What phrases run through your head daily? Are they positive or negative? Do you have a cheerleader living in there or a bully?
Can you reframe your mistakes as a valuable learning experience or do you beat yourself up when you go wrong? How often do you tell yourself ‘Wow, what a great mum I am”? And how often is it “Why am I such a crap mum?”
However much I try to notice the little things I do right – the healthy meal, the great creative play, even just getting up in the morning – I still linger too long on the things I do wrong. Tired and impatient, I tell myself I’m a bad mum, a rubbish friend, an inadequate person.
But in my 39th year, I’m so much kinder to myself than I used to be. I put that shift down to three key experiences in my life.
When I was in my early 20s, I had a couple of sessions of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). The therapist told me to listen to my own thoughts whenever I felt panicky and write down what my internal voice said. It was fascinating (and horrifying) to identify how quickly a small negative thought spiralled into something much darker.
“Oh how stupid of me to have forgotten to post that letter” “I always forget to do important things” “I’m never going to be able to remember anything” “I’m useless” “I am so useless that no one will ever want to employ me/be my friend/love me…” And there you have it, from forgetting to post a letter to being hideously unloveable in less than a minute.
About six years ago, I did a fantastic workshop for women called “Look At Me Now, Here I Am”. The workshop encouraged us to speak those internal voices out loud.
So out loud, I said things to myself that I would never in a million years say to a friend – cruel, nasty, belittling things. The voice that had previously only inhabited my head came to life and she sounded like a mean-spirited bullying boss. As I heard her words, I pictured her squashing employees and exploiting precious resources – and I realised that the company she ran was me. (I’m working on a screenplay set in that company, but that’s a story for another day…)
As I visualised this sneering Company Director in absurdly high shoes and a scratchy unflattering suit, she started to look as ridiculous as she sounded. I even began to feel a bit sorry for her. While the CBT had made me aware of my negative internal voice, it was only now that I started to laugh at that voice. And it never had quite the same power after that.
Four years ago, I was pregnant and terrified about getting through labour. Some people, including my lovely pregnancy yoga teacher suggested working on some affirmations – positive phrases I could repeat to myself to increase my confidence.
In the final months of pregnancy, I would swim up and down the local pool, relishing my weightlessness, staring at the brush that had somehow got stuck in the skylight above the pool, and repeating to myself “I am a powerful woman, I can breathe through any pain, I have all the energy I need”. I don’t remember repeating those words during labour, but I did get through a 28 hour labour with just a TENS machine…
I did exactly the same thing with my second labour and again, it really helped. Only this time the fears I confronted with my affirmations were how on earth I would cope with two children, the labour seemed like the easy bit.
So now, whenever I get a chance to swim, I choose backstroke and glide through the water. Without thinking, positive words fill my head. I repeat to myself “I am a powerful creative woman. I am a good mother and a loving wife. I am a writer”.
I know it sounds a bit hippy - how can repeating a positive phrase really make a difference? Yet it does. If telling yourself over and over again that you're a crap mum makes you believe it, countering that by saying actually, no, you're doing a fantastic job, has got to have a similar impact.
For me, most days, the cheerleader in my head is finally dancing on the bully.
Any mums out there can work on the voices ‘in here’. This month’s activity Fill your Fridge Magnet encourages us to be our own cheerleaders. We're taking a small step by making an inspiring, funny or downright silly fridge magnet to look at every day, and sharing that with other mums on storyofmum. Please join us.
If you liked this post, you might also like From Guilt and Failure to Supermum, another activity that boosted my in-house cheerleading team.