When Katherine Wintsch hosts workshops with moms around the world, she asks them to share the last critical thing they said to themselves.
At every single workshop, she told me, she sees the same theme: The women’s stories revolve around not being good enough.
I’m not pretty enough. I’m not tough enough or smart enough or patient enough. I’m too big. I’m too weak, too emotional. I don’t give enough attention, love, and compassion to my children. I need to give more to my work. I need to do more. I need to be more.
For many of us, these are the same stories we tell ourselves.
But while these stories are soul crushing, there is a bright side, according to Wintsch, author of the empowering book Slay Like a Mother: How to Destroy What’s Holding You Back So You Can Live the Life You Want.
“If you’re the one telling yourself these hurtful stories, then you’re the perfect person to put an end to them,” said Wintsch.
You can revise these stories. You can change the narrative. You can relate to yourself in a kinder, gentler, more validating way.
The key, Wintsch said, is to learn “to struggle without suffering.” Struggling is normal and inevitable. “Struggling represents the external challenges in your life, such as breastfeeding twins.”
Suffering, on the other hand, is telling yourself that you’re not producing enough milk, you’re a terrible mother, and you’re depriving your child. Suffering happens “when your dragon of self-doubt exaggerates [your] struggles and attacks you for not being or doing more.”
Suffering happens because we mistakenly believe that we’re “pathetic and everyone else is perfect.” We mistakenly believe that we’re alone.
We think we’re the only ones who struggle with parenting our kids, keeping an organized home, and getting everything done. We’re the only ones who struggle with anxiety and depression and sinking self-doubt. We’re the only ones who drop the ball and disappoint ourselves and others. We’re the only ones who _________.
But struggling is part of being human. It is universal.
Wintsch, founder of SlayLikeaMother.com, shares these additional examples in her book:
Struggling: “I have nothing for dinner as usual. Looks like chicken nuggets and frozen broccoli again—maybe this time they’ll eat it with hummus. Here goes nothing…”
Suffering: “I’m a poor excuse for a mother because my friend Kelsey’s kids devour broccoli like it’s candy, while mine yell at me for even putting it on their plate.”
Struggling: “Can my boss stop emailing me 24/7? He needs to cool it. He knows I’m at the doctor.”
Suffering: “I know the gyno has her hand on my boob right now, but I need to email my boss back ASAP because everyone else at work is at the top of their email game, and it’s a miracle I still have a job.”
In other words, “while the struggle is real, your suffering is optional,” Wintsch said.
The next time you find yourself spiraling into suffering, remember that others struggle, too. Remember that you are not alone. Another person is thinking the very same thing right now. Another person is feeling anxious, overwhelmed, and devastated, berating themselves about similar circumstances and supposed inadequacies.
So, maybe you take a self-compassionate break. Maybe you “think about how you’d respond to a friend who experienced a similar setback,” Wintsch said. Maybe you write yourself a supportive letter or call a friend who’s a great listener. Maybe you practice a self-compassionate guided meditation.
Either way, whatever tool you choose, remember that you don’t have to stay shackled to your hurtful stories. You can slay them. And you can create new stories—stories that acknowledge your very real struggles but that don’t leave you suffocating in suffering.
You can do this for yourself. And I hope you do.