I have a challenge for you.
Quickly list the last 10 mistakes you made. Did you forget a meeting? Leave an important document at home? Swap your children's lunches, homework folders or school supplies? Say something hurtful? Eat something you shouldn't have? Texted at a red light? Participated in road rage? Parented in a way that you didn't like?
Now, quickly list your 10 biggest flaws. Are you too heavy? Too selfish? Too materialistic? Not forgiving enough? Too judgemental? Too unhealthy? Too lazy? Too tired? Not organized enough? Too forgetful?
If you are anything like me, listing your mistakes and flaws is pretty easy. They probably are part of the negative self talk narrative that kicks around inside your brain pretty regularly. They are the thoughts that creep into your head at night when the house is finally quiet and you relive the moments from the day, super critical of all the things that you did wrong.
Now, list the last 10 great things you did. Then, list your 10 greatest attributes.
Were these second lists harder for you? I know they are for me. Not only does it take me longer to find the positives about myself and my actions, it also makes me feel uncomfortable to share them.
A few months ago, while scrolling through my social media feed I came across a clip of Kristen Bell talking about how she balances motherhood and working. In essence, she said that she tries her best and doesn't beat herself up when she isn't perfect. Even though I closed the clip and continued on to read about the best brownie recipes, looked at the best slow cooker meals and caught up on my friends' social media lives, Kristen Bell's voice stayed there in my brain. (Honestly, ever since Frozen, when has her voice or the voice of Idina Menzel not been in any parent's brain?). Don't beat yourself up. I guess on some level I kept telling poor Kristen Bell to shut up. Let me beat myself up, Kristen Bell. I need to be better, do better. I can't mess up. I need to be perfect.
However, today I was struck by how profoundly ironic my life can be at times. Just before seeing my first psychotherapy patient for the day, I realized that I had completely forgotten about an important professional meeting. It was a meeting that I had sought out and scheduled myself; a meeting very crucial to some of my own professional goals. I scheduled the meeting, confirmed the meeting and plopped it into my color-coded electronic calendar. I had already selected my outfit for the day, prepped my materials and put together some speaking points. But, somehow, between the hustle and bustle of back to school for my children (you know, things like school supply shopping, emergency contact form completion, book fair order forms, field trip permission forms, classroom volunteer background check forms and helping the children and our family get used to new routines and new personalities), football practices, football games (our family participated in 5 football games in just 24 hours last weekend), an out of state business trip, multiple family birthday parties, preparing a 40 page manuscript on anticipatory grief and working, I somehow thought the meeting was on Friday, not Wednesday. And so, I never showed up to this very important meeting.
Shame. Guilt. Embarrassment. Anger. I felt all of these emotions at once as soon as I realized my mistake. Then came the barrage of negative thoughts about myself. But, like any good professional, I buttoned up my feelings, put them in a nice little box and went on with my sessions (of course, after reaching out to the other meeting attendees, apologizing and rescheduling). Like I always do, I approached my patients from a strengths-based perspective, helping then to identify and re-frame their own instances of negative self talk, saying things like, "Did you hear that? Did you hear what you just said about yourself?" or "Tell me about a time when you successfully handled a similar issue."
Later on, while working on some paperwork, the irony hit me. I spend so much time all week encouraging people to be like Kristen Bell - do your best and don't beat yourself up. Yet, I spend even more time each week beating myself up for not being perfect.
I need to Let It Go.
I need to stop beating myself up. I need to stop trying to be a perfect version of myself. I need to stop the negative self talk loop that often plays in my brain.
I need to listen to Kristen Bell!
But, I suspect that I am not alone. When I look at the other women in my life; stay at home mothers and mothers who work out of the home; single mothers and married mothers; first time mothers and mothers with multiple children; young mothers and less young (but not old) mothers, I see many of us in the same plight. We strive for perfection, get caught up in comparing ourselves to others, set completely unrealistic expectations for ourselves and then when we are anything less than perfect, we beat ourselves up - relentlessly.
We need to let all of that go. It's going to be difficult but here is what I suggest we do as we move forward:
Chances are your To-Do list is a mile long and you've over-extended, over-promised and over-committed yourself. Practice saying No. Someone once told me that "no" is a complete sentence. It is perfectly fine to sometimes say No. That's it. Explanations, excuses, alternatives are not always necessary. Stop trying to please everyone.
Set Realistic Goals
Re-evaluate your goals. What is a more realistic version of your goal? Set yourself up for success. Rather than setting a goal to clean out every closet in your house this weekend, would it be ok to set a goal to clean out only one? Would the world really implode?
Identify the Good
Practice identifying the things you do that are good; the ways in which you are already enough. Stop giving so much power to the negative stuff. If you need to stand in front of your mirror and tell yourself that you are enough, do it. If you need to write lists of your positive qualities, do it. If you need to write yourself love notes in dry erase markers on your mirrors, do it. Why not? You probably are perfectly fine doing just the opposite and reminding yourself of all you do wrong.
Take Care of You
Figure out what refuels you and schedule some time to do it. Maybe it's a walk in the park. Maybe it's lunch with a friend. Maybe it's sitting at home alone and choosing to leave the laundry for a bit while you drink a cup of tea and read a book. Do it, and don't allow guilt to enter your brain.
Help Each Other
Part of my self-loathing this morning involved texting my husband and a few friends to let them know how terrible I am. One dear friend reminded me that I am human. She's right. No one is perfect. All of us are human and all of us have flaws. It's ok. I need to stop trying to be perfect and we need to remind the women around us that it's ok for them to not be perfect either.
For the next few weeks, I'm going to take Kristen Bell's advice and try to not beat myself up so much. Wouldn't it be great to let go of at least some of the insane pressure we put on ourselves as mothers? What if, for the first time in forever, we focused on our own strengths and not our own flaws?
About Changing perspectives...
I often find myself encouraging people to consider changing their perspective or reframe the way in which they view things. This blog is an extension of that practice and is also an opportunity for me to write from a number of different perspectives including clinician, educator, mother, friend and supervisor. Blog topics are also quite varied and changeable. Topics explored include, but are certainly not limited to, grief, parenting, health and wellness and relationships. Join me and explore a number of changing perspectives!