Thea's mission is to help women feel at peace with themselves - because only then can they make their biggest and boldest contributions to their families, communities and the world.
- Guest post: The truth about being a coach in 2020 - November 19, 2020
- Guest blog: Perfectionist or bitch? - October 15, 2020
- Guest post: 7 daily strategies to reduce overwhelm - August 13, 2019
I’m standing in the doorway of my youngest son’s bedroom. We are arguing about bedtime.
He is standing halfway up his small ladder, his boyish face full of undisguised anger and hatred towards me. In that moment, the feeling is mutual.
I have a battle going on in my head and my body is tense, scared, pumping adrenalin, getting ready to fight.
My inner Perfectionist has turned into Bitch. Any protests from my unconditionally loving Mother are completely drowned out.
In this emotional place it feels so dangerous I choose to protect myself rather than my child. My love for him cannot speak, it’s like I cut it off, to save myself.
What makes me do that? I’m a mother for goodness sake – aren’t we meant to protect our children to the death?
This scene from 5 years ago was a fairly regular occurrence in our household and I hated myself so much for behaving like this.
Initially I could not understand how someone so kind and considerate and who loved her kids so much could flip into Bitch mode so quickly.
Even in my rational moments I couldn’t understand it. Really? In a moment of crisis I’d choose to protect myself rather than protect my kids?
But digging into it and dissecting it bit by bit enabled me to understand what was going on. Gradually I gained enough self-awareness to manage my thought processes more effectively so I could respond differently.
Disempowering Archetypes are Motivated by Fear
Perfectionists need to get things right. It’s not so much about perfection per se but about NOT getting things wrong, NOT making mistakes and ALWAYS being in control (to minimize risk of mistakes). This makes for a rather rigid set of rules and expectations, which children (and partners or colleagues) are not great at sticking to!
Conversely, situations that feel out of control, emotionally messy, or just plain wrong feel deeply threatening at a core level. It’s physiological. Our bodies get triggered by a comment, behaviour or thought and our sympathetic nervous system switches on to help us survive. We have a visceral reaction to the threat and our bodies react accordingly – with flight, fight or freeze.
When the Perfectionist feels completely out of control she often brings in the Bitch to fight. She is only trying to protect you in what she perceives as a threatening situation. She’s seen a danger of some sort (possible conflict, being taken over by negative emotions, uncertainty, chaos, being out of control) , and being unable to run away (as much as she’d love to) and too angry to freeze, she resorts to Bitch Mode.
When you slip into the disempowering Bitch mode, there is a fear of some sort motivating this behaviour and you need to get to the bottom of it.
At One of many we use Trigger Tracking to help us understand what’s going on.
Track what triggered your Bitch to jump into action.
Were you criticised? Did you feel out of control? Are you scared of negative emotions? Did you feel like a rabbit in the headlights not knowing what to say or do next?
Then you can journal and dive deeper into the fear underneath the trigger.
Why is criticism so dangerous? What does it mean about you/life if someone criticises you?
In my personal example above, I realised that my Perfectionist was so attached to the impossible ideal of a happy, loving, smooth-running, conflict-free family life, that anything that threatened this perfect outcome was perceived as dangerous.
Emotions and conflict were on the top of the list of dangers and anything that felt like it could lead in that direction had to be squashed immediately. In these situations I would take on the role of peacemaker, an emotional-smoother-overer, diffusing the situation and trying to make sure everyone was OK. I could create harmony out of impending chaos or collaboration out of potential arguments.
But that didn’t always work. And when it didn’t, the threat level was ramped up very quickly and my Bitch came storming in to regain control.
And the crazy thing is that this fear of conflict and negative emotions actually leads to the very thought processes and behaviour that makes conflict and negative emotions more likely!
How to break the cycle
When you have got to the bottom of what triggers your Bitch, and you understand the fear or limiting belief that motivates her, it’s time to consciously choose a different response.
Firstly you’ve got to notice in the moment that you’ve been triggered, or are soon to be.
Label it: “Ah, I’m noticing my Perfectionist is scared it’s all going wrong, and has the Bitch on standby / fully engaged.”
Learn to ignore the indignation of your ego, your Bitch and your scared Perfectionist. This is only the fear talking. Don’t listen to their incendiary scripts: ‘How dare he?’ or ‘It has to be like this!’ or ‘If you let this happen, everything is doomed and you’ll be the biggest failure ever!’
Walk away & calm down: When we feel the physiological urge to fight, it’s really difficult to walk away from the situation because that’s akin to surrender. The Bitch doesn’t want to lose, let alone surrender; she needs to win the fight. But when you’ve labelled this urge as the Bitch, or the Perfectionist or Ego, you can distance yourself from what it’s saying. It’s not you.
This gives you enough space to choose to walk away and calm yourself down. Even if you don’t know how to solve the situation, you can physically take yourself away from your child, partner or colleague (if appropriate – or keep silent if not) and start soothing your nervous system with breathing exercises or shaking the fear out of your body.
I know, it’s hard! I’ve been there! But if I can gradually learn to do this, so can you.
In the early days of implementing this, some nights I had to walk out of my son’s room 8 or 9 times to calm myself down before I could eventually put him to bed.
Use the Women’s PowerTypes: When you feel calmer you can ask yourself which Powertype to use instead of Bitch.
Will your colleague respond to a boundary setting Queen intervention?
Do you need to tune into your Lover energy to resolve a thorny issue with a partner?
Do you need the energy of the Warrioress to fight for what you know is right at work?
Or do you need to step into your Sorceress and trust your intuition, your colleague, or the Universe to provide solutions?
Can you allow your Mother to feel the compassion and unconditional love for your precious child who is hurting too?
When I was asked to write this blog and saw the title I laughed out loud and said “Hell Yeah!” My inner perfectionist has been a big part of my life and is good friends with my Bitch. I know the nitty gritty and the pain of this human response.
The message I want to share is that it IS possible to change your habitual response, so that your Bitch is no longer your first responder. You can train yourself to react differently to the trigger, to the threat response and to the ‘threat’ of negative emotions and conflict. Do the inner work, experiment, build your self-awareness and mindfulness skills and you can completely transform your relationships.
That’s what I’ve been able to do and it’s made a massive difference to our family, and especially my relationship with my sons. Does Bitch still appear? Of course she does. I’m human and get tired, stressed, and triggered occasionally. But when she does come out she’s not as mean and nasty as she used to be and I’m quick to put her back in her box. I know in my bones now that she doesn’t actually help me get the result I want. And I also know that the threat she was responding to isn’t real.
Thea Jolly is one of our Certified Women’s Coaches, and is an in-house coach on our Lead the Change and Living the Change Programmes.