SINGLE WOMEN: FIGHT THE DOWNWARD SPIRAL WITH BUBBLE GUM
March is a good month to beat up on yourself for being single.Each day has been designated for something special, for instance, Peanut Butter Day or Panic Day.Now, I know single women get down on yourselves a lot, often having nothing to do with not having a man.But, that Self-Blame is so handy; it just sits there waiting to be engaged!Let me tell you a story about me – and self blame. I was driving to a meeting in an unfamiliar neighborhood. Since I hate being late, I had allowed plenty of time.Apparently, though, not enough, because I ended up on the wrong side of town. The first thing I said, when I realized my mistake, was to call myself stupid for not having checked the map before leaving.To my surprise, this was followed by calling myself stupid for not having guessed my shoemaker would lose my shoes (which he had done last week). The ball kept rolling; I then picked on myself for being incompetent because a recent presentation I had given bombed. These type of self-criticisms kept coming until I finally caught myself.What, I asked myself, does getting lost have to do with my disorganized shoemaker and my poor presentation?How did not checking a map lead to such an irrational path of self-abuse? If you are like me, most of the time you feel self-confident.But occasionally, something can trigger a downward spiral that creeps up on you before you realize it.It may start when you feel bad about one event over which you have no control (like getting lost), but once it starts, the spiral picks up speed and sucks in other areas of your life that are out of control (like losing shoes, bad presentation).It takes you in a dizzying swirl of self-blame. Once started, a downward spiral feels unstoppable. While it lasts only a short time, sometimes only minutes, until it does stop you gnaw on yourself picking at your most vulnerable areas.And for single women, one vulnerable area is not having a man. It is hard being single (or single again) in today’s world.Modern society has mixed images of single women:they are glamorized, yet they also carry shades of the spinster.You, like most women, probably don’t identify with either of these extremes.There is nothing glamorous about your being single, and you certainly don’t feel like a spinster. Modern society sends messages, directly and subtly, that it is your responsibility to find and keep a man.If you have not, it is because you are too choosey, that is, being single is your fault.Fault means more self-blame.The reality is, you may have been appropriately choosey. You just haven’t met a man who is right for you. When you’re not on a downward spiral, you feel confident and can ignore these societal messages.You are okay with being single.But, when spiraling, you fall back on self-blame:“There must be something wrong with me that I can’t meet a man.”You buckle under the pressure and accept responsibility for not having a husband. You imagine, “If I had a husband, I wouldn’t feel this badly.”Of course, most of the time, you don’t believe there is something wrong with you, but that’s hard to hold on to during a downward spiral. Everyone has moments on the spiral; having a husband doesn’t protect you.A married woman might have slid from being late, to losing her shoes, to her poor presentation, to blaming herself for her husband’s moodiness.She might believe if only she were single life would be better. You can catch yourself before the self-blame gets rolling.You can use self-talk, reminding yourself of your accomplishments.You can recite positive affirmations.You can teach yourself to say “stop” once the spiraling starts. You can consciously switch your mind – to think about an upcoming event, to sing a song -- anything to break the spiral. You can eat peanut butter – alone, with honey, on bread, anyway you want!Yup, March first is Peanut Butter Day. Since March 9 is Panic Day, that’s a great day for making mistakes and getting on the Downward Spiral.And, then to heal from that your self-abuse, just wait until March 22, so you can really enjoy Goof Off. If one day isn’t enough to help you flog yourself or heal from it, the second week of March will take care of a lot of woes – It’s Bubble Gum Week. I assume these specialized days in March should help with any Downward Spiral, but if not, here’s another way to keep from the irrational path of self-abuse: name the experience. When you tell yourself, “There’s nothing wrong with me, I’m just in a Downward Spiral,” that helps manage the feelings. Be cautious, though.While on the spiral, make no decisions that require your confident self.Then remember, this mood will pass quickly and has nothing to do with self-blame or with being single. Wait; in a few minutes your confident self will return.But you can still enjoy your peanut butter and bubble gum.
Dr. Karen Gail Lewis has been a marriage and family therapist for more than 36 years.She has offices in Cincinnati, Ohio and Washington, DC.She also specializes in working with adult singles and with baby boomer siblings.She runs UNIQUE RETREATS, WEEKENDS FOR SINGLE WOMEN.She is author of six books, including With or Without a Man and its accompanying Workbook.