Years ago I did a fairly lengthy course of CBT.
The whys and wherefores are not important to this post but what is significant is that during one of the sessions we looked at what I held at the time as my core beliefs. These are not to be mistaken with core values – principles that you hold dear and that guide you positively through life. Core beliefs are central beliefs that people hold about themselves, others or the world around them. They are usually negative in nature and if left unrecognised or unchallenged can be deeply restrictive and even toxic to the person’s wellbeing and enjoyment of life.
One of my core beliefs was that I was a failure. I think this is a fairly common belief for this type of session. What quickly became apparent was that I couldn’t be persuaded to let go of this one, or the others that I had signed up to, very easily at all.
However much evidence anyone gave me to the contrary I would argue against it. All those years ago I had recently been promoted and when the therapist pointed this out I assured her that I was sure my boss would soon find out that a mistake had been made. Today Amy Cuddy has coined the phrase ‘imposter syndrome’ and encourages us all to ‘fake it ’til we make it’ in her inspiring TED Talk. I guess that feeling of being an imposter was what I was feeling then and is what I will always be susceptible to if I’m not careful.
That session was revelatory and little by little I began to challenge my core beliefs and they have lessened their hold over me over time. Thankfully I rarely have such fiercely negative self-talk anymore.
Though I didn’t know it at the time a few years later mindfulness would begin to help me to keep a check on these poisonous core beliefs too. Mindfulness helps me to recognise when that old adversary – the voice inside my head with ‘I’m a failure’ on repeat – is back. I can then make choices about what I would like to do about it.
Lately I have noticed an increase in volume of this old dominant core belief and I’ve observed that it’s often when I’m thinking about parenting. The summer holidays shine a spotlight on my mummy skills (or lack of them). I am no domestic goddess, I can’t do crafts to save my life, our household rarely has an undisturbed night’s sleep (that’s my fault for not ‘teaching’ my children how to sleep right?), our children are the ones who don’t sit still at a table in a restaurant (when out with me – I think they are impeccably behaved with our lovely nanny who we have for three days a week in term time), and there seems to be a lot of tears and tantrums. I know that ‘thoughts are not necessarily facts‘ but it is sometimes a hard mantra to hold on to when you are feeling tired and run-ragged.
In all honesty I can, if I’m not careful, feel like I’m a bit of a failure when it comes to parenting. I also realise that my part-time job as a teacher is good for my self-esteem. So although it’s lovely not to be at work for six weeks and it’s great to spend so much time with the children, my self-esteem does take a bit of a hit.
It’s a relief to acknowledge this and just to ‘be’ with these feelings.
And anyway as I wrote here there is a lot more to motherhood than a tidy house and impeccably behaved children. Among the hullabaloo and the mess in our home there are plenty of hugs, kisses, smiles and laughter.
I suppose I mustn’t feel too much of a failure then, and in reality, with the help of the mindfulness techniques I have developed over the years, these feelings are fleeting and much less powerful then they once were.