Thought for the Day:
“It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.”
Question for the Day:
Can you be still?
I don’t know about y’all, but I’m a bit tired of the superwoman narrative that is often attached to women. No, I won’t argue the fact that historically we have always had a lot on our plates. For Black women in particular, we’ve been heralded as the “backbone of the community” which I understand was meant to be a credit to our strength and ability to take care for our men, children, and communities simultaneously. Most of us will take on this responsibility to others all while working full time, going to school, volunteering and sometimes all of the above. Yet, what I don’t like about being the “backbone” of the community is it’s suggestion that without our support, everything else would fall apart. The backbone of our body is the core that keeps everything else secure and women have a similar charge. We are expected to be the all burden bearing martyrs who sacrifice it all so that the ones we love can advance. We are not allowed to slow down, step back, or simply taking a break without subjecting ourselves to the guilt that often accompanies any intentional practice of self care. We worry that if we let go, our households will fall apart, our men will be lost and our children will flounder. Heck, the community might even meet it’s demise if we dare be still.
Though many of us believe that our opportunities to rest are truly limited, it is also a real possibility that some of us don’t want to slow down. Instead of everyone else falling apart, what if our real fear is that it’s us who might not survive. Just last week, I received some troubling news about a health condition my mother is facing. She was optimistic about it so though shocked, my plan was to be optimistic as well. However, as that day progressed, I noticed that I became really busy. I let my son’s pending return to college be my excuse for organizing my work bag, sorting all the mail, reorganizing his clothing, cleaning, doing laundry and snapping at my other kids for every sock and snot rag they dared leave lying around. It eventually dawned on me that I was trying to occupy myself because underneath my sudden burst of energy, I was worried. That realization helped me clarify the direction of this post. Instead of focusing on how we can relax, the therapist in me decided that it might be more helpful do discuss why we can’t.
Most of us can look back over the difficult periods of our lives and recall how we just “put our big girl panties on” and kept it pushin’. Folks praise women for our ability to epitomize unbreakable strength and efficiency even when enduring our worst heartaches. Sure, we might have lost a loved one, just endured a difficult divorce, or have a child in trouble, but still, we never miss a beat. Even in the face of unimaginable pain, we never skip a meeting, keep our houses immaculate, volunteer in the community, lead bible study and support all our wayward family members through all of their crises. Though it appears that we must be super strong, as a therapist I know different.
Sometimes, the most efficient women you come across are also the most troubled. Being overly busy and involved often becomes a much needed escape from difficult thoughts and emotions or a way to distract oneself from facing difficult truths. Staying busy then becomes a coping strategy that may work in the moment, but falls completely apart the minute things slow down. It’s in the quiet moments that the truth of who we are speaks. It’s the still moments that hold the mic up to our inner voice and that internal dialogue might just reveal that despite our facade, we’re actually scared, angry, ashamed, worried or depressed. It’s a whole lot easier to silence that inner dialogue with an overloaded to do list than it is to sit still and listen to it. If you find yourself avoiding rest and struggling to sit down somewhere, here are a few things you could be avoiding.
Unresolved Trauma – For those with a history of trauma such as childhood abuse or neglect, sexual assault, domestic violence, or the tragic death of a loved one, staying busy can be a a welcomed distraction. Those who have experienced significant trauma are often haunted by troublesome memories and difficult emotions such as shame and anger that threaten every quiet moment they try to enjoy. Many fear that allowing those thoughts and memories to surface will overwhelm them and rob them of the strength they’ve fought so hard to maintain. This is why processing issues is best accomplished within the safety of the therapeutic environment. If you find that you are putting an excessive amount of energy into NOT remembering, then you may need to seek professional help and begin to relieve your mind of it’s duty to protect you from itself.
Denial – Sometimes, we never slow down because there is a reality that we simply are not ready to face. Perhaps you know you’re in a dead-in job, or you’re unfulfilled in your marriage. Maybe you’ve developed an unhealthy dependence on drugs or alcohol or have let a long-standing dream fall by the wayside. Regardless, staying busy provides the perfect escape from inconvenient truths that might force us to make difficult decisions or commit to uncomfortable changes. If we just never give ourselves an opportunity to acknowledge the truth, maybe it won’t have the chance to force us into making adjustments.
Worry – Worry can drive a lot of anxious behaviors. Many of the women you see zipping all over town from one meeting to the next or heading up every committee someone mentions, could very well just be driven by restlessness and nervous energy. Staying busy keeps one from slowing down enough to consider scary thoughts and troublesome possibilities. We might falsely believe that as long as we keep it movin’, it’s all good.
Fear – Sometimes, it’s just plain old fear that makes it difficult to relax. Slowing down can result in discovering things about ourselves that contradict the image we’ve presented to the world. Maybe we’re afraid to consider the possibility of failure or what if lightening my load will actually mean I no longer have an excuse to put my dreams on hold. A fear of failure and a fear of success can both be hidden behind constant activity that doesn’t allow for any real attempt at taking our lives to the next level.
Staying busy by juggling the work of four people will never be an accurate measure of our capability, efficiency or competence as women. To the contrary, an ability to relax, get quiet, and give thoughts and emotions room to breathe is the true sign of an emotionally healthy individual. Even God designed us with a built in need for rest and restoration in the form of sleep. Therefore, denying ourselves the opportunity to sit down somewhere and rest, is actually against God’s perfect will for our lives. Don’t be afraid to sit still and allow yourself to experience whatever thoughts and feelings are real and authentic to you. Remember that no matter what pain, fears, worries, or wounds live within your soul, it’s okay to face them because God lives there too.
“Be still an know that I am God…”