The Negative Emotion-Guilt Complex: Mom Edition


Woah, I’ve been wanting/needing to write for a couple weeks now but between working two days a week & caring for an increasingly needy & grumpy baby there has simply been zero time for blogging.  I am desperately hoping I can get enough out in these few minutes while Rachel is sleeping to clear my mind & try to save my sanity.  Warning: this will definitely not be an eloquent post.  It will most likely just be word vomit.  But I’m not writing this for anyone else; I’m writing it to try to save myself from my own mind.

One thing I’ve learned very quickly about motherhood is that it makes your flaws become glaringly obvious- at least to yourself.  And I have long been aware that my greatest flaw is feeling guilty for any kind of “negative” emotion (e.g. frustration, sadness, jealousy, anger, etc).  I thought I had made a great deal of progress on this issue but being a mom has been made realize how much more work I have to do.  Furthermore, I swore up & down I wouldn’t let myself become a victim to “mom guilt” but damn if I am not just as vulnerable to it as everyone else!  mom guilt

The first six weeks of Rachel’s life were undoubtedly the most difficult to date.  But the past two to three weeks have also been extremely challenging, perhaps more so in some ways because I had gotten used to her being so happy most of the time.  Between teething & being in the middle of a huge developmental leap, Rachel has become extremely grouchy the past few weeks.  And because she naps so little these days I think that is making things even more difficult for her & thus for me as well.  Everyone tells me I’m so lucky that she has started sleeping through the night more often than not, but frankly things were much easier for me when she was waking up once or twice at night to eat but then napped more & was in a MUCH better mood during the day.  Besides, just because she is sleeping eight to ten hrs straight a lot of nights doesn’t mean I am.  I’m still getting up to pump, not to mention I’ve never been the kind of person who can sleep more than about five hrs straight anyway.  (Hell, even as a kid I remember waking up at least once or twice most nights.)  In any case I’d gladly sacrifice some sleep to have my happy baby back.  parents quote

Anyway, the point of all this is that I am really struggling right now.  For the first time in my life I am actually jealous of moms who work full time because they aren’t stuck at home with a screaming infant more than two or three days a week (not all day anyway).  And for the first time since giving birth I am truly missing my pre-mom life.  By no means do I regret becoming a mom of course, but at the same time I do miss the freedom I had to go out & do whatever I wanted whenever I wanted (within reason of course).  I knew I was going to lose that when I became a mom but honestly I didn’t start missing that freedom until these past few weeks when Rachel has become so grumpy that even going to the grocery store has become a serious challenge.  Not to mention I miss my alone time when no one needed anything from me.  It’s so hard being needed ALL the time . . . empty cup

Here’s the thing: Rachel has in many ways been a pretty “easy” baby.  Once she got over the ridiculous cluster feeding she did for much of the first six weeks, she has been, all things considered, a pretty happy, “simple” baby.  And compared to some babies, maybe she still is.  But see, half my problem is that I’m constantly feeling guilty for being frustrated because I know that “so many women have it worse.”  In case it isn’t obvious, this leads to a serious boatload of guilt because I’m constantly feeling guilty for “complaining” or feeling overwhelmed when I know that others are facing “bigger” struggles.negative-emotion-motivates-change-dan-rockwell

But the truth of the matter is there are no easy babies!  As a dear & wise friend said to me today “Someone basically handed you a tiny stranger & said ‘Here you go; she can’t communicate either but good luck figuring out everything she needs while you have no time for yourself & are coming to the end of your rapidly fraying rope.'”  Amen!  Furthermore, constantly telling myself I should be grateful because others “have it worse” is incredibly unhealthy.  I thought I’d matured enough to realize that there are no negative emotions:  there are just emotions & then there’s what we do with them, the latter being what really matters.  But apparently I am still struggling with this as much as ever.  The truth is, especially as new moms, we can & do experience a multitude of emotions all at once.  And it’s ok to feel overwhelmed, frustrated, angry, & jealous while also being grateful & in love with the tiny human you’ve created.  In fact it’s not just ok, it’s NORMAL.pema chodron quote 2

It also occurred to me today that I’m doing something that almost no one in my family has ever done.  I’m living in an urban area & one that is several hours away from my family as well as my husband’s family- & trying to raise a baby to boot!  To be clear, I’m not saying I’m better than my family because of this, not at all.  I’m just saying raising a baby is never easy but it’s probably even harder when you don’t have anyone who is “obligated” to help you who is close by & can babysit for you or just help out on a regular basis, even just for 20 minutes so you can clear your mind.  That being said, I am very glad to live where we do & to raise Rachel in a different environment than that in which we were raised, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t come with its own unique challenges.  guilt

It has also occurred to me lately that my husband & I haven’t had any true alone time together (as in away from the baby) since Rachel was born other than a quick trip to Target when she was a few days old & my parents were in town.  And that hardly counts!  Not to mention the amount of true alone time I have had is incredibly small.  And as an introvert alone time is not just precious to me, it’s crucial.  So no wonder I’m feeling a bit frazzled!pinterest mom

One of my friends in college told me several times that I’d make a great Jewish mother because I always had so much guilt, most of which was completely baseless.  Unfortunately he was right, & unfortunately I haven’t made as much progress on this issue as I thought I had.  However, my hope is that writing all of this will help me to remember that whatever I’m feeling right now is valid.  Just because my situation is “easier” than some others doesn’t mean it’s easy.  And it’s ok for me to be frustrated & tired & even angry sometimes.  In reality I’ll be a much better mom if I can just be honest about how I’m feeling & stop feeling guilty about it.  Because as long as I’m constantly stuck in a quagmire of guilt, I’m not actually processing my emotions– & that’s a recipe for disaster.  And I’ll be damned if my daughter grows up to feel guilty for every so-called “negative” emotion she experiences!  So that means I need to stop this guilt train right now & just admit that this stage is hard but that doesn’t make me a bad mom or a bad person.  It just makes me a human being. kidney stone

Anyway, I’ve written all that to say this: I’m in over my head.  But I’m doing the best I can & I know this phase Rachel is going through right now is exactly that: it’s a phase which means, by definition, it will pass.  I’m reminded of the phrase “It may pass painfully like a kidney stone but it will pass.”

The Hardest Person to Forgive


Today’s blog post explores an idea that is certainly not original by any stretch of the imagination but it’s something I believe is very much worth exploring nonetheless.  Regardless of what, if any, religious affiliation you associate with (or associated with in the past), we hear a lot of talk about the importance of forgiving others & not holding grudges or allowing ourselves to become bitter toward those who have hurt us.  These ideas are of course very important because we cannot have peace in our own minds when we are not at peace with others, at least as much as is possible.  As hard as it can be to forgive others, when given some thought I believe most people would agree that oftentimes the hardest person in life to forgive is yourself.  Today I would like to explore why that might be and why it’s so important to learn to forgive ourselves no matter how difficult it can be at times.

forgiveness

If you have ever taken any kind of basic psychology course you probably discussed the well-recognized phenomenon in which victims of child, physical, or other types of abuse very often blame themselves for the abuse which they have suffered.  At first glance this may seem extraordinary & impossible to believe.  But delve a little deeper & one can reason that perhaps it is easier to believe that you made a mistake or somehow provoked the abuser to hurt you than to believe that someone, particularly a family member, romantic partner, or friend (indeed someone who should have been protecting you, not hurting you) actually CHOSE to hurt you & is thus truly a very screwed up individual.  Rape victims often are also perfect examples of this phenomenon.  Indeed society does a great deal of blaming the victim as well because frankly it is easier to believe that a woman (or man) provoked such a horrible thing to happen than to believe that there are such evil, disgusting people in this world.  This of course only serves to perpetuate the cycle of victims blaming themselves & being unable to forgive themselves for something which in reality is not even their fault.

However, we certainly don’t have to be abuse or rape victims (actually, I don’t like that term; let’s say survivors) to struggle with self-forgiveness.  How many times a day do most of us berate ourselves for not eating healthily enough, weighing too much, not saving enough money, or countless other things?  I’m not saying these aren’t worthy goals, they surely are, but sometimes I think in our haste to berate ourselves for our poor decisions we actually hinder our own progress.  Sometimes in our quest for perfection we miss the beauty of life that is right before our very eyes.  Indeed, we focus so much on our mistakes that we have no energy left over for actual self-improvement.

One of the greatest lessons I think we all have to learn in life is that there are going to be days when we just don’t like ourselves because we simply aren’t as “perfect” we want to be.  For example, as a nurse I know I have had to come to terms with the fact that I am not going to feel 100% compassion for every patient every time.  Naturally I want to, but sometimes it just doesn’t happen because I am just as human as everyone else.  And I have had to learn to forgive myself for this & to know that as long as it doesn’t prevent me from providing excellent care it’s ok.  Learning to forgive myself for not being the perfect “angel of compassion” at all times actually helps me to more quickly recognize my own prejudices & then set them aside & provide the best care possible at all times.  For example, when I have a particularly trying patient who is rude & dissatisfied with her care no matter how many times I bend over backwards to try to meet her needs, I have to remind myself that it’s ok to be annoyed with her.  It’s ok to mentally roll my eyes at these things.  I just have to possess the self-control to not allow these feelings to come across to the patient & to not allow those feelings to so overwhelm me that I become bitter & angry toward that patient or anyone else.  I have to see beyond the annoying behaviors to the hurting person inside.  Having come to these realizations has actually helped me to have greater satisfaction in my nursing career &, though I have no scientific way of validating it, I truly believe it has made me overall a more effective nurse.

I believe this idea is also very important for parents.  Though I am not a parent yet I hope to be one someday, & I know when that day comes there will be times when I look at my children & wonder “What the hell was I thinking?!”  And I will have to learn to forgive myself for those thoughts, to remember that every parent feels that way at times.  AND IT’S OK.  Similarly, in marriage or any serious relationship there are times when you look at your partner & wonder what you are doing with this person.  AND THAT’S OK TOO.  Being frustrated or upset with your partner or your child doesn’t make you a bad person.  It just makes you a PERSON.  The important thing is to be able to recognize these thoughts when they occur, handle them as objectively as possible (by that I mean not beating yourself up over them, just recognizing them for what they are: a sign of your own beautiful humanity), & moving on in the knowledge that as long as these thoughts don’t become the overall theme of your life, they’re not a big deal.

Another situation in which I believe we struggle with self-forgiveness is with regret.  I feel fortunate to say I truly do not have a lot of regrets in my life, but I do struggle with forgiving myself for those few I do have.  However, what I am slowly learning is that self-forgiveness is an absolutely vital step in preventing myself from repeating the same old mistakes.

I guess my point with this post is that I truly believe that we cannot move forward in life without self-forgiveness.  As long as we wallow in guilt & self-hate we are stuck in a self-perpetuating negative cycle.  Life would be a lot easier if we could just magically forgive ourselves (& others), but that’s just not the way life works.  As with almost everything in life, self-forgiveness is a process.  It’s an everyday event that requires conscious awareness & effort.  I hope that as you’re reading this you don’t think I’m making excuses for bad behavior or encouraging you to not feel guilty for things that you know in your heart are wrong.  Of course not.  What I am saying is that we cannot truly improve ourselves without self-forgiveness.  We hear so much in society about the importance of showing compassion to others & there’s no doubt that this is indeed most vital.  But just as vital is showing compassion to yourself.  There’s a fine line for sure between being compassionate toward yourself & making excuses for yourself.  But the line is there & it’s our job as human beings to stay on the former side of it.

To be perfectly honest this post feels quite like word vomit to me at this point.  There’s so much I want to say & the words just aren’t coming to me tonight.  Though I have fumbled through the words, I hope the passion I feel for this matter has somehow come through & that at least one person who reads this will be encouraged to begin the process of self-forgiveness & moving toward a brighter tomorrow.

I’d love to hear what you think on this matter.  Am I speaking to the wind or does any of this make sense?

The Negative Emotion-Guilt Complex


anxiety

Last week I had my monthly session with my therapist & I told her how that week I’d had my first real anxiety attack in at least a month or more.  It happened on Monday afternoon of last week when I was just feeling overwhelmed with my busy schedule, working overtime, lack of sleep, etc.  Thankfully with some encouragement from a dear friend of mine, diffusing & applying several essential oils, & some deep-breathing exercises I was able to quickly move past the anxiety attack & get on with my busy day.  It felt like such a big step for me to be able to tell my therapist that not only was that my first real anxiety attack in a long time but, perhaps more importantly, I didn’t allow the attack to ruin my entire day or week.  Instead of feeling defeated & discouraged & beating myself up over having a “bad day” I just rejoiced in the fact that I was able to recover so quickly & move on with my life.  You have to understand that ordinarily when I have high anxiety days or anxiety attacks for whatever reason (often there really is no reason) I not only have to cope with the anxiety itself but also with guilt over suffering from anxiety problems.  This guilt of course only serves to compound the problem.

I grew up with the idea that certain emotions in & of themselves are sinful.  I’m not sure exactly where I got this idea but it was just there.  Add that to the perfectionistic, high-anxiety personality I was somehow born with & you’ve got a pretty difficult situation.  For the first 18 or so years of my life, whether I wanted to or not, I believed that “negative” emotions such as anger, fear, hate, frustration, sadness, etc were sins.  Naturally this created a horrible cycle in which I felt guilty for experiencing these types of emotions & then the guilt just triggered more sadness, anger, whatever & the cycle continued.  What a mess!

The older I’ve gotten the more clear it’s become to me that no emotions are ever sins in & of themselves.  Feelings are feelings, nothing more, nothing less.  They are what make us ALIVE.  They are what make us human beings.  For example, it is only human nature to be angry at times, even to the point of wanting to hurt someone or something.  It is what we DO with our emotions that matters.  For example, when we strike out in anger at someone, whether verbally or physically, that is when we cross into sinful territory.  Allowing so-called negative emotions to overcome us to the point of being permanently bitter is also perhaps sinful.  But again it is not the feelings themselves that are the problem; it is the actions that spring out of them.  And I for one believe that, though fallible, we as humans have the power to control our emotions.  We might not be able to stop ourselves from feeling angry or frustrated over certain things.  Nor should that even be the goal.  But we DO have the power to stop those emotions from ruling us & causing us to act out in ways that hurt ourselves or other people.  To me that is the definition of sin (I hate that word but can’t think of anything better at the moment): something that hurts yourself or someone else.  I know that is kind of vague but the world is vague.  We only try to paint life in black & white because of how confusing it can be, to try to make sense of a world that is often unfair & cold.  But we do ourselves a disservice by trying to understand a very grey world in only two very extreme colors.  There is so much more to life than that.

I still struggle with anxiety.  But it’s not something that defines me anymore.  And I still struggle with not feeling guilty over having anxiety or experiencing other “negative” emotions.  But the greatest freedom I’ve found in life is when I let go of the guilt & just allow myself to feel whatever it is I’m feeling at that moment.  I have found that these so-called negative emotions leave a lot faster when I just admit what I’m feeling instead of trying to force myself to feel some other way out of guilt.  I don’t know if anyone else struggles with this or if it’s just me.  But I don’t think I’m that unique so I’m sure there are others out there fighting this battle too.  And I hope that if you’re one of those people & you’re reading this that you will be encouraged to move past the guilt & to learn to just enjoy being alive.  We all have our inner battles & we all have bad days because of them.  But as long as we don’t allow those days to define us we are winning. 

P.S. Whether you struggle with any particular mental illness or not, I strongly encourage everyone to consider seeing a counselor or therapist at least once in your life.  As a friend of mine once told me, we can all benefit from having someone to vent to who isn’t emotionally attached to us because no matter how “perfect” our lives may be, we all have issues we could benefit from discussing with an impartial mind.