With my three sons now ages 35, 38 and 42, you might think I’m far away from your experience with young children… but quite the contrary. I remember those years very well. I was raising three rambunctious boys, had a full private practice of psychotherapy clients. I was a wife, a sister, a friend and had aging parents in a town 3 hours away.
As I look back on those years, what stands out more than anything was the question I would repeatedly ask myself, “OMG…How do I please everyone? I’m just one person and they are many!” You see, I took my roles very seriously and I hated disappointing anyone. I was, I have to admit, a “people pleaser.” Clearly, that line of thinking wasn’t sustainable. I had to learn some other new ways to approach my responsibilities. Otherwise, I just wasn’t going to survive.
My first answer came at a yoga class. For those of you who are familiar with the pose shavasana (or the corpse pose)– you may have experienced that deep sense of relaxation. It was the first time in my life I ever felt that level of release. My mind was still, my body was relaxed, and it was absolutely addictive.
At the same time, I was working at a hospital on an eating disorders unit. In 1983, treatment for anorexia and bulimia was in its infancy stages. No one really knew how to treat these young women. One thing I knew for sure was that they were riddled with anxiety. Their thinking was distorted and their bodies were tightly wound. They were, in fact, my best teachers.
I became obsessed with finding the answers as to how help them recover. I was on both a professional and personal mission. “How do I help someone (and myself) change at a fundamental level, so that they (and me) actually experience themselves (myself) differently?” That was the question that led me from workshop to workshop and mentor to mentor. I learned early on that my traditional training as a psychotherapist wasn’t enough. It was based on “talk” therapy and I intuitively knew I needed to get into the body – which no one was talking about in those days except energy workers and mystics.
Out here in California, that was much more the norm. But where I was on the East Coast, I had to be more secretive about my quest. Now, many years later, we have access to brain scans. We can see neuronal activity on brain scans that were previously attributed to psychic phenomenon. Neuroscience, neuroplasticity, meditation and mindfulness are becoming part of the everyday vernacular. And we can now apply this knowledge to our daily lives.
So let’s revisit my desire to please everyone and see how that relates to this discussion, my current work and to you, mothers of young children. I have a program I created called Mastery Under Pressure, which is designed to teach people how to manage stress utilizing both mind and body techniques in a specific way. We experience stress, or pressure, when we perceive that we have no control over a situation. Our behavior and our thoughts are also ruled by our belief systems – or our “shoulds.” So if my belief was that everyone “should” be pleased with me, and I can’t control what you think of me, I’m going to feel out of control and therefore, stressed.
My mother wanted me in Philadelphia (I lived in Washington, DC), my children wanted me home, my clients wanted to see me in the evenings (I hated working at night) and my ex-husband,…well, we won’t go there.
I remember vividly when my middle son was 5 and I was back in graduate school. I would, of course, read him a bedtime story every night. But after I finished reading him one story, he wanted another…and another. And I would begrudgingly read him another…and another…until I was ready to burst inside. I didn’t realize it at the time, but through some of the personal growth work I was doing, I came to see that I was feeling guilty that I didn’t spend the kind of time with him that I did with my first born. I was in school and he was with a babysitter a good part of the day. By the evening, I felt like I had cheated him of spending time with me. Going back to my belief system, I thought “A good mother should be available to her children.” And clearly, based on the time I was spending with him, I felt like a bad mother. But there was another part of me that felt “A fulfilled woman should have a career that she loves.”
Again, there was a conflict that needed to be reconciled. As long as I continued to let my 5-year old son dictate what he thought I should be doing and where I should be, I was in trouble. I had to decide, what was a good mother, a good daughter, a good therapist, a good sister, a good friend and a good wife. Once I put myself in the center of my own universe, I no longer felt like I was on a rack being pulled in ten different directions. I was in charge of me, and that felt really good.
My stress level went down because both my behavior and my thoughts (my “shoulds”) were aligned. This allowed my body to relax. I was able to tolerate people being unhappy with me. And although my son was disappointed in me for not reading him five stories a night, I knew I was a good mother. My whole being was aligned with both being a parent and carving out a life for myself.
In addition to looking at belief systems, Mastery Under Pressure teaches you how to focus, relax, meditate, visualize, change negative self-talk into productive thinking and deal with fear.
There’s a lot to learn and not possible to share it all with you in this brief article. But if you are looking to become a better manager of your stress and your busy life, you can start with the topic of Mindfulness.
Mindfulness is a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations.
So before you can change anything, you have to first become aware (or mindful) of where you are, what you are doing, what you are thinking…all without judging yourself as good or bad, including your feelings.
I’m recommending that you sit quietly for 5-10 minutes every day and just notice your thoughts, your feelings and your bodily sensations. Just notice without changing anything. If thoughts arise and distract you, just watch them go by as if they were a passing cloud. Then bring your attention back to your breath and start over again.
And when you’re finished, just jot down what you observed.
Hopefully, we’ll get a chance to meet and have time to discuss your experience. Mindfulness meditation is the beginning of becoming mindful of the many things that go on in your subconscious mind, which is just underneath the conscious mind. And communicating with your subconscious is the gateway to becoming a master under pressure.
- Posted by Tina Greenbaum
- On 20th September 2016
- 0 Comment