Discharge to Recharge

You can make your self-soothing activities a lot more effective by doing one simple thing first.

Most people are a little more stressed and tense now, during the COVID crisis, than usual. Some people are a lot more distressed. Everywhere you look there are articles about how to calm yourself, how to soothe yourself and your children, and how to cope and take good care of yourself.

adult alone anxious black and white
Photo by Kat Jayne on Pexels.com

It is a good idea to manage our stress. When we are stressed, we are not our best selves. We are less able to make good decisions. We are less flexible in our thinking. We may be short of temper or spacey and dissociated. None of these will make self-isolating, physical distancing, or working from home any better.

We can do a lot to help calm ourselves. We can breathe more deeply, do relaxation or meditation, take a warm bath, read or do crafts.  All of these can be soothing to the over-stressed nervous system.

However, you can make your self-soothing activities a lot more effective by doing one simple thing first.

Think about your body’s energy system. I’m not talking about some esoteric or cosmic energy. I am talking about that energy that you use to live. You take in food and turn it into energy that keeps your tissues healthy and growing, allows you to move and think and dance and run, even to sleep and regenerate. When you are stressed your body is recruiting your energy to be prepared for the emergency. Energy is tied up in keeping your muscles tense, your gut disrupted, your thoughts racing. Your energy is being used to be prepared.

In this case, you are prepared to fight or run away from a virus.

However, that is pretty useless. No amount of fighting is going to vanquish this foe. Running away isn’t possible either. The energy of preparation is caught up in your system keeping you stressed and distressed. This is a very real manifestation of energy being blocked from moving through your body. You can turn it into obsessive thinking, excessive news consumption, overeating, body tensions and rigidity, and irritability. It can erupt in bouts of rage or crying or excessive cleaning.

Calming that distress is needed. However, you need to free up some of this energy for your self-soothing, calming activities to work effectively. You need to create an opportunity for discharge.

Please note! I am offering these simple ways to discharge energy for you to use at your discretion. Please remember that everything isn’t useful or recommended for everyone. Be self-aware and monitor yourself as you practice.  You can use these with kids, too, but remember that you’ll be monitoring yourself AND them.

Effective and easy ways to discharge

Shake Your Body

Shaking your body all over is a way to discharge energy that is simple, effective, and feels good.

Start from a grounded standing position. Stand up with both feet solidly on the ground. Feel your feet on the ground, and make sure you are standing solidly on both feet. Soften your knees, so that you can feel your whole leg from the sole of your foot up to your torso. You might need to bend and straighten your knees a few times before this is clear in your mind.

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Think about your feet being deeply rooted in the earth. Just for a moment, imagine that your feet have grown a long, strong taproot connecting them way into the earth like an oak tree. Imagine that you are rooted so deeply that you may bend and sway in the wind, but you will never fall over.

From this deeply grounded place, start to shake your body. You can shake starting from your arms and shoulders, shaking your head, bouncing a little in your knees. Monitor yourself; you can do a little or a lot, and what works best for you will depend on you. Shake, shake, shake, and then shake some more. Notice any parts of you that want to shake and then shake them. Shake like you are in a big wind and then let the wind settle down into a small breeze, and finally, let your shaking come to stillness.

Check in with your body and mind. What did this discharge exercise do for you? Go to How the End Any Discharge Exercise, below.  After this, move into your self-soothing and comforting activities.

Twist and Growl

Start from a grounded standing position. Stand up with both feet solidly on the ground. Feel your feet on the ground, and make sure you are standing solidly on both feet. Soften your knees, so that you can feel your whole leg from the sole of your foot up to your torso. You might need to bend and straighten your knees a few times before this is clear in your mind.  (You might notice repetition here…that’s for a good reason.  Being grounded helps us to discharge. Every discharge activity begins from being grounded.)

Holding a hand towel or dishtowel out in front of you, begin to twist it. Let your hands really work that towel. Hold it up at eye height, look right at it (or beyond it), and twist. Narrow your gaze and stick out your jaw. Maybe make a growling noise. Grrrr! Damn towel! Damn coronavirus! Damn working from home! Allow yourself to think and say whatever angry thoughts might come to mind. Damn stress!

What else could you do with that hand towel? Shift your feet so that one is ahead of the other, shift your grip on the towel so you are holding one end, and use the towel to hit a bed or couch. Really get into the swing of it, using your whole arm, and keeping your eyes and jaw focused outward.  Try it with the other arm.  What is that like for you?

Then drop the towel and shake out your arms, your jaw, your neck. Let everything shake.

See if your body wants to do another round. If you are finished, head to How to End Any Discharge Exercise.

Stompa Your Feet

Start from a grounded standing position. Feel your feet on the ground, and make sure you are standing solidly on both feet. Soften your knees, so that you can feel your whole leg from the sole of your foot up to your torso. You might need to bend and straighten your knees a few times before this is clear in your mind.

Now stamp one foot. Just smack it into the ground. Notice what that feels like.

Stamp the other foot and take a moment to notice what THAT feels like. Similar? Different?

Now try stamping your feet one after the other. Really PUSH those feet into the ground, feeling your legs all the way up.

Check in and see what your hands want to do. They might want to form into fists, or even if they don’t, you can try that. Stamp your feet and shake your fists.

Now take a moment to rest, breathe in and out, and notice what you are noticing in your body and in your mind.

This might be enough discharge for you. You can check in on yourself and notice. Does my body want a little more of this? If so, continue. You can always stop whenever you want to.

To continue with discharge, re-engage the stamping and fists. This time stick out your jaw and narrow your eyes. You can say or think something like, “I don’t like this!” *

Depending on your level of privacy and how this exercise is sitting in you, you can go to town. You can stamp and shake and shout as much as you like. You can also do it just a little to try it out. Either way is effective and you are in charge.

How To End Any Discharge Exercise; forward bend

This exercise allows your body to integrate and assimilate what has been happening, and gives your mind a chance to catch up. See if you are able to stay attuned to body sensations before letting thinking overwhelm your body experience.

You will stop, rest, breathe and take in your experience by doing the forward bend. Keeping your feet planted, allow your body to hang over, letting your head hang loose, arms not quite touching the ground, and breathe into your belly there. Stay in this position as long as it feels right. When you decide it is time to come up, push your feet into the floor and allow your spine to straighten very slowly with your head coming up last. This way you minimize the likelihood of getting dizzy.

Once you come back up to a standing position, take a few moments to notice how your body and mind are doing. You may be more agitated, or angry, or you may have uncovered some sadness, or you might notice a different lightness in your shoulders and arms. Whatever you notice is your body’s response to the exercise.

vening light with reflections
Beaudette, 2014. Evening light with reflections.

 

Now is a good time to engage your self-soothing activities. Try lying down on the floor and letting your body rest deeply. You can use your hands to gently stroke your face, shoulders and arms, saying soothing things, or you can just let yourself be. Notice how your body naturally lets down after discharge. You may feel the impulse to turn on your side and curl up; follow that impulse, watching your body’s response. This time is about settling in and settling down.

* An important postscript about vocalizing and verbalizing while doing discharge work

It is okay to make sounds or shout out words: this is a way of discharging energy. Stomp your feet, shake your fists, stick out your jaw and narrow your eyes and say the words you want to say about this situation.

People often struggle to say out loud some of the things that they are saying in their minds. They judge themselves for the words that they say.  Vocalizing is a helpful way to discharge.  Use your discretion if there are other people in your house.

What should you say? Well, only you know what is in your mind, but if you want to discharge, here are some tips.

Short, declarative statements work better than long explanations. (“Stop it!”) (“Get out!”)

Stretching out the sound helps you to breathe more deeply. (“Stooooooop!”)

A long, drawn-out, loud “Nooooooooo!” will make you breathe more deeply.

 

Birdsong before breakfast

It is romance season, time to get your songs fired up, mark out your territory, make note of food sources, shift from seeds to insects for some.

This morning I stepped out on the front porch to breathe in the cold air, see the sunshine, and wonder about my day.  The street is very quiet.  The school across the street lies empty, of course, for the last ten days.  The snow from yesterday was still quiet and solid; it was pretty cold.

Then I heard it:  the insistent rapping, rapping, rapping of a woodpecker across the neighbourhood.  It was probably a block or more away, but it was clear and persistent.

Spring is here.  This is early spring here in our part of the Maritimes, whether there is a pandemic or not.  There is strong, penetrating sunshine, crisp and still shocking cold, icy pavements, and birds eking out a meal from the insects that are embedded in trees whose sap is starting to run.

focus photography of northern flicker
Photo by Tina Nord on Pexels.com

A little later, I took my coffee out to the back deck where the sun was strongest.  Not clever enough to wear my jacket, I knew I’d only be out a few minutes, but it was enough.  When I was able to still my mind, I could hear a mourning dove, probably two streets away.  Then a gull, closer.  Then I could tune in to some twittering in bushes near me.  There was a veritable spring symphony going on out there.

Birds are back in business.  It is romance season, time to get your songs fired up, mark out your territory, make note of food sources, shift from seeds to insects for some.  They don’t know or care about what agitates me.  They are intent, as always, on their own journeys, their own lives.  The intensity of their biological drives to survive and to help their species survive, one mating season at a time.

I know that spring isn’t an inevitable thing.  I know that our songbird stock is vastly small than a century ago.  I know that climate change or a volcanic eruption or an asteroid hit could make all of this go away.

But I am also warmed and comforted and encouraged by the continuity of the birds, and the procession of the seasons, and the feeling that life itself is our best resource in hard times.  Life has a way of asserting itself under all sorts of conditions.  When I tune into the assertive voices of Life Going On, I can remember that I am part of that, too, and so are you.

EDITED to add:  here is a lovely bit of Mozart with birdsong …and video

video

Silver maple buds in march
Silver maples in bloom. Costello 2020

 

Constructive Rest, or how to rationalize doing nothing for your own good and the good of humanity

Here is a radical suggestion.  Instead of DOING more, try doing less.

Try resting.

But not just any resting;  try constructive rest.  

If you are a high achiever, or someone who likes to Get Things Done, constructive rest might be just the ticket.  You get to rest and allow your body and nervous system to downshift, and you are doing something constructive!

Do you do too much?  Most of us do a lot;  we care for family members, work at a job, do mundane chores like laundry, shopping, yard work.  We may also take courses, do workouts, volunteer, have social relationships that require tending. We take online courses for self-improvement.  We belong to clubs;  we go to parent-teacher meetings.  We are busy, all the time.

Our society values doing.  Doing is highly regarded:  people cannot imagine “doing nothing” and letting that be okay.    Even vacations are highly organized events.  If they are focused on relaxation, we say things like “I needed a vacation.  I work really hard all year and this is when I take time off.”   It is almost like we need to have an excuse to rest or relax or enjoy.  Almost – dare I say it? – as if there is something wrong with wanting to have some free time.  There is more social value in being tired from work than in being tired from playing.

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Asian elderly stress tired and holding his nose suffer sinus pain fatigue from hard work.

We generally are pretty good at working too much, and pretty bad at taking time off.

However.

Because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, some of us are now required to take time off.  We are being forced to do less because our activities have been curtailed, we are socially distancing or self-isolating and many people are not permitted to go to work.  This can be a shock to our functioning if we are used to overworking, and we may find ourselves struggling to let go.

Beyond this enormous change in everyday life, there are many unknowns in our future.  Even some of the things that we do know are pretty scary, like the nature of the illness caused by the virus.   With all of this going on, it is likely that your body and mind might be overcharged or over-activated.

How can you tell?

Here are some ways to check in with yourself.

Notice if you are able to pay attention as you usually can.  Distraction sometimes occurs as our nervous systems ramp up.  Does it take you three tries to do something simple?

Notice your thoughts.  Are you thinking more than usual?  Are your thoughts louder than usual?  Are they oriented to fearful topics, or stress-inducing ones?  Do your thoughts feel like a rushing river, and you are rushing right along with it?

Check out your body tensions.  Are you feeling tightness in your chest, your throat, your jaw?  Is your lower back aching?

Any or all of these can be due to excess stress or to anxiety.  Sometimes we don’t feel anxious, but our bodies are charged up in an unusual way.  We may have trouble settling down, easing into relaxation or sleep, allowing our minds to quiet.   Those things can tell us that our nervous systems are on alert, even if we don’t actively feel dread or fear.

Here is a radical suggestion.  Instead of DOING more, try doing less.

Try resting.

But not just any resting;  try constructive rest.  

If you are a high achiever, or someone who likes to Get Things Done, constructive rest might be just the ticket.  You get to rest and allow your body and nervous system to downshift, and you are doing something constructive!  This practice has a lot of forbears, but I first learned of it in a  wonderful book called BodyStories,  by Andrea Olsen (https://www.amazon.ca/Bodystories-Experiential-Anatomy-Andrea-Olsen/dp/158465354X/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=bodystories&qid=1584984957&sr=8-1).

How to practice constructive rest?

Find a quiet space (I know, that might be the hardest part of this exercise).  You’ll want to be able to lie down on the floor, so find a carpeted space, or use a yoga or exercise mat or towel to soften a hard floor.

Lie down on your back.  You can let your legs stretch out long, perhaps with a rolled-up towel under your knees to help them relax.  Or you can rest the soles of your feet on the floor, allowing your knees to rock gently to the center and support each other.  Turn the palms of your hands up and allow your body to just lie on this firm surface.

(Don’t rest like this lion;  lie on your back.  I put him in here because he looked pretty relaxed. And cute, if a large carnivore can be cute.)

brown lion lying on ground
Photo by Jad El mourad on Pexels.com

Take this moment to notice where your body contacts the floor.  Where do you notice the contact?  It is likely at your hips, the back of your head, the soles of your feet, and parts of your back and arms.  What do you notice, as you wait here for a moment?

Now bring your awareness to the very fact of the floor beneath you.  Feel the support and firmness.  The floor is connected to the ground, and the ground is the earth.  The whole earth is there to support your body whenever you want it to.    Is there any part of your body you could let down a little more?  Let that happen.

Now notice your breath.  You don’t have to change anything, or breathe more deeply.  Just allow yourself to notice your breathing as you lie on the floor. Feel the breath enter your body.   Feel the breath leave your body.  Keep watching and noticing.   What is happening in your breath as your body lets down?

Keep resting and watching your experience.  If you can stay in constructive rest for five minutes, you’ll notice changes.  If you can stay longer, you’ll notice more change.

Notice what you can allow to let go.  Notice what parts want to keep holding on, even with your awareness and desire to let go.  Consider all of your parts kindly; giving kind attention and curiosity to yourself.  What will it be like if I can stay here a little longer?  How do I feel about making a move to get up?

When you are finished resting, notice your awareness that you are finished. What is it like to feel ready to move on?  Can you find the place or places in your body that are giving you that message?  Before you move on, take a moment to assess what you got from this exercise.

There can be something profoundly satisfying in doing nothing and calling it constructive.  Try it and let me know what you find out about yourself in the process.

Oh, and helping humanity?  Whenever you can exhale and relax, the people around you can also exhale and relax. Keeping a centered, peaceful self helps everyone.

woman in black overall lying down on wooden dock
Photo by Tomas Anunziata on Pexels.com

Do you know the place where body and mind connect?

Lowen’s Quote For Today
xmsba-logo.png.pagespeed.ic.jSphLBejkXA feeling is not just an idea or belief; it is more than a mental process since it involves the body. It consists of two elements, a bodily activity and a mental perception of that activity. Thus it can be regarded as the unifying force between mind and body, connecting the conscious mind to bodily activity.

Spirituality of the Body, Chapter 5, Paragraph 1

 

Thanks to Michael Samsel, who will email you a carefully selected Lowen quote a couple of times each week.  Visit him at https://reichandlowentherapy.org/Content/Newsletter/newsletter.html

The Being of Doing

Silver maple flowersThis morning I had a large load of laundry to hang up.  I found myself rushing to get it finished, hurrying to complete the task because I had another task to complete or maybe just because I wanted to get back to my cup of coffee.   The point was that I was going to spend twenty minutes hanging laundry and I could do it with my mind in the next task or in irritation or in feeling rushed, or I could hang laundry and practice being present to myself as I did it.  So I decided to take this task moment by moment, and try to see when I was derailing and when I might actually be in the present.  Hanging laundry doesn’t take a lot of attention and I can attach many memories and thoughts to it, so it was a bit of effort to stay present.  In fact, I was thinking I’d write a blog post about hanging laundry and that was yet another way I escaped the present moment!  Ahh, the monkey mind can be a clever fellow.

The most potent sensory moment was in snapping out my cotton flannel pajama pants and tossing them over the line, feeling the cold wetness on my hands and the dryness of my skin, smelling the damp cotton and the briefest sense of the enjoyment of the future of pulling on clean pajamas….maybe that was a memory and not a projection, but in any case, it was being present to my own inner experience as well as what was coming in from my senses.   I might have enjoyed more spending that twenty minutes sitting on my meditation cushion in silence, but I still would have needed to hang the laundry, and so I am choosing to see that as part of today’s practice.  How can I BE when I am still doing?   This is one way.

Be-ing is something that I can access all the time.   When I am deeply into thinking or remembering or reacting or otherwise unaware of myself, I can stop, notice my sensory experience, take stock of myself (“what do I notice in my body NOW?”) and connect once again to the ground of Be-ing.  I don’t need silence, my cushion, or even a quiet space, although they certainly can help.  But I am “being” all the time, even when I am not able to notice it.

How do you find yourself in the midst of a lot of doing?

Silver maple buds in march

My mind is full of thoughts…

Is your mind is full?  Do you feel flooded with racing thoughts, images, ideas, memories?  It can sometimes feel like there is no room for anything  else in there.  Feeling too full in the mind often goes with feeling charged up (not in a pleasant way) in the body, and there are usually unpleasant feelings attached.  If you have ever suddenly realized what you are thinking is making you feel bad, you are not alone.

The practice of mindfulness helps people to notice the contents and processes of the mind.  Sitting quietly and just being with yourself is a way to directly access the mind.  But I know people who find it overwhelming, especially if they think they are supposed to “quiet the mind.”    We all start in different places.   For people who feel “full up” in the mind, another strategy is called for.

struggling-writer

If there is no space in your mind, you can pay attention to what IS in your mind. To start, you can label your process as “thinking.”

“Thinking.”  Just noting that you are thinking may help you separate a bit from it.  If just adding the label isn’t enough, you can notice the categories.  What is the CONTENT of this “thinking?”   Lists?  Memories?  Fantasies?  Imagined conversations?   Redecorating the living room?    What are the contents that fill your inner space?   When you can start to notice the contents and categorize them, then you have created a bit of space to witness your own mental activities.

So if I notice that my mind is busy making lists (things to do, what to get at the grocery store, reminders of tasks) then I have stepped out of the content for a moment, at least long enough to see….oh, yes, I am  “thinking,”  specifically, I am making lists.

If I am busy reliving last night’s party, then I can note that – ah, yes, I am remembering.   If I can observe and label, then I am witnessing my own process.  I am not in the thought, but outside of it.

As a witness to my mind,  I can decide how I want to interact with those contents.  If I remember that somebody was unpleasant to me at the party, I can decide if I want to stay with that memory and maybe regenerate some unpleasant feelings.   By labeling the content as “memory”, I make distance from the thought, and then I am in charge of myself.  Otherwise, my mind may run away with me into a waterfall of unpleasant memories and emotional distress.

If that’s already happened, and I am overwhelmed with thoughts that feel upsetting, I can notice it.   I can become aware that there is a rush of thoughts and feelings cascading through my mind and body.  Perhaps I notice it is like a river in full flood, with logs and debris and crashing brown water barreling through my mind.  If I can notice that, I might be able to rise above this river and observe the flow, becoming a witness to this internal process of thoughts, feelings, and reactions. I am no longer in the river, but observing it.

When I have stepped back from the surging river, I have changed my relationship to it.   I am no longer in danger of drowning, although I can still feel and think everything I was feeling and thinking before.  I am out of danger.  Through paying attention to my process,  I can predict where I might get pulled in again, and remind myself to stay on the banks,    Staying out of the river isn’t about controlling thoughts or feelings;  it is about compassionately observing your process as you experience those thoughts and feelings, watching the river in full spate, and watching as it slows and clears and calms.  This is a way that space opens up in the mind.

Learning to make friends with your mind takes attention and compassion for yourself.  Like any kind of training, it takes practice.  When my mind is in charge of me, I am lost in my thinking processes.  When I am in charge,  I can observe what happens without getting lost in the process.   I can decide to watch my thoughts or to jump in the water with them.   Either way, there is an exquisite freedom to owning your own mind.

candle1

 

 

The Space Between

Michelle at The Green Study posted this today….I love the attention to the spaces between those things that grab our attention.  What can you notice in your day today?  Where do you experience spaces?  I am going to watch myself for space….

The Green Study

An interval of silence

when your arm no longer bows

music at rest

time to breathe

canstockphoto7479668An interval of rest

between reps and sweat

your muscle regroups

lives to fight another set

An interval of breath

dozy conscientiousness

before sleep carries you

into the shadows

An interval of quiet

before the kids wake up

and after the dog has been walked

coffee steam swirls up your nose

An interval of observation

standing in lines

watching the cashier

have a good or bad day

An interval of thought

Mouth closed mind open

walking about

in the shoes of someone else

An interval of grace

for that momentary glance

that says I’ve got your back

for the child still snoring on a school holiday

An interval of peace

a cup of a tea

the list that doesn’t need

to be started right now

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On living and dying

When I die, let me lie down in the forest

Let the wild animals gnaw on my bones

Let the tiny animalcules burrow into this flesh, putrefying and liquidizing

Until my cells become elements

And my flesh is earth and air

And life reconstructs those components into something newly alive.

 

Wheatgrass Grass Drop Of Water

When I die my body is dead, is no more

and my consciousness is also no more

released away as a product of living tissue to become a part of the ineffable

the universe first of thought, memories and feelings of others

And later just a turn of the head or shape of an eye in my children’s children’s children.

 

Blessed is my life

My living body, my living self

Blessed is me, the “I” that I experience as a blade of grass, full of myself,

full of belief in my own individuality importance specialness.

I am an expression of my Mother

This planet who birthed us all

Gave rise to our species and is even now modifying and allowing us to modify ourselves and her

a member of this tribe of grasses

mere tubule of intake and output which has somehow developed sentience

And thus believes, each of us, that we are enormously important in the vastness of the universe.

And maybe we are.

Ways to welcome a new year (or not)

In early December, the guy at the desk at my gym commented on how busy things will be early in January, and then laughed wryly and said, “Well, you can always just wait until February when things get back to normal.”  People embrace big changes at the beginning of the new year, as if that particular moment in time is especially potent for change-making.

I have participated in this ritual for many years, setting intentions and identifying things I want to move toward.   Today, though, I wonder about it a bit.  Change is a constant.  Change is always happening, and often we resist and regret change.  So why do we want to embrace personal change on January first?

I am thinking it is all (ALL) about control or at least the illusion of control.  If I decide what kind of change I want, and how I want to accomplish that change, then I am not at the mercy of the random-feeling sorts of changes that happen without my permission and without even notification.   This isn’t true, of course, but it is a way that we can comfort ourselves into feeling safe.  Yes, I can go to the gym every day and eat nothing but lettuce leaves, and that will keep me safe from really big painful changes.  Maybe it will just numb me to other changes, or keep me so preoccupied with trying to stay on track that I don’t have to acknowledge that somebody had died, that my job isn’t  satisfying, that my children are struggling and that I don’t know how to help them.

So that’s a theory for today.  But even cursory notice makes it clear that it is an illusion.  We actually live in a world where we have little control.  In the realm of our personal behaviour we do experience ourselves as being able to make choices and manage our responses, but that’s often because we don’t realize the degree to which we have been limited and programmed by our previous experiences or deeply entrenched beliefs.

 

 

The Perfect Mommy: the myth that binds

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There is a terrible mythology operating among sensible, educated, intelligent women, and the result of this mythology is a whole host of trouble:  increasing stress levels, anxious thinking, moodiness, roller-coastering emotions and self-esteem.  This is the myth of the perfect mother, who, with no apparent effort, has perfect children.  She is totally self-sacrificing, perpetually loving, has boundless energy to give to her children, and her life, because she has sacrificed everything, is perfect.  Her children lead charmed lives, as well, because she is a perfect mother. 

Do you believe this?   I know that in your intellectual mind, you understand that it is an impossibility, unachievable.  We all “know” that nobody is perfect.    But deep in your heart of hearts, do you believe that if only you are perfect you can protect your baby and child from harm?  That you can support her development to the degree that she can become something wonderful and special?  That if you breastfeed longer, play the right music, keep her away from screens, anticipate her every need, that you can protect her from anything that might befall her?

Many moms seem to have this belief underlying their everyday behaviour.  There is a terrible fear of being less than perfect and thus putting your baby at risk.  And maybe the worst part is this “perfect” is a moving target!  Today it is about co-sleeping.  Tomorrow it is about enforcing a schedule.   Avoid peanut butter.  No, no, offer it early, prevent allergies!  When you are in the middle of this, it is impossible to see the whole context…. which is that the “right” way to raise baby is going to be different next week….and in five years, you’ll look back and say, oh, I can’t believe we thought that was right….

rbby_92

A mom got really angry with me once for suggesting that she could maybe try to be a “good-enough” mom.  This concept is time-honoured, and I’ll get to the background in a minute.   The mom who got angry thought that she would be short-changing her children if she only was “good enough.”  She needed to be more than that, more than even what is possible, in order to justify her having these children in her life.  She couldn’t relax into the idea of being “good enough” because that would mean she didn’t actually deserve to have children.  What a painful, limiting way to think….and she wasn’t completely aware of it until it came out in therapy.  When those ideas get some light and air in therapy, then we have the ability to think about them, and decide if we want to believe them.   We develop the capacity for making choices in how we will mother.

So what about the “good-enough” idea?   Well, it got its start with Donald Winnicott, a very important psychiatrist from the U.K. in the last century.  He suggested that children have very particular needs in order to develop to their highest capacity. Most mothers supply these needs without a lot of outside intervention.  And once those needs are met, then adding more doesn’t do anything to support development.  It is actually energy spent that could be doing something else, like maybe taking care of yourself, or working at your career, or doing something you love.

How can you switch to being a good enough mommy when you have been programmed since forever to aim for perfection?  You have to reprogram your inner world and then restructure your outer world.

Inner world

  • Check your default thinking.   When you interact with your child and you hear self-critical thoughts come up in your mind, see if you can think “that was probably good enough.”   If that’s impossible, see if you can think “I wonder what good enough would be like?”
  • If you tend to catastrophic thinking (i.e. if I give my baby a bottle all these terrible outcomes could happen), do a reality check. Specifically, how likely are those outcomes?   If one happened, would you manage it?  Another approach to that worst-case thinking is to just notice that you are doing that kind of thinking again.  If it is a pattern for you, you might be able to notice that you are in your pattern.  Once you can see the pattern, you have some traction for fact-checking.  “Oh, this is my scary thought pattern.  I don’t have to believe these thoughts; this is just my pattern.”
  • Practice thinking about what is constitutes “good enough.” Do I have to read three books at bedtime or is one book enough?   Does the baby need to nurse five times a night at six months or is less going to be enough?  Don’t expect to know what enough is…. but at least when you are asking the question you can notice when you are giving too much.
  • Destress your life as much as possible, and focus on enjoying the time with your baby or children. More about that later.

Outer world.

  • Check your context. Are you inundated with other peoples’ views on perfect parenting?  Do you spend time on social media listening to women judge other peoples’ parenting?  Or do you spend time in social groups trying to improve your parenting?   See if the context supports your sense of being okay or if it contributes to a sense that you are not okay at this mothering thing.  It probably won’t be all or nothing:  there may be parts that feel good and supportive, and parts that feel judgy and uncomfortable.  See if you can extricate yourself from judgement.  That includes offering judgment as well as being the recipient.
  • Ask for what you want. In an effort to change the context to support you in being “good enough” instead of perfect, you can ask for support.  Ask for support for your parenting and tell them what that will look like.  For example, “Mom, I’d really like you to tell me that I am doing a great job, and that you know it is sometimes hard, and that you think I’m a good mom.”   You can’t control whether she will do it, but you will have made your preference very clear.
  • Destress your life as much as possible. Yes, you did just read that in the list above, but it is essential for both inner peace and an outer serenity.  More about this later.

 

Getting out from under the burden of perfectionism in motherhood is not easy, but it can be liberating.  You know what your child needs, and you know how you want your family life to be.  You and your spouse get to make those decisions for your family. It can just like the folks next door, or people on Pinterest, but it probably won’t be.  And just as perfect mothering cannot protect your child from real life, it cannot keep you from struggling with the complicated feelings that arise as our children grow, change, and face their lives.  Liberating yourself from the myth of the perfect mommy offers the possibility of deeply enjoying the process of raising children.

Photo credit: Thanks to Katie Huffman, of Looking at Life through Agreeable Hours for the lovely hands on mug picture.