Anxiety and the Harpy Collective
I don’t know about you, but I have an audience that follows me everywhere I go and judges everything I do. No. I don’t have actual people following me around, but I do feel like there is a group of people who see and judge everything I do. (And I’m 90% certain my mom feels it every time I say a curse word!*) And I do hear self-talk that evaluates me based on “what will they think.” All of my perceived judgments of what they will think create unrealistic expectations that I can never quite live up to. These judgments are always there lingering in the back of my mind.
They have been such a big part of my life, that I have recently named them The Harpy Collective. They are a little like the Borg Collective* from Star Trek in their message, “You must conform. Resistance is futile”. Except, the Harpy Collective is always telling me, “You aren’t conforming… You don’t measure up. You can’t ignore us. Resistance is futile…”
I first came to the self-realization of how much I was controlled by these judgments when I was a young mom. I was full of anxiety. I would work myself into a frenzy trying to be the perfect mom and I always felt that I came up short. An older lady in my church gave me a book about overcoming anxiety (because, yeah, it was obvious to everyone that I was a hot mess who needed some help dealing with anxiety!)
I’ve long since forgotten pretty much everything about the book except that it gave me the idea to make a list of all the things that I thought I should be doing and what I thought I should accomplish in a day.
As a young mom, the Harpy Collective said I should:
- Look like a supermodel; keep my house spotless; decorate my house super cute; play educational games with my kids; read to them; always be in a good mood, always be patient; cook delicious, home-made, organic meals, within our budget; be a supportive wife; volunteer at church; make cute crafts; remember everyone around me’s birthday, and work part-time.
I then made a list of all the things I felt that I would need to accomplish in a day in order to achieve my ideal. When I added approximate time commitments to each item, I realized that my expectations for 1 day would take over 3 weeks to accomplish!
Still, I was always beating myself up for not doing these things because “they” said I should! So, I began asking myself, “who is this, they that you keep feeling judged by? And why are you letting them control you?” And I started to free myself from the anxiety and despair cycle that I was in…
However, just like the exhausting Borg Collective drama on Star Trek (which I would think was over and then, sigh, there they were again... in a movie and a ride at Six Flags!), the Harpy Collective would be silenced for a while and then pop back up, at inconvenient times and start judging me again. However, just like Captain Picard, I heroically learned lessons from each encounter with The Collective and I learned to battle them a little more effectively each time. And in the end, it is our individuality that will overcome and give us victory over The Collective!! LOL!!!
Here are some strategies that I’ve learned in my ongoing battle against The Harpy Collective:
- Remember no one gets home at the end of the day and puts on spanx: We judge ourselves at our worst and compare it to other people at their best. Women are putting on uncomfortable scuba underwear to suck in their guts and present a better image to the world than who they really are. And we all do this in one way or another. We wear make-up. We smile when we are sad. We post our best pictures and happy stories on social media. All of us share the best parts of ourselves with the world. It is important to understand this because we only see the tip of the iceberg that people allow us to see. It is crazy to make comparisons based on this.
- You can’t do it all: It’s a popular message in our culture that we can have it all, do it all, and be whatever we want. Sounds empowering, but it’s actually quite an unrealistic expectation. No one has it all. No one does it all. And there are tons of things you can’t do. That’s fine. You can have a lot, and do plenty. Set realistic expectations for yourself. Evaluate what you are doing and what you are trying to do. Making lists as I described above is actually quite freeing… (for more on this…I highly recommend Mindset The New Psychology of Success)
- Clarify YOUR priorities and constantly reevaluate how you are living: We are bombarded with advertisements every day. They tell us that we need more stuff. I’m a sucker for all of them! I especially think that I need more boots! However, at the end of my life, I don’t want to be remembered for “Wow. That Cindy, she sure had a nice boot collection.” I want my values to be much more about helping people and fighting for justice. (and I’m probably always going to have some nice boots.) But when I forgo buying a new pair of boots and instead send a donation to ijm.org, I never once feel any regret. If I don’t have the exact right shoes to wear to some fantastic event, I look at the shoes I do have and know that I spent my money on what’s most important to me.
This example applies to every aspect of your life. I give up a lot of good things in order to go to the gym most every day. When I look at my granddaughter, I know that I want to stay healthy so I can go kayaking with her when she is in college and I’m happy with the choice I made.
If you are constantly evaluating your values and making sure that you invest your time and money in what’s important to you, it’s a lot easier to silence the voices of the Harpy Collective
- Name it and then tell them to shushie… Understanding where the judgments are coming from is super important. We all have them in some form or other. Some of us are better at ignoring them than others. As long as you are interacting with other people and engaging in culture, you are going to feel a desire to imitate things that you admire in others. That’s an awesome thing. Just put it in its proper place. I suggest naming this part of your life something clever, like “The Harpy Collective” (which I think is hilarious) and laughing about it with your friends. Recognize it. Own it and don’t let it control you.
And you are probably going to want to print out the Mawmaw Thia poster as a great reminder of all of these truths…you will have to email me for the original jpeg!!! LOL
I hope this helps!!!
The Borg Collective!
*If you are reading this mom, I just said a swear that one time... 8-O