MUSTerbating again? How to control the bully in your head
Are you busy? Perhaps you've become known as the ‘Queen of Multitasking’ and wear that badge with the kind of worn out pride?
Your mornings are spent juggling the needs of others; ferrying the kids to school, off to do some early morning shopping for the elderly parents then in to work where you’re considered indispensable (of course). Then you pick up the kids, take them to their after-school activities before rushing home to prepare a home-made meal. Evenings are spent drawing up your things to do list for the following day.
And all the time, your phone is attached to you like an umbilical cord. Texts and e-mails bleep and ping and you have to answer them immediately. You have to be superwoman, right?
Claire came to see me twelve months after her partner died unexpectedly. Everyone told her she was doing really well.
‘You mustn't give in Claire’ her mum told her. ‘Your daughter is relying on you. We all are. You just have to get on with things.’
If Claire felt down or tearful, she felt guilty she was letting the side down. So she worked harder and got more done. She was always running but she couldn't work out what she was running from, or what would happen if she stopped.
Then one day, she was brought up short when her daughter said ‘Mummy why don't you ever look at me when I talk to you anymore?’ Claire had a light bulb moment and realised she become imprisoned by a straitjacket of her own making.
The endless tasks, overwork, people and projects were all to do with her thinking she should be doing well. She should just get on with things. She shouldn't be sad or cry because it might upset other people.
She must be the perfect mother, the perfect daughter the perfect cook, the perfect homemaker, the perfect employee. She must not show her feelings because people would think she was weak.
The tyranny of the shoulds
If your brain is full of shoulds and musts then you have probably got yourself an internal bully. It's a recognised ‘thinking error’, or what psychologists call a ‘cognitive distortion.’
Back in the 1930s Aaron Beck and Albert Ellis came up with the idea of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). They said, if you feel bad it's because you're thinking is all wrong and it needs fixing.
Catastrophising, mind-reading and fortune-telling all appeared in their long list of thinking errors.
So did MUSTerbation.
Many of us are actually living our lives according to an internalised rulebook we picked up in childhood. Those rules may have helped us survive in the family and environment in which we found ourselves back then, but are likely to be either out of date, or just not helpful to us in our adult lives.
Here's what to do
- Take some time out to stop and listen to the contents of ‘the rule book’
- Make a note of the things you feel compelled to do, or not do
- What are the thoughts around those things?
- Ask yourself ‘who would I be without those thoughts?’
- Filter out what doesn't work for you any more
- Give yourself permission to tear up the rulebook and be your authentic self.
Now, repeat after me:
‘I may not be perfect, but I'm good enough…… just the way I am.’