In order to cultivate our fierceness, we must “re-vision” our relationship to three important aspects of ourselves.
“When a woman is at home in her wildness, rooted in her instincts, and attuned to the voice of her deepest knowing, she is a formidable presence…[and] thunders after injustice.” —Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Women Who run with the Wolves
We are poised in a time of history that requires us to connect with our fierceness. We must let go of the old stories that tell us to be sweet and conciliatory, nice above all else. The rise of the #MeToo movement shows that as women, we will no longer subjugate ourselves to those in power, that silence is no longer an option.
Susan Avery Stewart, PhD and the author of Winter’s Graces: The Surprising Gifts of Later Life, offers this unpacking, “necessary Fierceness is not vengeance, violence, or raw rage.” Since most of us were not raised to appreciate our fierceness, it can require a remembering of this powerful aspect of ourselves. Stewart describes mythology and folklore in which women were fierce goddesses and warriors, wielding their power fearlessly against injustice.
Stewart invites women, specifically those in the second half of their life, to embrace their “wise warrior.” She writes, “a wise warrior is engaged in the world, yet detached enough to be able to discern the best course without bias. And she is willing to be fierce when necessary on behalf of those that are suffering.” She stresses that, along with other gifts of aging: becoming assertive and knowing how to stand in our own power, being courageous and compassionate, along with generosity and contentment, we can step into our place of fierceness without turning it into “self-righteousness, vengeance, or violence.”
When we see someone who is being wronged, we can use all of ourselves to stand up in the face of abused power. “Hard as it is to do in the face of suffering,” writes Stewart, “remaining respectful and open-hearted toward everyone involved, especially those with whom we disagree, is vital if fierceness is to be effective and healing.” In order to cultivate our fierceness, Stewart says we must “re-vision” our relationship to three important aspects of ourselves:
- Power. When we can acknowledge our own truth, to believe in ourselves, and, as Stewart writes, “grow more at home with who we are, we can stand firmly with ourselves, rather than stridently against others.” We must come to know and trust our true emotions and connect with our authentic power in order to know our fierceness.
- Anger. Many of us are afraid of our anger, and fail to acknowledge it. It has the potential to be destructive, but at its root, is really a sign that something is wrong. Stewart says it “can be useful in our relationships with one another and in the larger world. It can move us into action on behalf of something important.” When we can be present with our anger and harness the impulse to act, it becomes an ally to our fierceness.
- Aggression. Perhaps the most misunderstood of these three, aggression is actually moving toward something, without necessarily doing harm. Stewart cites a psychological definition of aggression as one “whose aim is ‘to get hold of’ something for the purpose of assimilation and growth.” Women tend to be ashamed of their aggression, yet when used with wisdom, it too has a place in activating fierceness.
Finally, Stewart contends that restraint is the refining quality that brings healing from fierceness. “Restraint,” she writes, “means being thoughtful and disciplined about our speech and actions, rather than giving into the heat of the moment and striking out at those who are causing others to suffer.” If we truly want to create change in the world, we must find a way to bring our fiercest selves in a way that breaks the cycle of violence that is all around us. We must “have the ability to pause—to not lash out—and to allow our anger to be transformed into what Terry Tempest Williams calls ‘sacred rage’ which is a powerful and effective force for justice.”