Why Getting a B- in Life Is the Perfect Grade
I had an uncomfortable moment by myself last week. It was a work day and after a hairy few days of caring for a loved one undergoing heart surgery I learned their fever was dangerously spiking as I was walking out the door for work. I felt my own heart start pumping and blood rush to my neck and face as I tried to quickly assess how and where I was needed most. After a few minutes I opted for work believing they knew how to call for help if they needed.
My anxiety went through the roof all the way to the office. And, I felt agitated (read below to find out why). I was really really needed at the exact same time in two different places. And, I couldn’t do both. I had to let go of being in control. I had to just let go of the belief that I was Superwoman.
This scenario is so common for us women. We laugh half-heartedly together at our masterful multi-tasking capacity, yet take our roles seriously and with endeavor and commitment. We leave little room for error or mediocrity and judge others who cannot meet our pre-determined impossible standard. It’s perpetual, ego-inflating and often exhausting.
Here are some common roles us women commit to. How many of these roles do you have and are you getting an A++ in each of them daily?
- Career person
- Family Mediator
- Social Organizer
- Accountant/Financial Analyst
- Dog Walker
- House Manager
- School/Church Volunteer
- Family Glue
In my work as a therapist for women and in my own personal observation here are some conflicts I see arise when we over-commit to too many roles at the same time.
Contentment versus Guilt: I felt guilty on that car ride to the office. I’m not sure why. The situation was out of my control, yet the idea that I could control the uncontrollable produced unnecessary guilt. I want to continually let go of responsibility that is not ultimately mine.
Acceptance versus Perfection: Did you know that Winnicott, a famous psychoanalyst created a term called “the good enough mother”? He believed that a mother’s genuine intention to attune and care for her baby was “enough” and gave ample way for the mother to make mistakes and the baby to healthfully adapt to her errors. What makes it difficult for us women to own this belief in the different roles in our life? What holes in our sense of self does perfection superficially fill?
Peace versus Anxiety: My heart hurts when my practice gets filled with needs around anxiety and fear. What I see is an uncomfortable and even unbearable symptom that got produced by the belief that what we do and who we are is never good enough. This feeling is rampant for us women when we fail to address the inaccurate belief that we are unlovable and not worth it. When we hone into our truth that we are excellent in our roles and can still screw up (often), true peace ensues.
Asking for help versus Nagging: We know what the difference is between these two (at least we know what they sound like), but what’s the difference within ourselves? I believe asking for help means we are willing to let go of control. It means we are worth the help, especially at home as a wife and mom. It means we want our loved ones to know our value. Nagging erupts when we haven’t been able to communicate our needs, and then that need simmers beneath our pores until a small eruption occurs. It misrepresents our value in the home and at work and leaves everyone dissatisfied.
Pleasant versus well, Unpleasant (a nicer word than what comes to mind): Peter Levine, an expert in trauma writes in his book, In an Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness, that agitation, anger and even rage can overtake our physiological regulation during or immediately after an incident of being out of control. I don’t know about you, but I definitely feel, well, nicer when I relinquish some of my roles or opt for that B minus. My body feels lighter, my breath is easy and my blood is cool. I can literally feel all those physiological improvements and I think people like me more. I am not necessarily out of control; I just have less of it. It’s freeing.
By the way, since I’m on a roll I want to confess that I’m averaging about a C+ in my role as “blogger” this month. I’ve felt mild anxiety and moderate guilt about the whole thing for a while now, and feel convicted to replace those feelings with peace and contentment.