“What judgments about you get in your way of seeing yourself as you truly are?”

While it may sound strange, I’m learning that denying my negative judgments about myself makes me a worse mom. Let me explain.

Mask image by anoldent

Mask image by anoldent

I’m loathe to think of myself as selfish. Being labeled as self-centered or self-absorbed is something I’ve vehemently denied most of my life.  I’ve created a persona of selfless caregiver – a mask I wear to appear solely other-focused, generous, helpful, caring, and attentive only to other’s needs. What’s true, however, is that I AM selfish, self-centered, and self-absorbed, underneath this mask and by denying this truth I do several things:

  • I lie to myself and further separate myself from my wholeness
  • I mislead others and present a false self-image
  • I make it easy for my daughter to think that I don’t have needs and that mamas don’t need to care for themselves too
  • I increase the likelihood that I’ll overcompensate for my denial by going berserk at some point when my needs finally must be addressed

I only came to this realization as I began working with my new coach, Eliane, and reading Debbie Ford’s The Dark Side of the Light Chasers. I’ve done lots of personal development, yet the idea of embracing the parts of me that I’ve spent decades trying to exorcise is new. Ford writes about how our shadow — the “dark” side that we learned to hide, deny, hate, or fear as we were acculturated — holds a key to our freedom. By incorporating our shadow, we regain our wholeness and we have access to the gifts that our shadow holds.

Gifts of our shadow

Rather than merely admitting that I am selfish, for instance, Ford invites me to claim the gifts that selfishness offers and see how I can actually come to love this quality that I’ve long-learned to abhor. While on a trail run I considered what might be good about being selfish. Some of my thoughts included:

  • I would likely be less distracted by others’ visions for my life and thus could more closely follow my unique life path.
  • I would be more in tune with my physical self and know when something felt wrong, harmful, or otherwise amiss.
  • I would be of service to others with more genuine desire than with an air of obligation.
  • I would have “yes”es of greater enthusiasm and “no”s of greater conviction, giving myself and others more clarity.
  • I would feel less resentment toward others since I would no longer see them as taking advantage of me.

At the end of my run I noticed I actually felt comfortable with the idea of being selfish. I didn’t see it as something I “had” to be, but instead saw that it wasn’t actually this “bad” quality that I had to avoid at all costs. I could see that I had a choice in each moment — focus on self or focus on others — and I felt liberated.

“Freedom is being able to choose whoever and whatever you want to be at any moment in your life.”

~ Debbie Ford

My shadow and parenting

So now back to the idea of how embracing my shadow (at least the selfish quality) is helping me parent the way I truly desire. When I was judging that being selfish was not okay, it created a demand inside me to be selfless all the time. There was no other acceptable way to be — even if I was sick or otherwise had a “legitimate” excuse. So I tried, with all my might and willpower, to put others first and focus my energy on caring for their needs. While this might sound like the ideal for motherhood, it created an imbalance that ultimately would seek correction — which, in my case meant an eventual over-reaction. During these times I frequently behaved in ways that truly hurt my heart and impaired the deep connection that I have with my daughter.

What I’ve found since embracing my selfish shadow is that it’s helped me stay more connected and more real with my girl. I more honestly speak my truth and own my emotions in the moment — “good” or “bad.” By being more in tune with me, I notice when I’m starting to feel irritated or tired, and I’m honoring my need to take greater care of myself — if even just for 5 minutes. This awareness, and the permission I’ve given myself to raise the priority of my wants and needs on the “to do” list, has resulted in greater patience with my daughter, increased empathy for her, more honest and respectful communication between us, and a higher incidence of us both getting through the stressful moments with more grace and partnership.

So, though your path and mine may be different, I wonder if your parenting could benefit from a little shadow work of your own?