We have exciting news–Happy as a Mother has evolved into The Momwell Podcast! The podcast is staying the same–same great experts, same mission, same format. But we’re now operating under a new name–Momwell.
What You'll Learn
- How Delayed Emotional Development Impacts Decision Making
- Phrases that Shut Down Confident Decision Making
- How Moms are Dismissed and Minimized
- How to Accept Our Level of Control in Decisions
- Problem-Solving Skills and Their Role in Decisions
- How to Make Decisions and Trust in Yourself
- How to Honor Other People’s Decisions
Many of us were never taught how to make decisions with confidence. Some of us came from a religious background, some of us encountered controlling environments, and some of us were simply taught to trust our parent’s choices rather than making our own. Now, as moms, we often find ourselves struggling with people pleasing or an inability to trust ourselves.
But when we understand what’s holding us back, we can empower ourselves to make decisions. Today, I’m joined by Dr. Quincee Gideon, clinical psychologist and specialist in religious trauma and cult recovery to discuss how to work through our past and make decisions with confidence.
My Journey to Confident Decision Making
Growing up in an evangelical Christian home, I learned a lot of lessons, both good and bad.
I was taught to respect my elders, obey my parents, and put my trust in God whenever I faced a tough decision. As a result, when I entered adulthood, I struggled with choices. I was indecisive and prone to people pleasing.
I was indecisive and prone to people pleasing.
It took me a long time to realize that I had missed out on key skills in my childhood. I’d never learned how to trust myself or become empowered in my own choices.
After a lot of unlearning and skill-building, I learned how to make decisions with confidence. But it wasn’t an easy process.
When Dr. Quincee began putting out content about religious trauma and some of the barriers we might face when we come from a religious background, I realized how common my struggle was. So many of us were never taught how to make decisions. Then, when we become moms and we are making more decisions than ever before, we feel overwhelmed.
I was excited to welcome Dr. Quincee back to discuss how religion or our upbringing can play into struggles with choice and how we make decisions with confidence.
How Delayed Emotional Development Impacts Decision Making
Dr. Quincee pointed out that one of the biggest barriers to confident decision making is a delay in emotional development—something she often encounters in her work with religious trauma.
In many religious environments or strict homes, children are taught that their feelings are wrong. Many of us were raised to believe that feelings like doubt, anger, or uncertainty were a spiritual indication of a lack of faith, or even God’s way of trying to teach us a lesson. We often end up believing that normal human experiences and emotions are wrong.
Consequently, we start to separate ourselves from our emotional experience, shutting down our feelings and not tuning into them. But when we try to shut down our emotions, we don’t learn how to work through them.
When we try to shut down our emotions, we don’t learn how to work through them.
Dr. Quincee also said that the cycle ends up being perpetuated in unhealthy religious or cult communities. When you reach out to another person in these communities, and that support person is not equipped to work through their own emotions, they jump to responses such as, “Have you prayed about this?” or “God will never give you more than you can handle.”
Sometimes these responses come from a place of toxic positivity, implying that everything will be fine if you just put your trust in God. Other times, they lean in a negative direction, indicating that God orchestrates your suffering in order to move you closer to him. Either way, your feelings are minimized. Instead of being encouraged to acknowledge and move through your experience, you are told to shut down your emotions.
Phrases that Shut Down Confident Decision Making
Dr. Quincee pointed out that when people use phrases that shut down our emotional development, that isn’t typically their intention. In fact, the language we use often stems from a need to “fit in” within a community. Historically, when people form groups, we create a language that identifies an “in group” and an “out group.” The phrases we say indicate to the outside world that we’re part of that group.
Unfortunately, those phrases all too often become “thought-terminating clichés,” (a phrase coined by psychiatrist Robert Lifton). A thought-terminating cliché is a part of a language that stops any further consideration.
When someone says, “God will never give you more than you can handle,” it effectively stops you from expanding on the conversation, shutting down problem-solving or critical thinking. If you’re confiding in someone, you likely want to be a part of their “in group.” But if you counter a thought-terminating cliché, you might be viewed as an outsider.
Religious groups are often full of thought-terminating clichés. But Dr. Quincee pointed out that these clichés can come from any group. We sometimes even use them on ourselves.
Many of us might shut down our own thoughts when venting to a friend by saying, “It is what it is.” Dr. Quincee said that while that phrase is meant to show acceptance, it often operates differently, minimizing experiences or keeping us from processing our emotions.
When Dr. Quincee hears that phrase, she wants to ask, “What is it? What’s going on? What do you need?” Instead of shutting down our emotions, she thinks we should offer support and encourage each other to talk about what we need.
How Moms are Dismissed and Minimized
As Dr. Quincee talked about these thought-terminating clichés, I immediately thought about all of the unhelpful canned phrases that mothers are told when they’re struggling.
But isn’t a baby just such a blessing?
Enjoy every minute—it passes by so fast.
You should be grateful your children are healthy!
We’re often either completely dismissed or our suffering is normalized as part of our role, without any further investigation or questioning. As a result, many moms are left feeling as if they are the problem—this is just what motherhood is, so they shouldn’t need help or support.
But imagine if we didn’t encounter those phrases. Imagine if our support system helped us work through our feelings and brainstormed possible solutions rather than minimizing our experience.
Moms might feel less lost, less alone, and have more trust in their own emotions, experiences, problem-solving, and decision-making skills.
How to Accept Our Level of Control in Decisions
It makes sense that we would struggle with how to make decisions with confidence if we’ve encountered thought-terminating clichés or dismissal of our emotions for our entire lives. If we were taught to pray or accept what our family decides rather than work through tough situations, we might have never developed confident decision-making skills. But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn them now.
Dr. Quincee said that one of the first steps to empowering ourselves to make decisions is to reexamine our “locust of control,” or our perception about what is causing things to happen in our lives. This falls on a spectrum, from external to internal.
One of the first steps is to reexamine our perception about what is causing things to happen in our lives.
If you have an external locust of control, you might believe that things happen to you because of outside circumstances. Dr. Quincee pointed out that people in religious environments often find themselves centered in an external locust of control, putting trust in God’s will or outside forces. This also occurs outside of a religious setting, with people believing “the universe,” energy, or astrology are responsible for events in their lives.
On the other end of the spectrum is an internal locust of control—people on this extreme pay very little attention to the outside world and focus instead on the control they can have.
Dr. Quincee pointed out that people on this extreme have their own vulnerabilities—they might try to control too much. This can lead to anxiety, or even conditions such as eating disorders stemming from an attempt to take control of our circumstances.
The ideal balance is somewhere in the middle, leaning toward internal. We can acknowledge that there are things outside of our control—but we can control our responses.
For example, when our body feels dysregulated, we can learn the skills to work through that. When we find ourselves drowning in the invisible load and unrealistic expectations of motherhood, we can understand that we don’t have to live that way—we can find ways to let go of gender norms or share the mental load.
Problem-Solving Skills and Their Role in Decisions
When I was growing up in a religious environment, I was very much centered in an external locust of control. It felt chaotic. But it was sometimes freeing to not have to take responsibility.
As I got older, however, I had to learn how to make decisions for myself. I had to ground myself, take control where I could, and acknowledge what was mine to carry and what was not.
Recently we were visiting with family, and a well-meaning relative tried to console my son who had misplaced his lovey. They told him, “Why don’t we just pray to God to help you find it?”
I found myself frustrated. Instead of encouraging him to put his problem-solving skills to use and retrace his steps, they were moving him toward that external locust of control.
It took me a long time to find that centered locust, and I hope that as they grow, my kids will find that center sooner, trusting themselves and their ability to make decisions and solve problems.
Dr. Quincee pointed out that focusing on presence is a way we can center ourselves and regain perspective. If we find ourselves checking out or trying to search outside of ourselves for explanations, we can remind ourselves to be present in the moment and take control of only what we can.
We can remind ourselves to be present in the moment and take control of only what we can.
This is particularly important if we find ourselves in overwhelming situations as moms, such as struggling with infertility, working through postpartum depression, or coping with NICU experiences.
It can be tempting to try avoiding discomfort by searching outside of ourselves. But we miss out on emotional experiences when we aren’t present. When we can stay present (even if we lean on religion or our support system), we can problem solve, think critically, and work through our own emotions.
How to Make Decisions and Trust in Yourself
Ultimately, the ability to make decisions with confidence is more complicated than we might realize. When we’ve never been given the opportunity to develop our emotions or grow independence, we might struggle.
But, just as we want to support our own children in their ability to make decisions, we need to support ourselves in the process.
It’s important to remember that it’s okay to make mistakes or fail. We build our confidence by trying, and failing, and trying again. Try to let go of some of the pressure and perfectionism.
Dr. Quincee pointed out that it’s helpful to keep some perspective—most of our decisions are inconsequential, even if they feel big in the moment. It might not matter what we make for breakfast or what gadget or baby gear we pick out. Our children will be okay if we sometimes make mistakes, experience Mom Rage, or say the wrong thing. We can always repair, reconnect, and move forward.
Our children will be okay if we sometimes make mistakes.
Sometimes it can be helpful to write down the pros and cons or to put pen to paper about finances or time. These factors can be very valuable when making decisions. It can take some experimentation to find what works for you. It’s also important to acknowledge that we won’t always have 100% of the information. We often have to make judgment calls and lean on our ability to pivot in the future.
Dr. Quincee also recommended slowing down and looking around you, staying grounded when you find yourself struggling to make decisions or spiraling into “what ifs.” Try not to wear yourself out with every small choice—decision making is a muscle. If we allow ourselves to become overwhelmed, we won’t have the capacity when it’s time to make bigger, important decisions.
How to Honor Other People’s Decisions
Dr. Quincee also pointed out that a good way to build trust in ourselves and our ability to make decisions is to honor other people’s decisions.
This can be hard for many moms to accept. We often feel as if we have to do everything, sometimes forming an overfunctioning relationship or maternal gatekeeping. But this can exhaust our decision-making capacity and leave us feeling overwhelmed by responsibility. It can also prevent our partner from being empowered in their decision making in the home.
Dr. Quincee pointed out that when we try to manage our partner’s decisions, we’re taking on too much responsibility, managing both them and ourselves. We have to find where we’re comfortable letting go and allow our partners to develop their own way of doing things.
If this is uncomfortable, start with lower stakes activities. Maybe pass off meal planning or pick-ups and drop-offs. Allow your partner to take over entire tasks with autonomy to make decisions.
When our partners are empowered to make confident decisions, everyone benefits.
Dr. Quincee said that when our partners are empowered to make confident decisions, everyone benefits. Not only are they likely to come up with solutions we might not have thought of, but it also gives us the capacity to stand strong in the decisions we make.
It isn’t always easy to break away from our past and develop skills we never learned. As Dr. Quincee said, when we grow up in groups that tell us we have to be all-knowing in order to avoid some terrible outcome, we take that thinking into our adult lives, believing that we have to be all-knowing to avoid terrible outcomes. But that’s fundamentally not true.
We can accept what we know and don’t know, make decisions with confidence, and empower ourselves to overcome the past and move into the future with trust in ourselves.
Are you struggling with confidence or decision-making skills? Our mom therapists can help you build the skills and confidence you need! Book a FREE 15 minute virtual therapy support consultation today.