ABC Talks To: Life Coach and Author Brigitte Sumner

“The next step after emancipation is e-woman-cipation”

An interview with Brigitte Sumner by Femke Wijdekop.

Brigitte Sumner is a life coach, Feng Shui and Reiki practicioner and the author of Give Him Back His Balls and Get Your Balls Back. Together with Felicity LeRouge (author of the EBM-title Changing the Channel) and Tamsin Fox-Davies she leads the Phenomenal Woman Event in the ABC Treehouse in Amsterdam on Saturday, September 10th, followed by a book signing on the 2nd floor of the ABC in Amsterdam. In preparation for this event I talked with Brigitte about how to re-ignite passion in our relationships, the value and shortcomings of emancipation and the strength that comes from owning our vulnerability.

Your first book is called Give Him Back His Balls. Can you tell us what you mean by that?

Give Him Back His Balls is a tongue in cheek way of saying: women, we have become too masculine and too emasculating in our intimate relationships! For me, this simple sentence sums up what the book is about. I have been asked whether I am anti emancipation? My answer is that I am against women becoming men. As women we have so much to offer, why should we become like men? We see it everywhere, the power dressing woman wears men’s clothing. For me the next step after emancipation is e-woman-cipation. For us as women to fully embrace our feminine power and strength, which means giving men the space to occupy their power and strength, so we can co-exist rather than compete. Competition in intimate relationships is ugly, complementation is beautiful and lifts us to higher highs and ultimately makes the world a better place. The world has become masculine in energy. There is a strong calling and need for feminine energy to come in and bring balance.

In your introduction you write that for almost a decade your relationship with Rex (your husband) was not going well. You had lost passion and love and were living like brother and sister. How did you turn this passionless marriage around? What were the key ingredients for rekindling the love and passion the two of you once had?

I am a very strong woman and my husband is a strong man, but a gentleman. Through illness, I had lost a lot of self confidence and in order for me to regain confidence, Rex thought it a good idea to let me make most of the decisions in our family. This went so far that at the deepest point, I was doing everything, the family finances, arranging holidays, house moves, school choices, everything. I was on auto pilot to get everything done, and exhausted. It sort of slipped into our lives, which I hear from a lot of my clients. I came to the conclusion that a lot of what I did, was borne out of the need (or perceived need) to be in control, to have things done my way. When I realised what I was doing, I was able to see it in a more detached manner and put steps in place to undo this behaviour pattern. It did not matter whether the boys were wearing clothes that did not match or did not eat at a certain time. It became more important that we were happy than organised as a family. I let go of a lot. I started asking Rex to do things. Knowing that I could do everything but did not need to do everything any longer was a great relief. He felt more needed and useful and started to do more things unasked too. I learned how to say ‘thank you’ versus how I would have preferred him to have done something. He felt more appreciated than berated! This was the start of more polarity. It was a slow turn around and I learned a ton, so my book is the short cut version of my learning, so that my readers don’t have to take ten years in doing this.

What is the essence of feminine energy according to you? And the essence of masculine energy?

The essence of feminine energy for me is flow, creativity, freedom, bubbling energy, ‘unboundedness’ (if that is a word at all), limitlessness, embracing, strong in energy which is all encompassing. The essence of masculinity to me is ‘focussedness’, hemmed in and concentrated energy, strength of energy which is bundled, linear and grounded, unmoving.

What do you think caused us women to operate from a masculine energy in our intimate relationships rather than from our natural, feminine energy?

I think we used to operate from our feminine essence. Through history it became apparent that the way we were treated by men was not the way we wanted to progress into the future. Our mothers and grandmothers fought for great rights, the right to vote, the right to work. To have obtained those, and the availability of the birth control pill, set us free as women to be equal to men. I would never want to go back to before those dark times. The vulnerability of a woman in her essence is her power, yet for a lot of us, it meant weakness. If you have ever seen a woman giving birth, you will never say that she is weak – vulnerable yes, but powerful and strong beyond any other energy. Even if you have not ever giving birth or seen this energy, we all have come from that energy through our mothers, it is innate in us, both men and women, we know it in our cell memory. .

I think we have overdone the equal thing and some of us went down a dead end street and became men versus staying in our feminine power. On top of that, many of us have heard as girls growing up: ‘don’t become dependent on a man’ and ‘make sure you can look after yourself, get a good education, a degree and be financially free’ which we did and we took this attitude into our intimate relationships. In order to survive and get ahead in the academic world and the world of work, we felt we had to adopt the energy of that world, which is predominantly masculine. ‘Dress and behave like a man and you’ll get there’ is the message. We take that back home and are still the lawyer, the boss, the manager, without taking off that hat and stepping into our feminine core.

But how can we make this 180 degrees-switch from operating from our masculine energy at work, to stepping into our feminine energy when we get home, in a natural way? Without “faking it” or feeling like we have a split personality?

Anything that you do for the first time feels unnatural. If you have been operating from masculine energy (which I had), saying something in a more feminine way feels ridiculous to start with! Remember, that the masculine had to be trained at some stage in your life, so it is only logical that the feminine has to be trained also. Any new behaviour becomes a habit in 21 days or longer. If you normally put your left shoe on before your right shoe and you change that round, it will feel ‘fake’ to start with. If you do it for 21 days or longer, it will be a habit. What can help is to consciously change when getting into your front door, so you remember. No, you’re no longer wearing your white lab coat, so you’re no longer the manager of the lab at work, you’re now wearing your pretty, lace camisole and your cropped jeans, so now you’re Jane, the feminine woman.

One thing that can assure some fun with this is to appoint a buddy, another woman who is on the same path to change her way. I have a mother and daughter in mind who phone one another regularly. Mother manages a large retreat centre and runs a large team of staff, rides on a tractor when needed and daughter runs various operations of retail business very successfully. They phone one another in the weekend and share their wins: ‘I told your Dad I was so grateful he was opening the wine, it was just what I needed, you should have seen him glow with pride!’ ‘Mum, I dangled my car keys in front of Justin (her new man, since she gave up her ‘I’m-so-independent-I-don’t-need-a-man-in-my-life’ story) and asked him to drive, he was so happy to do that for me’ and found that just by vacating that masculine space, their men oblige by stepping into it and –finally- not feeling surplus to requirement any longer.

At the same time you also write that in general, a woman best relates to male family members, friends and co-workers from her feminine pole. How can she operate from her feminine energy when interacting with male colleagues without losing “standing”, if she works in the competitive, corporate world?

Working in the corporate world myself, I find that doing things in a masculine way, invariably creates competition with men. As women in the corporate world, we need to experiment and find out what works for our particular environment and the particular role we are in.

As I said before, often femininity gets confused with being unfocussed, disorganised and maybe ditzy. I don’t think there is any place where that kind of behaviour is useful. How I prefer to describe feminine energy is inclusive, calm, embracing, playful (that doesn’t mean flirting outrageously in the work place), light, creative. I think there is a lot of need for that kind of energy in the work place. Think about rethinking office hours, offering wellness so that people work better and more effectively.

I am involved with an initiative in the construction industry which is about diversity. I have been sought to advise on communication and teach people about relationships. I do the same for the banking industry. People are starting to realise that figures and numbers are as important as the humanity of a business. And the figures and numbers don’t exist without the people. When people feel good about their relationships in general, they generally feel good about their lives. And all life is relationships.

How does operating from your feminine energy in intimate relationships relate to healthy assertiveness (protecting our emotional/physical boundaries) and some degree of independence (both considered “masculine” traits)? Isn’t there a core of wisdom in the advice of our mothers “never to depend on a man”? (p. 110/111 Give Him Back His Balls)

I think feminine energy gets confused with being brainless and ditzy. Of course we need to guard our space and boundaries. We can do this in a masculine way by putting up walls (real or otherwise) , stern conversations and locking doors or in a feminine way, by being in a playful energy, occupying ourselves with our own ritual of well-being, making time for our creativity, spending time with our loved ones and friends. The latter is more flowing and less obvious but more sustainable in the long run. I have found that my female clients, most of whom are entrepreneurs, run on empty if they keep the stark, linear ways of masculine energy going in their private life. They ultimately end up in my retreats to relearn to recharge their batteries by embracing their femininity. For a lot of them that is not easy and we are so trained that it is wrong too (many parents would ask ‘don’t you have something useful to do?’).

I think many women who have been raised to be self-sufficient, resist surrendering into their femininity because letting go of control feels very vulnerable. How do we deal with the feelings of vulnerability and fear that come up when we start to control less and to surrender more?

There is a lot more ‘burn out’ these days amongst women. We have a growing feeling of meaninglessness in our lives. When we have achieved yet another level of status and financial wealth, there is the temporary satisfaction, yet, soon after, we fall into this deep void of emptiness and the question arises ‘is this all there is?’ and we are off to the next quest, the better version of an appliance we have or the further away holiday. That is how society has conditioned us. It can feel very vulnerable to surrender to what is, rather than what you HAVE.

Change the meaning of the word ‘vulnerable’ from ‘weak and open to attack’ into ‘honest and authentic’ and you feel that layers of pretending can fall away. Ask yourself what is most important to you in life and you’ll find that all the things you protect are not really the most important. In this day and age of recession and social and economic securities falling away, there is subsequently a lot of fear. Stepping through that fear and remembering the value and importance of basic things such as family, health and community becomes more important. When we get the realisation that by less control we ultimately feel happier and more flexible, we are able to adapt to change, which ultimately is the only certainty in life.

You write that in order for there to be passion, there needs to be polarity. But can it not be that a masculine, heterosexual woman is attracted to a feminine, heterosexual man and vice versa? In other words, that there is a reversed polarity between the male and female that produces just as much passion as does the traditional role division?

Yes, a masculine woman can be attracted to a feminine man in a hetero sexual relationship and vice versa. As a masculine woman can be attracted to a feminine woman in a homosexual relationship and a feminine man can be attracted to a masculine man in a homosexual relationship. All of the above and variations ensure that there is polarity which ensures attraction.

You describe men with balls as being self-confident, autonomous and in control. How can men with a well developed ‘feminine side” get their balls back without suppressing their sensitivity and despising themselves for their all-too-human insecurities? With other words, how can they combine becoming more masculine with acceptance of self?

In my opinion we all have both masculine and feminine energy. That doesn’t mean that either of those is ‘wrong’!

Practising your different energies and being able to toggle between them should be like the continuous waves of the sea. Like the continuous following of the light after the dark, the day and night. We are both Yin and Yang. Due to the feminisation of education we have made a lot of masculine behaviour ‘wrong’ in our society. Men who are loud may feel they are doing something ‘wrong’ to start with. Look for occasions where loud is good. Hang out with other guys at times. Be physical, play a sport. Then come back to your family with your newborn baby, where quiet is the way to be, where soft and sensitive is needed. Learn to dance with these energies. Create situations where you can explore both your energies.

In order to become more feminine (or masculine), you advise the reader to change their language, looks, body posture and gestures. Are these changes (having to do with how we present ourselves to the world) enough reclaim our femininity and masculinity? Or do we need to make a shift in our inner world, too, by examining our (childhood/cultural) conditioning and by changing our beliefs about ourselves and the world?

There are various ways to look at this. From an NLP point of view, when we change our language this changes the neuropathways in our brain. When we add NAC (neuro associative conditioning), we add the physiological part, i.e. the way we look, which in turn changes the way that others perceive us, thus changing the ways they react to us, which changes the ways we react to them. This in itself gives a change in behaviour (CBT, cognitive behavioural therapy). We may also want to look into what shaped us from childhood onwards.

For me there is a lot of mileage in using this double-pronged approach as you not only change your behaviour but also look at the patterns that created those behaviours and do something about them. Sometimes, even finding out where a belief comes from (and that is invariably from our parents and early childhood) gives us enough awareness to change it and choose a new one. Some behaviour may even stem from other lifetimes or having been passed on through generations. We can see that a daughter behaves in a way that her mother behaved, which is the same that her grandmother behaved, etcetera.

Can you tell us something about your new book, Teenage Relationships, that just got published?

Your relationships change during your teenage years. Your relationships with your peers and parents change and you start to have intimate relationships. During your teenage years there are so many changes and at times that feels exciting. At other times it makes you feel a little scared or insecure. It is easy to get your heart strings tangled up with so much else going on during this age. Hormonal changes create changes in your body. Expectations at school and from society ask you to constantly adapt and change.

This book started as a desperate search on the internet to find resources where my –then- teenage sons, Jeremy (Jez) and Lionel, could find information about more than just the biological facts that dominate the teenage years. The information was either absent, hard to find or embedded within topics that did not relate to their questions. Over the years since our household hit the teenage years, about a decade ago, until now, I have collated their questions, their solutions and their stories. Many of their friends have shared their time and resources as well to talk very openly about things close to their heart. I am grateful and humbled by their openness, their honesty and their clarity. We put together a simple and concise guide for teenagers that offer a place where you can come with questions.

So this book is different from other self-help books for teenagers because we have included tips and ideas from other young people who are either still teenagers or have freshly graduated from teenage-hood. They know and remember the questions they had. Not only about intimate relationships but also the changing relationships a teenager has with their parents, their peers, school, society, with food and with themselves. This is a book for teenagers and everyone who has an interest in teenagers, parents and teachers alike.

If you could sum up your message to our readers in one sentence, what would that be?

Stay true to yourself, explore and enjoy both your masculine and feminine energies, be playful and embrace relationships, they add such richness and learning to your life.