Your day in a nutshell....
You have been climbed on, sucked on, slapped and screamed at - all. day. long. Your partner comes home and comes in for a hug and you just about punch them in the face. There is no “end of shift” when it comes to the role of mothering, but it does feel like there is only so much fuel in the tank - only so many touches your skin absorb - before you physically cannot take any more.
And for breastfeeding moms, it seems to hit harder. To make it all the more frustrating, it seems that if you try to talk about it with others they seem to look at you like you have three heads! Why are you still breastfeeding anyway?! With so many moms experiencing being touched out, there has to be more to this story, right?!
Nervous System 101
Being “Touched out” isn’t a scientific term… but that urge to run away, or punch someone is.
It’s a nervous system response. (Hello first year intro to pysch!) You aren’t crazy, mama! You are just at the edge of your “window of tolerance”. In case you didn't pay attention in psych 115, I'll fill you in...
Every human has a window of tolerance. That’s the space in our nervous system where we stay when the things we are experiencing (externally and internally, more on that later) are things we feel confident handling. There is no threat to us. Nothing is too stressful. We can fully “tolerate” the world around us. We can call this the “green” zone. But, when we start to feel like things are getting a little bit too much for us, we start to move into the “yellow” zone. This is the space where our bodies start to get ready in case it needs to pull out it’s extra support. Just in case real danger pops up and you really have to jump into action! We feel that pressure building inside of us. Things are starting to feel like they just might be too much for us. Danger just might be here somewhere. If we get even more stress added to us, we will cross over into the red zone. Adrenaline and cortisol start pumping and our body moves into “fight, flight or freeze”. If the threat around us is small enough - we will try and fight it. If we aren’t sure we can win a fight - we will run away. If we can't run and we can’t fight - we will shut down. We “freeze” to conserve resources and hope and pray that the threat thinks we are dead and leaves us alone.
The Modern Mama Tigers
So what does this have to do with feeling touched out?! There are no threats in our home, right? No tigers lurking behind trees… no bears waiting to rip our hearts out with one fell swoop! Except, there are.
In our modern world, we may not have beasts waiting to maul us, but our nervous system takes the threats around us - and IN us - to be just as dangerous. You see, when our child wants to breastfeed a lot more happens than just a kiddo latching and drinking. A cascade of unconscious activity is flurrying inside of you - some we talk about a lot when it comes to breastfeeding, like hormones... some we are much more quite about... like the thoughts that can start wage war in your brain. If you have insecurities about the fact that your toddler is still breastfeeding like a newborn, you probably have a lot of thoughts that get triggered (I also call this the Worry Spiral!) Your toddler still wants to breastfeed so:
"We have this bad habit... if I let them they are gonna pull your shirt down in the park again and that is so embarrassing... I will meet moms who don't think I'm crazy"
"What if they breastfeed their dolly in front of your in-laws and they figure out that you are still breastfeeding them? That always makes Sunday dinner really awkward... and then the car ride home with my husband is torture...."
"They love to twiddle your nipple while they feed GAH! It’s so annyoing, but if I tell them to stop, they will tantrum... My kid crying all the time can’t be good for them! It's better to just suffer through it, right?"
"If I was just a better mom I wouldn’t feel like this"
"If my kid would just STOP already I wouldn’t be so stressed out and I could be a better mom. I feel so held hostage! My body doesn't belong to me anymore! I'm just a cow to be milked."
"Man, I am a terrible mom." (And yes, I know all about that feeling - read about it here)
You probably don’t even realize that all of that is there. It’s just that flush of warmth in your chest and tightness in your jaw when your kiddo wants to breastfeed. (You might not even notice that either!) The trouble is that each of those thoughts are tigers to your nervous system. Someone calling you a bad mom (even if it’s YOU) is a threat to you! It doesn’t feel safe! Being a bad mom, having a toddler that is still breastfeeding... your body is interpreting that as danger - and it's getting ready to fight.
Even MORE that keeps that "touched out" feeling building
This all happens in one tiny moment. What about the bills that need paid? The sink full of dishes? The amount of screen time your kids get? The way last years shorts are tighter than you remember…? All of these are little tigers threatening you. Your nervous system, in an attempt to protect and prepare you to survive the danger, switches gears. You are put on high-alert. One after another they add to the stress in front of you. You move from feeling safe & content in the green zone, to anxious and stressed in the yellow zone… (and for many of us, this is so familiar, we think that the “yellow” zone is just normal!).
Touched Out Mama Land
That yellow zone is touched out mama land. And man, it’s so hard to get out of when your role of mama is a 24/7 gig. No breaks (especially not bathroom breaks!). You are touched out AND STILL BEING TOUCHED!!!! Gah! So, you start doing yoga, drinking kale smoothies and taking all the vitamins to try and get your stress level under control! (If they work, then it's not your fault that you are a bad mom, and maybe that tiger will finally stop stalking you, right?) Those things can help by taking you back away from that threshold of teetering into the red zone… but they never seem to “stick.” That blessed green zone of the pinterest worthy mom-ing is definitely on the other side of the fence…. A barbed wire, electric fence. One you feel certain you will never find your way to cross. You just are not good enough. But, what if there was a way to actually expand your window of tolerance? To make that green zone bigger and bigger and maybe even dismantle that scary fence? What if there was a way to not have to constantly muscle down the urge to yell or hide in the bathroom with a pint of ice cream, but to move through your day with actual ease? To actually have some parenting days that feel, well, pretty effortless? Maybe even joyful?
Moving back to the green zone!
There is. It takes time, but you can get there! The very first step is by recognizing that you have a window of tolerance. The fact that you get pushed out of it isn’t anyone’s fault. Not yours, not your kids, not your crazy neighbour. who judges you for breastfeeding in the back yard (you think at least)... It’s just a fact. Once you recognize that you can realize that even when you get pushed out of it and behave in ways you wish you didn’t (like wanting to punch that hubby of yours!) it’s actually your nervous system keeping you safe!
Recognizing those 2 simple things starts to shrink those tigers. All of those thoughts are maybe not so scary after all! You aren't a bad mom! Your nervous system is protecting you! Don't forget that while you pack your bags and get ready to move out of touched out mama land.
The Power of NO!
Saying “no” when you need to is really key when you are looking to take up residence in the green zone. And, I know that’s hard. Really hard! There are a million tigers behind that NO! But, I have created a very simple process to support you to stop focusing on the tigers while getting both YOUR needs and your little’s needs met AND deepening your bond. (Because hey, if you both getting all the thing you need, where is the danger anyway?!) It’s called The 3 B’s of Communication. It’s a simple PDF guide that comes with a printable cheat sheet and it’s totally free. I’m so excited to share it with you!
You can grab it right here: www.ownyourparentingstory.com/guide Learning how to spend more time in the green land is so important when it comes to parenting. I'll be continuing to chat about why and how over the next few weeks. STAY TUNE!