Several months ago, the American Psychological Association released new guidelines on treating boys and men. They laser-focused on how toxic “traditional masculinity” is, causing widespread stress and anxiety for men. This month, the APA released new guidelines for treating girls and women, and it contained similar warning signals of the rigid parameters of “femininity” and in particular “motherhood” and how they can be damaging as well.
From a write-up in USA Today, that I read in Fortune’s daily Broadsheet newsletter: “Mothering puts tremendous pressure on women. If things aren’t working well in your life, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, the message you get is you need to be trying harder. … It’s a profoundly toxic perspective, and for mothers in particular it fails to take into account the systemic factors that we don’t have the language or vision to explain.”
The problem isn’t motherhood. It’s the box society puts mothers in. One of the recommendations for treating women suffering from trauma related to the expectations of being a woman is “alternative forms of healing, including indigenous methods and community resources.”
I fully believe that Chairman Mom itself is a form of therapy. Women are able to come to a safe space with total anonymity should they require it, get the help and support of thousands of women, and form ongoing small support groups around these challenges.
But recently, I felt like the baggage of female expectations, bias, betrayal, and so many other micro-traumas of my career were grinding me into a place where I couldn’t function. Chairman Mom helped me…A lot. But I needed more.
So many founders talk about how constantly being underestimated and counted out fuels them. But when you have to fight such overwhelming bias in addition to the odds every founder faces, it starts to become suffocating.
With the encouragement of a few friends, I tried something I never saw myself trying before: Hypnotherapy. (I asked about it on Chairman Mom, go here to join the discussion!) If you suffer from any anxiety, unproductive thought patterns you can’t seem to break, or imposter syndrome due to a lifetime of bias and doubt, run don’t walk to a hypnotherapist.
After just two sessions, the change in my outlook, my productivity, my mental state, and my overall well being trickling down into my relationship were all so unbelievably dramatic, it’s almost unsettling. My shoulders are sitting lower instead of all hunched up. I feel—physically—as if I have less weight hanging from me. I feel comparatively buoyant. And here’s the most staggering thing: There was a whole host of things I was incredibly hurt and angry about that in a week’s time I’ve simply let go of. Most freeing: Imposter syndrome is gone for maybe the first time in my professional career. I deeply and fully believe in myself in a way I don’t think I ever have. Like all I have to do to succeed is just walk forward in life, instead of pushing a boulder up a hill that keeps rolling back down and crushing me.
I have noticed at least a dozen times when things that typically will trigger the same unhelpful or emotional responses—whether I like it or not—simply aren’t triggering those responses. We get turned down for funding? It no longer sparks an emotional waterfall of every time I’ve been counted out because of arbitrary reasons, nor does it trigger doubts of “Maybe they’re right and our business does suck…” I mentally shrug, and feel badly that the investor in question won’t be getting rich off Chairman Mom. “Guess I’ll keep more of the ownership,” I think and focus instead on jacking revenues.
I am not fronting, y’all. You know, I never front. I hate fronting and think it’s dangerous for female founders to pretend any of this is easy. But that sh*t just rolls right off me now, and I get back to work.
I’m not in denial that our company could fail. I just don’t have the same emotional reaction to that potential reality. I just look at what the next steps would be if that occurred without emotion.
I am happier. I’m not fighting with people. And I’ve been more productive.
Everyone close to me has noticed the difference. Paul got delayed in a meeting when he was supposed to be helping me with the kids and picked up his phone bracing for a barrage of text messages. When he saw none, he was really worried. He texted that he was sorry ran things late, and got back a cheery “No problem! Thanks for picking up the groceries earlier!”
“I don’t even know who you are without your anger,” a friend (somewhat) jokingly said to me recently.
Half a dozen of my friends have already booked appointments of their own.
I don’t want to go into too much detail about how it works or what I experienced on the table, in part, because a lot of it is hard to describe. Sort of like retelling an emotional dream that sounds absurd in the light of day, absurd when the person listening isn’t feeling it.
But I’m also hesitant to talk about it, because I think it’s one of those things you should go into without any suggestion from other people. The power of hypnotherapy is that your imagination is able to pull such surprising and illuminating things from your subconscious. You literally surprise yourself. That means each experience is inherently unique, and you deserve to go in with a total blank slate of what to expect.
But I’ll tell you what I wanted to know first: You don’t lose consciousness, and it can’t make you cluck like a chicken. Popular culture hasn’t helped hypnotherapists! I am not someone who likes to lose control and the idea of being “out” really freaked me out before going. My reticence wasn’t that I didn’t believe it could work. It was that I wasn’t sure I trusted anyone to go tromping around in my subconscious.
If you are like me, don’t freak out. It’s more like a deep state of relaxation, a bit like a semi-lucid dream that is very real but you are aware of while it’s going on even though your conscious mind isn’t controlling where it is going.
What is so powerful about hypnotherapy is what it allows you to visualize in a highly suggestible deep trance. I was able to see things that I was unable to see before when it comes to my own future and my own success. Versions of myself I didn’t know were possible—versions perhaps that the narrow constructs of being a woman in this culture had convinced me weren’t possible.
A friend of mine recently made the point that this is even more important for women, because the world talks us out of believing in ourselves, our gut, our lived experience and our own innate well of wisdom. I feel reconnected to it now.
Today’s new questions on Chairman Mom:
- I need emergency help with an ex’s hostile new significant other
- Tips on participating on a panel discussion (dominated by old white men)?
- I need advice on advocating for myself for a new job at a crucial moment in my career