By Jennifer von Baudissin, Clinical Director Psychodynamic Psychotherapist at The Psychiatry and Therapy Centre, Member of UK Council for Psychotherapy
Women today are expected to have many roles – perhaps that of a good friend, a wonderful wife, a caring mother, a productive colleague, a high-powered senior executive or that of a successful entrepreneur. Societal pressures and expectations of our modern world lead us to believe that we need to be ‘super women’. However the pressure to fulfil any combination of or even all of these roles at once is immense and it can be a significant challenge to try and reconcile the potentially conflicting commitments each role demands. It is no wonder that if we feel that we cannot be anything less than perfect then we may become anxious, stressed and sleep-deprived – and at some point we may simply not be able to take it anymore. Slowly we may start to believe that we are not good enough and wonder why we cannot manage everything. Self-denigrating thoughts may start racing in our heads evoking powerful negative emotions such as guilt, of not being able to cope, and these in turn may develop into feelings of resentment and sadness as we question and wonder why no-one is appreciative, recognises what we do for them or supports us in what we are trying to achieve.
In a classic scenario, many working mothers pursuing a career for self-fulfilment reasons describe feeling guilty about being at work and are often worried about not spending enough time at home with their children or husbands. Sometimes these mothers may then sacrifice social activities in order to be more present and this may reinforce feelings of isolation and imperfection. Mothers may be distracted by these thoughts and feelings when they are with their children or husbands such that – although they may be ‘physically present’ – they are emotionally preoccupied and ‘unavailable’. This emotional absence will be felt, consciously and unconsciously by the children and others. Equally, going out for a long dinner with a group of acquaintances may be more exhausting than and no longer as satisfying as having an hour-long coffee with just a friend.
How do we manage the demands of all of these competing roles and their psychological impact upon us – regardless of whether they come from our external world or our internal harsh self which may be due to our own childhoods and the parenting we received? How is it possible to find harmony for all of these activities and fulfil our own personal needs and achieve a sense of balance?
It is crucial to realise and to remember that quality can be far better than quantity. Quality time can compensate for quantity of time. Quality time is about fully engaging emotionally with others – for example your child, your husband, your friend or colleagues, or by being entirely focused on what you are doing in the ‘here and now’ and by not being distracted by other things such as a work mobile.
Working towards achieving a balance between the often competing roles described above would help to create a more content and happier state of mind and therefore the time you do spend with your loved ones would be more genuine and more enriching for all involved. Being a happy mother and wife is therefore far more conducive to constructing healthy family relationships. Equally, a happier colleague, executive or entrepreneur will be more motivated, productive and creative in the workplace. Furthermore, it is quality time, not quantity of time that helps to avoid disharmony and burn-out in the workplace thereby reducing absenteeism.
The key is to spend guilt-free quality time on aspects of your life that are important to you, including and not forgetting one-self. Investing in one-self, whether by doing exercise, having quiet time reading or going to therapy to explore issues can help to create a more grounded and balanced sense of self, integrating the unique needs and desires one may have.
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