July 2, 2014 § 8 Comments
I had a long conversation with a friend yesterday about my tendency to put myself down, see myself as unworthy, engage in negative self-talk… whatever you like to call it. And then not 24 hours after our conversation I casually mentioned that it’s my daughter’s birthday tomorrow and I’m only doing the birthday shopping this afternoon. And I immediately labelled myself as a bad mom. Again.
That kind of talking has become my default inner conversation over the years, although I’ve been working hard to improve it, I promise. But even my children catch me doing it now and whack me on the arm if I start. There are days when I’m very bruised, I can tell you.
I know I’m not alone. I know there are many of us whose chief superpower is self-flagellation, preferably with a cat o’ nine tails, and several times a day. We make mistakes and immediately label ourselves as defective in some way. We’re a bad parent, bad at our job, a bad friend, sibling, spouse.
I lamented my failure as a mother and my friend immediately replied: “You’ll get it today. You see? You call yourself a bad mom when you still have a day to get her a present. Stop it.” And he was quite right. (And we all need friends like that.) There are good reasons why I haven’t yet bought her a present – I had a house full of relatives the whole of last week; she gave me the list of things she wanted very late; I’ve had a punishing schedule at work. Those are just three things that come to mind.
Also, it’s not her birthday yet, and I’ve set aside time to go shopping this afternoon. Chances are excellent that she will wake up to presents and cake tomorrow morning. And even if I didn’t get her something by tomorrow, does my failure to buy her a present make me a bad mother? Of course not. It’s hardly child abuse.
So where does this come from? Well, partly it must come from my past, I guess. People said things about me that I believed. I can recall specific instances over my life where I was told by others that I was a failure, lacking talent, useless. We all can. And if I’m honest, some of those people may have been accurate, even if their criticism wasn’t entirely constructive.
But I also have to take responsibility, because I believed them, even when the evidence was to the contrary. Even when I knew they were lashing out in anger or spite or jealousy. Somehow their words still had the power to poke holes in my confidence even though probably an equal number of people were telling me the polar opposite – that I had talents. That I had worth. That I could do anything I set my mind to.
Add to that mix a healthy dose of perfectionism, though, and you have a recipe for disaster. Because until very recently I’d forgotten how competitive I am; how I wear perfectionism like an irksome boulder that I’ve become accustomed to lugging around with me. I like to win. I like to be the best. But the problem is that when I’m not the best, the self-flagellation kicks in big time, with some gratuitous tar-and-feathering on the side. Because it’s all or nothing, you understand. If I’m not the best, then clearly, I’m the worst.
So here’s what I’m aiming to do now. I’m giving up trying to be the best. I’m lowering my standards. I’m lowering my expectations of myself. I will not attempt to be the perfect wife, mother, sibling, friend, daughter, employee. From now on (and possibly only for the next ten minutes, but it’s a start) I’m aiming to be good enough. I am completely and utterly over trying to be superwoman.
What does that mean? Well, there might be dishes in the sink when you come over, but you’ll still get a cup of tea and a hug, and a jolly good natter. There might be toasted sandwiches for dinner sometimes instead of meat and two veg. I might phone you a day or two late for your birthday if I forget to do so on the day. I might be late to pick my kids up from school sometimes. And the world, I’m told, will continue to spin on its axis.
Because I suspect that’s the way to achieve some kind of contentment. If I lower my expectations of myself, I won’t have as many failings to beat myself up about. And then maybe, just maybe, I can start saying and believing the good things about myself without feeling like some kind of fraud.