this an issue that you are willing to overlook?  How big a deal do you feel it is for the person, and how much does it impact them and thus your friendship? Are they willing to deal with this issue, or not, and if not, do you mind this?  Are you willing to overlook this, with your eyes wide open that you are accepting certain things, as they inevitably accept certain traits or behaviors of yours that they do not like.  Or, do you realize that they are not going to change, and that you don’t want to spend time with someone who does not work on themselves, because it impacts your friendship in a negative way. “Artemis women don’t usually get stuck in or become passive captives in the underworld, this is a Persephone journey,” Jean Shinoda Bolen.

I am an optimist and I have learned that I have huge power to change how I feel and how I choose to live my life. Be aware of the immovable boundaries and work within these.  You will be surprised by how much control and influence you can have!  As Barbara DeAngelis notes:

“Living with integrity means: Not settling for less than what you know you deserve in your friendships. Asking for what you want and need from others. Speaking your truth, even though it might create conflict or tension. Behaving in ways that are in harmony with your personal values. Making choices based on what you believe, and not what others believe.”

Yet, I am also much more aware now that there are shades of grey in what motivates me and others and how we all behave, which makes judging situations as black or white difficult and less clear.  So, what am I willing to accept?  The question remains unanswered, but the path to an answer is becoming more clear because I am learning to find and trust my voice again.

Artemis: The Indomitable Spirit in Everywoman by Jean Shinoda Bolen.

Copyright Tamsin Astor