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How psychedelics helped me decondition maladaptive beliefs rooted in patriarchy

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Women On Psychedelics (WOOP). Any content provided by our bloggers or authors is of their opinion and is not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, individual, or anyone or anything.

*In this article I focus on some differences between women and men in order to highlight my personal experiences with sexism and the patriarchy. As a cisgender woman, I want to briefly acknowledge, to myself and to the readers, that gender differences are more complex than the content written in this article.

I am a woman that was born into a deeply patriarchal sociohistorical period. In my daily life, the people I interact with unconsciously look at me and treat me like I’m an insignificant, small helpless child. Feeling underestimated by other people has been a constant struggle. Of course, this isn’t evidently true for all people I interact with- likely just the ones that would score high on an implicit association gender bias test, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that happened to be a large percentage of the population.

Being a woman of colour complicates this even further, but that’s a whole topic for another time. From these experiences, I can only assume it’s my small physique and high-pitched voice that somehow make people feel like they can critique my appearance, personal traits and insecurities, and give me unsolicited advice at any given time. When this happens, and I respond with resistance, the same people patronizingly smile back at me, I assume perceiving my opposition as “cute” or “child-like”. It’s kind of messed up.

When women set boundaries, people often see it as invalid, defensive, insecure, or simply like something is wrong with them. Women, by being gaslighted or ignored, are often made to feel bad about themselves when they express any kind of defiance. After all, isn’t it a good thing to be teaching underdeveloped kids- I mean women (sorry, Freudian slip!)- to be obedient, respectful citizens?

It’s pretty amazing how offended people can get when a woman expresses resistance, or simply just says the word, “No”. On the other hand, when men set boundaries, people more often see it as valid. They listen to the boundary being asserted, and take action to respect what was said. What a fascinating reality!

Also, it’s important to note that there’s a difference between purposefully expressing a boundary and impulsively reacting with anger or hostility. I am guilty of the latter on more than a few occasions (my bad my lovies!)! However, in my view, impulsively reacting with anger occurs because the skill of purposefully expressing a boundary has not been adequately developed, which I believe is related to learned helplessness from previous failed attempts at asserting them.

Meanwhile, many women in this society, myself included, simultaneously experience issues with codependency, which, like addiction, is generally defined by an unhealthy dependence on relationships and excessive focus on another person. People with codependency struggle with knowing their own needs and asserting personal boundaries.

Of course, some people may be more codependent than others, which is perhaps not far related to how much they were gaslighted and ignored as a child, likely by authoritarian figures, whenever they expressed defiance. This would also explain why it’s possible for some men to experience codependency (but likely not at the same systemic level as women).

Therapy and psychedelics, with the right set and setting, have proven to help, which I’ll dive into further on in the article. Understanding codependency as a social issue, women shouldn’t feel bad or guilty about themselves for this- we, well-intendingly, learned that we couldn’t speak up for ourselves, that it was easier, and that there weren’t any other choices but to comply in our relationships, even when it made us uncomfortable.

A few of my personal experiences with sexism

Sexism is something I experienced, and continue to experience, throughout my life; from acquaintances, classmates, colleagues, and in close relationships. In middle school, one of my teachers nicknamed me, “mouse”. She called me by this “cute”, but actually degrading, nickname on a regular basis in front of my classmates and teachers, and I complied with it.

I complied with it even though it made me deeply uncomfortable and humiliated. Already at 14 years old, I had learned that it was dangerous to stand up for myself. What could I do? She was my teacher and my superior, and I was a 14 year-old who didn’t even know where to begin with expressing personal boundaries. Later, I realized that this was very purposefully due to internalized sexism.

Sexism has also arisen for me through what can be described as uncomfortable jokey insults disguised as weird side comments in various relationships, including professional ones. I can’t count how many times people have told me to “just be confident” with a patronizing smile. Similarly, many people, including past colleagues and teachers, on more than a few occasions, have happily interjected their opinion of how insecure they perceived me to be at the time, seemingly trying to “help” my personal development.

How many other girls can attest to this? I’ve never seen the same weird, somewhat insulting, “advice” pointed out to a man before in a professional setting (I guess men can’t also have issues with insecurity? Hmm...). Yes, self-esteem is a practice people can work on with therapy and/or through the way of the psychonaut; but, is it not highly unprofessional, degrading, and frankly rude to bring up someone’s personal issues in their daily and professional life? Ironically, but fittingly through a discriminatory lens, these experiences really lowered my self-esteem.

I’ve also experienced a lot of sexism with men in general, including stereotypical catcalling in public settings, and boyfriends gaslighting me for asserting personal boundaries. From them telling me I’m crazy, that I’m a headache, that I’m too sensitive, that I’m entitled, that I don’t understand anything about the world, I’ve experienced pretty much all forms of gaslighting! These damaging comments made me feel bad about myself, and about my womanhood.

But, there was something that just felt so familiar about it. It was almost as if I had seen it before... But, where? You guessed it –while growing up in my family system. Societal messages were probably also a big influence as well. Before I became hyper-aware of social issues, through education and psychedelics, there were strong feelings of comfort I experienced by playing into these roles and unspoken rules I knew so well.

On some twisted level, it felt safe. After all, aren’t safety and security what our society has been conditioned to strive for during the past centuries? But, having an “ignorance is bliss” mindset and resorting to feelings of comfort could only last so long. A couple of years ago, I was sexually assaulted, and that was when I first started to truly think about the patriarchy and how it affected my life.

draw by sarah

My psychedelic journey

One night, a couple of months ago, I took around 3-4 grams of magic mushrooms (psilocybin) and, importantly for set and setting, had a nice relaxing walk in the park where I felt safe. Then, I came home and had a philosophical discussion with a friend about the toxic patriarchy. I reflected on my life; specifically, how insecure, scared, and uncomfortable these sexist experiences made me feel at the time, and how they collectively shaped me into the person I am today.

With the psilocybin making my mind, body, and environment more deeply interconnected, I thought about how messed up the patriarchy can really be, how it affected and continues to affect my life, and the devastating truth that we still live in a sociohistorical period that supports it. Out of nowhere, I started bawling my eyes out. I had a deep, heavy cry. However, I knew that was a good sign- I was healing from the patriarchal wound.

In those moments, I felt I had never been more honest with myself. The words, “it’s not my fault I was born this way”, one of humanity’s core wounds, came spewing out of my mouth. I had never said these words out loud before, but it finally came out, and it felt so truthful and honest. Also, for the record- No, it wasn’t my fault I was born this way. After, feeling like I was in the presence of a loving guardian (thank you for teaching me mindfulness, Tara Brach!), I was flooded with a feeling of release, liberation, and compassionate love.

Before beginning to decondition maladaptive beliefs about myself and my womanhood that was rooted in patriarchy, I genuinely believed that my destiny was to get married and to have kids, and I believed that to be entirely my own idea. But honestly, even though I believed it, it never truly felt like myself. Still integrating my teachings and further deconditioning these beliefs, I really don’t know if marriage and having kids are choices that are in line with my essence anymore. I am diving head-first into the unknown.

Having a deterministic outlook on life was so constricting. Letting go of those beliefs has been so freeing, and I’ve never felt more at home with myself. Today I can happily say that, with a combination of psychedelic use and therapy, I’ve stopped repeating the same codependent relationship patterns, I feel a lot more self-secure and independent, and I continue to work on identifying my personal needs and purposefully expressing personal boundaries.

Of course, I’m only 22 and have some time for life to unfold, but this new freeing and expansive reality has been such a blessing. Psychedelics allowed me to become aware of my personal patterns and beliefs that I previously wasn’t. The unconscious is somewhat of a puzzle- how can you know something you’re not aware of? Well, in my opinion, you can’t. Of course, not until you try psychedelics. With psychedelics, I was able to become conscious of my belief system, which encompassed internalized sexism, and I saw it for what it was - an evolutionary adaptation that was previously useful in past generations, but actually harmful to myself and to society, and no longer applicable in new generations.

Sarah Rosenbloom is a writer for MAPS Canada, a visual artist, and an enthusiastic psychonaut. She received a B.A. degree in Psychology from the University of British Columbia, and has lots of research experience in that field. She joined WOOP hoping to express her knowledge background in creative ways to shed light on the booming therapeutic potential of psychedelics.

She is passionate about social issues and social injustice, ranging from feminist issues to racial and economic inequality. She is particularly interested in how these issues impact public health. She is fascinated with how psychedelics can be used to help heal people on individual and systemic levels. You can find her on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn. You can also check out her art page!

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