OK, so I’m not officially a parent yet. But I do seem to have started talking, behaving and spending like one! I’ve certainly started overthinking like one. Anyone suffering from imposter syndrome or toxic shame will likely know what it means to be a perfectionist and an overthinker. To think so intently on a goal and all its tasks and outcomes, that it becomes something unbearable to take on. It’s often the thing which people joke you should give as your weakness at a job interview; the truth of it is that perfectionism has stifled much of my creativity over the years because I’ve not been comfortable really ‘putting myself out there’. Freaked out at the idea of failure, stressed out about how people might judge me; overthinking things has been the norm for as long as I can remember. I believe overthinking can even affect memory, I feel like I’ve spent more time thinking, about mistakes from the past or worries about the future, than I’ve spent being present in the moments where memories are made. There I go again… I already know what you’re thinking… I’m overthinking it.
Like many of us, I’m used to second guessing my decisions and doubting myself; I’ve found many coping mechanisms for this which range from positivity and goal setting, to avoidance, reassurance seeking and blaming others. The former have enabled me to push forward and step outside my comfort zone to a certain point. The latter are why many of my ideas and plans have never been anything but. One common theme through life which I’m just waking up to has been my insatiable need for control, and the discomfort I feel when I lack it. The reality is though, all of the big steps I’ve taken outside my comfort zone over the years have been ‘undoable’. After all, I could always fold a business, sell a house, end a relationship.
The undeniable truth before me is that there is no undoing this next part of my life. The gravity of giving and sustaining the life of another human has always been overwhelming for me. From an outsider’s perspective it could well seem that it’s the commitment side of parenthood that has me rattled. I think until the last few years I’d have probably agreed. But despite my fairly recent and ongoing tussle with social anxiety, and the state of the world as it is out there, I’m more aware than I’ve ever been about who I am. As a result, it’s become clearer what’s been troubling me about becoming a parent and its way deeper seated than a fear of commitment. No doubt, the permanence of it all is certainly a factor, as is the responsibility to do it as well as I can. But the thing which really got to me, and had me trying to find reasons to put off parenting, is the idea that I might pass on these unconscious behaviours that have eluded me for so much of my life.
First of all, my need for external validation and my underlying lack of self-worth could easily have me parenting on other people’s terms. As I understand it, everyone is an expert only on their own child’s needs, because they are all so unique. So, it stands to reason that my trusty old coping mechanisms won’t work here. I will need to be my own authentic self when parenting, not doing what I think someone else would do or worrying how other people might view my decisions. While I may not sign up to the old fashioned/patriarchal viewpoint of men taking the lead role in the family, or the macho requirement to ‘man up’ and ‘be strong’, I do still of course wish to be a stable role model for my daughter. To achieve this, I am in no doubt that I need to put in work on truly understanding my anxiety and shame. For those who haven’t felt shame themselves, or read much about it before, shame and guilt get confused a lot: Guilt is what you feel when you believe you did something bad. Shame is what you feel when you believe you are bad. The latter is much harder to rationalise and accept.
I could never really put my finger on it before but having read more on the subject, I understand toxic shame can be passed on like a hereditary illness. We tend to manifest what we most fear; we seek to bury or avoid the difficult bits of ourselves which we don’t understand, but they continue to reveal themselves in our responses or reflex reactions, ready for our children to pick up in their own subconscious and turn into their own traits. We fear what we don’t understand and what I feared and was failing to understand most was myself. Whatever I’ve been creating those coping mechanisms for. Whatever’s underneath the masks I wear, between the lines of the scripts I’ve written for myself, lurking in my blind spot. The bogeyman under the bed. It’s the ‘other’ me; the me you never see.
This might all sound fairly sinister when explained in such dramatic terms, but hopefully anyone who has been following my sporadic socials content can see that talking about what’s really going on with us doesn’t have to be sad. It can help us reframe our thoughts and feelings, empower us to own our stories and connect us with others who can relate, which has happened way more often than I ever expected. I hope those who were worried about me initially have realised by now that I’m not having a breakdown. Far from it. Despite my recent wobble, in fact, because of my recent wobble, I’m probably in the best state mentally that I’ve been in for a long time. My imposter syndrome won’t let me be sure of it, and I still can’t always show up how I want to, but hopefully it’s clear I’m not crying out for help. More crying out for hope. Reaching out in an attempt at deepening the virtual connection during these physically disconnected times. Showing up with a message that I imagine may run through everything I do from now on. A message that says, HEY! I’ve realised I’m a bit messed up and I want to work on it. How about you?