THIS MONTH’S FEATURED ARTICLE:
How to Find The Woman You Used to Be
By Heather Hetchler, MA
Inside the October 2021 Issue
Halloween is a time when children dress up and go door to door, collecting treats while pretending to be someone else. They may put on masks or makeup and wear costumes which reflect the characters of their choosing. Putting on a persona for just one day and pretending to be another person is intended to be fun for a child.
For a stepmom, however, becoming someone unrecognizable is a slow fade rather than a one-day occurrence—and it’s nothing to celebrate. One of the scariest things a stepmom can navigate, I’d say, is losing herself in the process of trying to build up her stepfamily. If this has been your experience, read on! What follows are five tips for finding the way back to YOU.
1. Look in the mirror.
Really look. Who do you see? Do you recognize the reflection staring back at you? This sounds like a simple exercise and it is. It’s also challenging yet, ultimately, freeing. Ask yourself the two questions above each morning. I want you to then affirm yourself out loud, inserting your name in the space provided:
• You are loved, _____.
• You are beautiful, _____.
• You matter, _____.
This is easy to commit to since it only takes a few moments each day. Do this exercise for one week, learning to look at yourself in the mirror and “see” the woman staring back. Often, it’s difficult for us to affirm positive thoughts because we’ve grown used to being treated negatively. By speaking positive truths to yourself, you will experience a change.
2. Begin journaling.
Whether or not you enjoy writing down your feelings, please do so. Get yourself a special journal and start writing for 5 min. daily. Reflect on the steps you took above and/or life in general:
• How does it feel looking at yourself?
• Who do you see? Is she familiar to you?
• How does it feel to repeat your affirmations?
• If you shy away from speaking them out loud, why?
If you need more time to dig deep, take it. Research has proven that consistent journaling benefits our minds and bodies. The founder of VanillaPapers.net has said:
“When you journal, you learn to better express yourself. And this lets you better communicate your feelings with others. The more self-aware you become, the more you can make yourself understood to others. Journaling helps put your feelings into words.”
3. Keep searching.
You’re in there, trust me, though you’ve done so much to “be” who you believe your partner and others need you to be that you may not recognize yourself, your interests or your desires anymore. You may have given up hobbies to be present for your family or contorted yourself to please your stepkids, their mother, your in-laws, et al.
It’s typical to experience a gradual loss of self when you’re focused on being everything to everyone else. When you commit to searching for yourself, however, you’ll be more naturally intentional about rediscovering what you may have given up. Don’t spend time being hard on yourself for the loss of you. Rather, spend time and energy reviving her.
4. Identify patterns.
Bestselling author and inspirational speaker Mike Kim has said:
“Givers have to set boundaries because takers don’t have any.”
Heed this advice, giving yourself the gift of rediscovering what brings you joy and contentment. Certainly there are patterns you can look for, noticing which behaviors exhaust you and then setting boundaries around them.
If you feel worn down by stepfamily dynamics, identify what’s causing the exhaustion. Regardless of what it is, break the pattern by adopting and enforcing boundaries—the most loving thing you can give to yourself and others. Without being threatening or demanding, you can tell others what you need in relation to x, y and z:
a. Identify the ill-fitting pattern.
b. Choose how you’ll respond to it.
c. Voice your boundary to those involved.
d. Lastly, monitor and continue to enforce it.
Say your stepkids’ mom speaks harshly to you from time to time. It’s unhealthy yet you can’t make her stop. You walk on eggshells, remaining silent to avoid a verbal explosion. In thinking it over, you identify that she reacts harshly when you disagree with her. You then choose to create a boundary, deciding you’ll respond by walking away and ending the heated conversation.
During a period of calm, you approach her and share: “It’s difficult for me when you speak harshly to me. This seems to happen when I disagree with you. Moving forward, I’ll be walking away and exiting the conversation. I’m telling you what my boundary is so you can make a choice to continue or stop.”
If she does it again, follow through: Walk away and exit the conversation. If she protests or asks why, say, “I set a clear boundary and you crossed it.”
5. Reconnect weekly.
If you’ve lost part of who you are are to appease others, the time to journey back to you is now. You are who your partner fell in love with. You are a wonderful person with love to give. You will, however, ultimately run out of emotional fuel if you aren’t also loving yourself. You’ll then become mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted.
Once you’ve mastered the above, make a weekly habit of reconnecting with yourself. Don’t believe the lie that you have no time for walks, reading, meeting friends or hobbies. In reality, you don’t have time to not do what makes you happy. Activities we love revive us, refreshing our souls. Everyone needs this, especially stepmoms.
I realize that choices have been made which may have impacted you at the core. All stepmoms experience some form of this … but today is a new day! Start, right now, to be the woman you were created to be. Don’t spend time dwelling on the past. Rather, look to the future and be intentional about reviving your soul and being authentically you as you navigate life in step.
Choose to embrace who you are, within the structure of your family, moving forward. Take time to rediscover you and embrace that person. Ultimately, how others wish you were is their issue to work through—not yours. It’s time you look in the mirror and love the woman looking back!
You might also like…
Stepmoms and Anxiety: What to Do About How You Feel
How to Make Your Relationship a Priority Without Neglecting the Kids
High Conflict People: A Guide to Managing Difficult Personalities
What to Do if You Don’t Like Your Stepkids
About the Author: Heather Hetchler, MA, offers a full library of e-courses addressing topics like co-parenting, stepparenting, remarriage and more. Several downloadable resources and 1-on-1 coaching are available, too. You’ll find all of it online at Learning2Step.com.