Humans are natural story tellers. We have long histories of using stories as a way to explain the unexplainable, to teach and guide our children, and to give our lives a sense of direction and purpose. We have stories about ourselves - like, I'm a good person, I love music, I'm a natural with animals, I'm bad at math... One story I have about myself is I am a good mother. But what if I told you that stories like that, even the positive ones, can get us into trouble?
I have written in previous blogs about the concept of fusion, wherein we become fused with psychological experiences (certain thoughts or feelings, memories, beliefs, etc.), and that fusion can cause us to miss out on other important experiences, both internal and external.
We can become fused to the stories we have about ourselves, and at times this fusion can be helpful.
I know many people, like myself, who have strong and important beliefs to which they become very fused, and that fusion allows them to withstand temptations to behave in ways contrary to their beliefs. For example, I have very strong beliefs about my role as a counselor. I believe that counselors shouldn't tell someone what to do or not do and that my clients are the experts of their own lives. And in these beliefs, I ensure that my clients feel safe with me as we work as a team to make change based on the client's values and goals.
The tricky thing is that fusion to beliefs, even very important ones, can also cause harm.
So, let's take my story I'm a good mother. I think many people would believe that becoming fused with this story might lead to things like higher self-esteem, less anxiety, and my being able to withstand some of the times when mothering gets hard (for example, when my oldest daughter disagrees and lets me know that I am, in fact, the worst mother who ever existed).
But what does it look like for the I'm a good mother story to become harmful for me?
When I become fused with the belief that I am a good mother, it can cause me to miss out on opportunities to grow and improve.
- I'm already a good mother - why would I need to learn more about parenting and change what I'm doing?
- I'm a good mother - no one could possibly offer me any useful suggestions.
When I become fused with the belief that I am a good mother, it can cause me to miss any evidence to the contrary.
- I'm a good mother - what I have always been doing with and for my kids has worked and should always work (even though kids grow and change).
- I'm a good mother - the behavior I just exhibited is fine and good (even if it isn't).
When I become fused with the belief that I am a good mother, it can cause me to avoid situations wherein I might be forced to see weaknesses.
- I'm a good mother - If I have questions about mothering, people will think I'm not good.
- I'm a good mother - I can't tell someone that I don't know all the answers.
- I'm a good mother - I don't need to pay attention to any source of information that contradicts or conflicts with my beliefs about parenting.
When I notice moments wherein I am fused with stories or beliefs (the I'm a good mother ones and all the other ones, too), it's an important indication to me that I might be missing something. This isn't the same thing as disagreeing with the story, though - and that's an important distinction.
If we swing too far the other direction, what happens is that we become fused with the opposite story, which has all of the same benefits and struggles as being fused to any story.
The issue isn't that I am a good mother. The issue also isn't that I am NOT a good mother. After all, being a good mother isn't a constant. It's a moment-by-moment act. It's movement in a particular direction. Until the day I die, I will be continually working toward being a good mother, and in some moments I get it right while in others I don't. Even more difficult still, most moments I find that the situation is too complex to even begin to measure my goodness.
Rather than focusing on the belief or the story as the issue, the issue might actually be our fusion to those beliefs.
When I'm able to hold the belief I'm a good mother loosely, I'm more capable of noticing everything else that exists (even the contradictory stuff). I'm more capable of making value-driven choices and move in a direction that I'm choosing as opposed to just reacting. It's this present moment contact with my self and the world around me (the internal world along with the external world) that allows me to then make steps to move closer to good mother in the moment. It allows me to see myself the way that my daughter is looking at me in the picture at the top of this blog.
I am a good mother...except when I'm not. (breathe)
I am a bad mother...except when I'm not. (breathe)
What beliefs or stories do you have about yourself, and what would it be like to hold those stories more loosely? How might you change and what would that mean for the people around you? If you find that you could benefit from exploring fusion in your life, reach out and let's talk.