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‘The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any’.  Alice Walker

I love this quote from Alice Walker who understands the pain of being a mother apart – the last time I heard she was still estranged from her daughter.

What does it mean to have power in any given situation? Perhaps we feel this when we agree a parenting plan with our ex, or reach an acceptable financial settlement or achieve the status of resident parent. These often hard won examples quite rightly help us to feel empowered, validated and vindicated. But how do we feel when things don’t work out the way we would like them, when life doesn’t feel fair or right? How easy it can be to feel disempowered, unequal and less than.

Different ways of feeling powerless

There are two different ways to feel powerless. The first is caused by someone or something external such as, our ex having residency of our children, our child decides he or she wants to live with their father, we are obliged to pay maintenance to our ex even though contact with our children is being obstructed.

The second way we can feel lacking in power lives internally within ourselves. Some of us have an accumulated sense of helplessness from abuse or neglect during childhood. Others build up a sense of helplessness in the more recent past – having endured an abusive marriage is an example, the way we have felt undermined, bullied, undefended. Sometimes years later, we can still feel vulnerable, judged, criticised or guilt ridden. Even though we no longer have anyone in our lives putting us down we find that we are very good at convincing ourselves that we are powerless.

In my work with mothers apart from children I often see both external and internal powerlessness. Women who have lost so much – children, homes livelihoods – self belief, self worth and the ability to self care.

How can we empower ourselves?

Be wise about control

Stop railing against the things you can’t control. You can’t re-write a Cafcass report, or force the legal process. You can’t make a rejecting older or adult child value being with you or insist someone else changes their opinion of you. But you can change yourself – your point of view, your attitude, your actions, how you treat yourself – and feel a lot better for letting go of trying to control people or things. And sometimes when we change, others change too.

Take responsibility for your thoughts.

It’s your choice to adopt criticism from others as your perception of who you are. Allowing judgements and criticism from others to rule your thoughts will impact negatively on your behaviour. Don’t give others this power over you. Remember Eleanor Roosevelt’s wise words – “Nobody can make you feel inferior without your permission”.

 

Watch your language!

Watch negative self talk. I hear mothers apart from children say the most cruel and undermining things about themselves – “I was/am so stupid, gullible, weak willed, it’s all my fault, I can’t forgive myself” – the list is long and the self punishment powerful. Pay attention to any self-defeating thoughts you have. Talk to yourself like you would to your best friend, not to someone you don’t like. You deserve to be spoken to with compassion and loving kindness, give that to yourself.

Review your point of view

Observe your mindset if you slip into thinking ‘I will never get over this, things will never change, it’s not fair, not natural, not right, not possible’. Stop! Really? Can you be sure? Bring yourself back to the present when your view on the world becomes dark, small and limited. Who is to say this thing that feels insurmountable isn’t the very thing that needs to happen. We do not possess insight into future, neither can we control it.

Choose potency

What a wonderful word! The Oxford dictionary defines potency as ‘The power of something to affect the mind or body’. Close your eyes and breathe in a sense of potency into your belly. Bolster yourself with these thoughts: Some things take a while, maybe months, maybe years. I will bide my time. I will shape up a good life for myself. I will be happy. To help you along your way you might enjoy the poem Phenomenal Woman by Maya Angelou . Go on, read it out loud for all of us!

Warmly,

Sarah Hart

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Sarah’s new self-help book: A Mother Apart

Support for women

Sarah specialises in counselling and training women. She helps non-resident mothers find inner peace by dealing with guilt, distress and other difficult feelings which can be experienced when living apart from their child. Her self-help book, 'A Mother Apart', published by Crown House, is available now. She also supports business women grow in confidence whilst growing their businesses. To find out more, please visit Sarah Hart's website

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