Finding Your Footing

Finding Your Footing

“Obviously I know what I’m supposed to be doing hour to hour in a day, but in terms of the big picture, I feel like everything got turned kind of upside down since I became a mom, like where I was headed in life — and this has all gotten more confusing since I went back to work . . .”

It’s really natural to feel pulled in a million directions when you’re a parent. And, unfortunately, some important goals or needs of yours can get pushed to the back burner indefinitely. To deal with this, it helps a lot to have some sense of your guiding purposes and priorities. This is not lofty and abstract, but a practical, daily matter; it’s like having a roadmap for your life: then you know where you are headed.

OK, so first things first: Are you for yourself or not? It may seem like a dumb, obvious question, but actually many people have a hard time seriously getting on their own side, so that they feel mobilized to reduce their suffering and increase their happiness. Here are some quick methods:

  • Reflect on how being for yourself – so that your well-being and functioning improve – will help other people, especially the ones you care about most.
  • Reflect on how you want to treat others with ordinary consideration and kindness. Then apply the same standards of fairness and decency toward yourself that you would naturally apply to anyone: why not you, too?
  • Consider children in general and your stance of care toward them. Then get a sense of yourself as a child and apply those feelings of caring to that child you once were – who is still deep inside you.
  • Inside your mind, wish yourself well, in the form: “May you ____________ .” Such as, “May you be happy. May you be at peace. May you be well. May your heart be at ease. May your body be at ease.”

When you’re for yourself, you want to support the virtues and priorities that lead to a good life, and contribute mightily to others.

Regarding virtues:

  • In your mind or on paper, list three or more important virtues that you routinely embody. A single word will often do, but it’s OK to have more. Then go back over your list, and for each one, take a few seconds for the sense of it to sink deeply into your heart.
  • Next, list three or more important virtues that you would like to live by better. Do some soul-searching here. Sometimes it helps to be a little quiet in your mind and ask your innermost being – or even God, if that’s meaningful to you – for what it thinks. But remember that you are being a good person in your willingness to acknowledge where you could be even better. Some classics: Patience. Restraint of anger. Courage. Sobriety. Cheerfulness. Determination. Love. Generosity.

After getting clear about these, think about what would help you live more by each one. Then see if you can make a commitment to doing that. For real.

Regarding priorities:

  • In your mind or on paper, make a list of major areas of your life. Like Health, Spirituality, Love, Pleasure, Partnerships, Childrearing, Career, Creative Expression, Finances. Have a few broad or many specific areas, however you like.
  • Next, make yourself put that list in priority order. Sorry, no ties are allowed. It’s just an exercise; in real life we tend to pursue multiple priorities.
  • When you have your priority list, take an honest look at it, and tell the truth to yourself about how you are and how you are not living your life accordingly. Let that truth sink in even if it is uncomfortable. Recall your feelings of being for yourself.
  • Then make a real plan about what you could do, concretely and practically, to live more by your true priorities. Stare at that plan and see if you can really commit to it.

To be blunt, we generally end up where we’ve been heading. So it’s vital to head in good directions, and keep telling the truth to ourselves about whether we’re still actually on course. Then we have the best possible odds of ending up with the family, the children, the partnership, the life that we deeply want and long for.

This is an article adapted from the book Mother Nurture (2002) by Rick Hanson, Ph.D., Jan Hanson, M.S. and Ricki Pollycove, M.D.

Dr. Ramani Durvasula is a licensed clinical psychologist, author, and expert on the impact of toxic narcissism. She is a Professor of Psychology at California State University, Los Angeles, and also a Visiting Professor at the University of Johannesburg.

The focus of Dr. Ramani’s clinical, academic, and consultative work is the etiology and impact of narcissism and high-conflict, entitled, antagonistic personality styles on human relationships, mental health, and societal expectations. She has spoken on these issues to clinicians, educators, and researchers around the world.

She is the author of Should I Stay or Should I Go: Surviving a Relationship With a Narcissist, and Don't You Know Who I Am? How to Stay Sane in an Era of Narcissism, Entitlement, and Incivility. Her work has been featured at SxSW, TEDx, and on a wide range of media platforms including Red Table Talk, the Today Show, Oxygen, Investigation Discovery, and Bravo, and she is a featured expert on the digital media mental health platform MedCircle. Dr. Durvasula’s research on personality disorders has been funded by the National Institutes of Health and she is a Consulting Editor of the scientific journal Behavioral Medicine.

Dr. Stephen Porges is a Distinguished University Scientist at Indiana University, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina, and Professor Emeritus at both the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Maryland. He is a former president of the Society for Psychophysiological Research and has been president of the Federation of Behavioral, Psychological, and Cognitive Sciences, which represents approximately twenty-thousand biobehavioral scientists. He’s led a number of other organizations and received a wide variety of professional awards.

In 1994 he proposed the Polyvagal Theory, a theory that links the evolution of the mammalian autonomic nervous system to social behavior and emphasizes the importance of physiological states in the expression of behavioral problems and psychiatric disorders. The theory is leading to innovative treatments based on insights into the mechanisms mediating symptoms observed in several behavioral, psychiatric, and physical disorders, and has had a major impact on the field of psychology.

Dr. Porges has published more than 300 peer-reviewed papers across a wide array of disciplines. He’s also the author of several books including The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-regulation.

Dr. Bruce Perry is the Principal of the Neurosequential Network, Senior Fellow of The ChildTrauma Academy, and a Professor (Adjunct) in the Departments of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago and the School of Allied Health at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. From 1993 to 2001 he was the Thomas S. Trammell Research Professor of Psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine and chief of psychiatry at Texas Children's Hospital.

He’s one of the world’s leading experts on the impact of trauma in childhood, and his work on the impact of abuse, neglect, and trauma on the developing brain has impacted clinical practice, programs, and policy across the world. His work has been instrumental in describing how traumatic events in childhood change the biology of the brain.

Dr. Perry's most recent book, What Happened to You? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing, co-authored with Oprah Winfrey, was released earlier this year. Dr. Perry is also the author, with Maia Szalavitz, of The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog, a bestselling book based on his work with maltreated children, and Born For Love: Why Empathy is Essential and Endangered. Additionally, he’s authored more than 300 journal articles and book chapters and has been the recipient of a variety of professional awards.

Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith is a child clinical psychologist who specializes in trauma and issues of race. She earned her undergraduate degree from Harvard and then received her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of California, Berkeley. She performed postdoctoral work at the University of California San Francisco/San Francisco General Hospital. She has combined her love of teaching and advocacy by serving as a professor and by directing mental health programs for children experiencing trauma, homelessness, or foster care.

Dr. Briscoe-Smith is also a senior fellow of Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and is both a professor and the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the Wright Institute. She provides consultation and training to nonprofits and schools on how to support trauma-informed practices and cultural accountability.

Sharon Salzberg is a world-renowned teacher and New York Times bestselling author. She is widely considered one of the most influential individuals in bringing mindfulness practices to the West, and co-founded the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts alongside Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein. Sharon has been a student of Dipa Ma, Anagarika Munindra, and Sayadaw U Pandita alongside other masters.

Sharon has authored 10 books, and is the host of the fantastic Metta Hour podcast. She was a contributing editor of Oprah’s O Magazine, had her work featured in Time and on NPR, and contributed to panels alongside the Dalai Lama.

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