The young mother of three had been coming to see me for counseling for several months when one morning she presented with eyes red from crying Her face was pulled so tight that her chin was trembling and her normal makeup was missing. I dispensed with my regular light conversation and decided to go right to the matter. “What’s wrong?”
That light pinprick of a question punctured her emotion-filled balloon, and she burst into crying, “I’m the worst mother in the world!” Reaching for the box of kleenex beside her, she grabbed several and held them to her face while her heart poured out its tears.
I remained quiet and attentive till the tsunami passed and her breathing returned to normal, then I asked, “What makes you say you are the worst mother in the world?”
She explained, “This morning was awful. I knew I had this early-morning appointment and didn’t want to be late, but the kids were whiney and draggy and didn’t want to get out of bed. One of them spilled their breakfast juice onto the floor. I couldn’t find the littlest one’s shoes, and the oldest one was crying because they couldn’t find their homework. Finally, I just screamed at all of them.” A second, smaller wave of crying ensued.
When I knew she could hear me, I said, “So that makes you the worst mother in the world?”
She quickly retorted, “Nobody should scream at their children.”
“That may be so, but you said you were ‘the worst mother in the world,’ and I don’t know about you but I’ve heard lots of stories about parents doing bad things to their kids and the things that I’m thinking about sound a lot worse that what you did. So, you need to help me understand why you believe you are the worst mother in the world, because I have a hard time believing it is true.”
By this time, her emotions had calmed, and she was looking more closely at me and could see that I was playfully teasing her. “Well, that’s how I feel,” she explained.
Leaning forward, I point my finger at her. “And that is the absolute truth.”
That young mother was guilty of the thing that many of us are guilty of, a cruel twist that our mind plays on us. We take a feeling, turn it into a thought, and then make it part of our belief system. Self-statements like: I’m the stupidest person, the ugliest person, the worst supervisor, to statements like: nobody likes me, everybody hates me, all began with a feeling not with a thought.
HERE’S AN IMPORTANT TRUTH—FEELINGS (AS IMPORTANT AS THEY ARE) OFTENTIMES HAVE NO BASIS IN REALITY.
So, the next time you are saying those awful, extreme things to yourself in your head stop and take a breath and see if it’s all about your feelings. Most of the time you will discover that it happened after you did something stupid (something that we all do). Instead of beating yourself up for the rest of the day, acknowledge the mistake but don’t let the mistake define who you are. Remind yourself of the good things you have done (which I bet will easily outnumber your mistakes), and give yourself permission for being human.