If I were truly being honest, my professional bio would say this: I specialize in bitchy women.
I have seen thousands of patients over the years with all kinds of difficulties: depression, anxiety attacks, grief, marriage problems, parenting problems, job loss, you name it. I do grow quite fond of most of my patients for their courage and perseverance in working through their problems. I am constantly reminded of the good in this world - how people can love and care for others, sometimes to their own detriment. I marvel at the tenderness and sacrifices that many make for their family and friends.
But to me, the most memorable and amazing ones are the bitchy ones.
In the movie Dolores Claiborne, there is a very poignant scene between Dolores (Kathy Bates) and her demanding boss, Vera (Judy Parfitt). Vera is counseling Dolores on the vicissitudes of life and love: "Sometimes you have to be a high-riding bitch to survive. Sometimes, being a bitch is all a woman has to hang on to."
What a beautiful sentiment.
Bitchiness is, after all, a popular and clever word to name what is really underneath - irritability. Being irritable comes from so many places. It comes from unhappy childhoods, unhappy marriages, hormonal changes, or a string of bad luck. It comes out in a storm of fury and vitriol. It comes out in between the sweetness and platitudes.
We all seem to back away from bitchiness though. All you need to hear from someone is their jabs, criticisms, or complaints and you will take three steps backwards or turn and run as fast as you can.
"What a bitch!"
I have come to love bitchiness - and, yes, it seems to be connected to women, but men can be bitchy too. We just have different names for them.
Bitchy women have lived tough lives. I have never met a bitchy woman who hasn't. They have been dealt blows that are so painful, and they don't want you to know just how painful. In fact, they are so good at keeping you from knowing about their pain, that they will come at you with their fangs exposed, ready to tear into you. Their inner mantra seems to be: Don't get too close or you'll pay.
But bitchy women can be so insightful and so brilliantly funny. Their biting sarcasm can make you marvel. It is hard to stay bitchy though. It is exhausting ... which is why so many bitchy women complain about how tired they are. It takes a lot of emotional strength to ward off people, unpleasant feelings, and painful memories - many of which are not conscious. And it is exhausting living with the aftermath of their bitchiness, their broken relationships and lost connections. You may be thinking, it's their own fault, they deserve to suffer their consequences. I don't agree. I think that's just compounding the problem.
How then do we help bitchy women? How can we help them soften, relax, and become more agreeable? Medication? Therapy? Punishment?
None of that necessarily.
I have a secret. The answer can be found in a children's book, and the answer is so simple, that you may at first scoff at it.
In The Library Dragon by Carmen Agra Deedy, a very bitchy librarian Miss Lotta Scales is caught off-guard by little Molly who gets her to read a story to the class. Because Miss Lotta Scales, who happens to look like a dragon, has become so hardened in life, she forgets about her anger and reads to the children, finally connecting and being loved by them. Lo and behold, her dragon scales begin to fall off as her bitchiness drops away. Molly's bravery and engagement with the librarian is what makes the difference. If you don't own this book, you must! Give it as a gift to all the children in your life, so that they will know what they need to do when they meet up with adult dragons - the bitchy women who are among us.
Give bitchy women the opportunity to shine by letting them do kind and helpful things.
And don't expect them to give up all their bitchiness ... those dragon scales can be helpful when tucked away for the right times.
Above all else, remember Vera's words, "Sometimes, being a bitch is all a woman has to hang on to."
Let's help them find other things to hang on to too.