If you were to ask me about my 25 year marriage, and whether it was a success, I would be pretty sure to answer in the negative. It was far from successful by most of the standards I could use to measure it. Even finding the courage to leave, felt like a failure of sorts.
I am sure this sense of failure clings to most women, and especially those who experience relationship breakdown or loss. There are so many ‘what ifs’. Often we internalise this as deficiency; “I am not enough”, “I am a failure”, “If only I was more…”, “I am not worthy of love”.
We talk in terms of relationship failure, and in many respects we feel and experience ourselves as failures too. This can create a climate in our lives of misery and low self esteem. It’s so easy to try to counter this by pursuing unhelpful behaviours, such as fixating on the lost relationship, eating excessively or self-medicating with alcohol or drugs.
I used online dating sites to seek sexual encounters with younger men for about a year after I left my husband. There was some good in this, because I needed to rediscover my buried sexuality without embarking on a conventional relationship. I wanted to experience the joy of sex again, and in that much, I was successful. But I can’t deny that this part of my journey was also born out of a need to prove that I was still attractive, still compelling, and in many respects, I was shoring up my tattered self-esteem.
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Maybe it’s necessary to self-destruct a little as part of the recovery process that follows relationship loss. But the quicker we can change our minds and turn towards building, rather than tearing down, the more we will succeed in truly starting to heal.
Five years on and a series of false starts later, I have learned a little about success. It’s clear to me that success has to be an active choice, something our heart must learn to desire and something our eyes must be opened to. It’s so commonplace for women to define themselves in terms of failure and inadequacy, that it almost seems to be the norm. In all kinds of ways, from our appearance to the management of our homes, we are taught to experience ourselves as “not enough”. As a result, our lives often go into overdrive, as we try to prove that we are, indeed, capable of perfection. Talk about being set up to fail!
No-one is perfect, no-one looks like the women in the glossy magasines (not even the women themselves), no-one is always cheerful towards their children or loving towards their partner. No home is always pristine, no garden, always weed-free and no plan is ever without glitches. That doesn’t mean that we are failing, it simply means that we are human.
Seeing ourselves in terms of success, rather than lack, is an active choice. Whatever the nuts and bolts of the life you choose, consider choosing to see yourself in relation to your successes, which are many. Try keeping an achievement diary. I don’t mean recording passing a major exam, or reaching a thousand would-be clients via your business email list. What I mean is something like this:
- Set an alarm on your phone to go off every hour throughout your waking day.
- Each time the alarm sounds, take a moment to think of one thing that you have achieved in the last hour.
- Write it down.
- Be real. It may be that you got through an hour without crying, or that you washed the dishes. It may be that you read to your child or dropped something without immediately calling yourself a clumsy cow. It may be that you went out for a walk or filed a tax return. It may just be that you managed to keep breathing.
- Practice seeing yourself as successful until it becomes a habit. Until it becomes the norm to define yourself in terms of all that you manage to achieve, rather then the few things that unravel each day.
Set yourself up to succeed
Whether you are establishing a new habit, re-programming your self-talk or learning a new skill, you can take steps that will ensure your success.
- Be realistic – try not to fill your head with crazy images of success and perfection.
- Remove the obstacles – think about what stops you from doing what you set out to do. If I want to get fitter and I enroll at a gym, after the initial enthusiasm wanes, the effort (and time) taken to get there is too much and I stop going. If I can do an exercise dvd or online class at home, I’ve removed the major obstacle and can easily fit the routine into my daily life. Success!
- Record progress – it’s much easier to maintain something over time if you can see your evolution day to day, week to week and month to month.
- Maintain momentum – once you are successful in the small things, build on your success and take the achievement to a higher level. If you’ve gone out for a 15 minute walk most days this week, increase the time to 20 minutes next week.
- Feed your well-being – choose to be successful in something that will add to your well-being in other ways. This is a double whammie! In the walking example above, not only can you achieve success by walking every day, but you can improve mood and fitness at the same time.
- Baby steps – choose success in something that will be relatively easy for you to begin with. Don’t try to establish 20 habits all at once. Change one thing, and your attitude to your achievement, then build on your success.
Let me know how you get on, and we can celebrate our forward flow together.
Needing more help with this? FREE Be Kind to Yourself Tool Kit.