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A Trance of Unworthiness

Mothers tell me their No. 1 challenge is being overwhelmed by too much to do. They never feel like they finish what needs to be done and they feel exhausted from trying. As a mother, psychologist and mindfulness teacher, I know that feeling intimately.

Our culture values achievement and “doing” so highly that this feeds our compulsion to be busy: our addiction to cataloguing what needs to be done and steadily and relentlessly working our way through it. And the consuming nature of parenting often means we can’t get much else done. When, at the end of a day, we don’t meet our unrealistic expectations, we are left feeling that we are somehow deficient.

When I interviewed Tara Brach she described it as being at war with ourselves — a trance of unworthiness. She calls it a trance because we don’t recognize how many moments in our day when there is an undercurrent of “I’m not enough … I’m falling short … I’m doing it wrong” that affects everything. We try to regain control and so we push ourselves harder to do more just to feel that we are okay. And so the cycle continues.

It is a pervasive suffering, the way we judge our day and ourselves by the number of things we cross off the list rather than, for example, having an orientation of being mindful of “the presence or absence of goodwill in our heart” as we interact with ourselves and those around us (as Sylvia Boorstein describes in our interview).

But there is another way: showing ourselves kindness toward this very human and understandable predisposition toward busyness and working with it skillfully, gently and patiently.

Try this:

Take a moment to sit quietly with your eyes closed.

  • Recognize the “busyness” that is causing dissatisfaction, stress and struggle in your body and mind. Name it to tame it.
  • Scan your body, softening any obvious signs of tension. Gently invite it to let go.
  • Send kindness that this is what is here. This is hard. This busyness, this dissatisfaction, this feeling like there is always more to do. It feels vulnerable.
  • Soften into this kindness. Stay with it a while. Don’t try to change anything or make anything go away. Just surround those feelings with kindness and understanding. Let it be what it is. Don’t run away with it or push it away. Just be gently curious and kind.
  • Now reconnect with your intention today, in life right now as a parent. It might be to live with an open, loving heart. It might be to connect with your children and be present with them from that love. It might be to accept yourself more lovingly as a parent who is doing the best they can and needs time to pause and renew in this busy role. Again, we are not replacing anything with this intention or pushing anything away. Use your own words and spend some time sitting with that in kindness and gentle curiosity.
  • Take a few slow, deep breaths as you get ready to go on with your day and see if you can hold that gentle loving clarity and space with you as you make choices about what to do, how to do it, and what not to do. May you be happy.

Busy mom photo available from Shutterstock

A Trance of Unworthiness

Kellie Edwards

Kellie EdwardsKellie Edwards is a facilitator of mindfulness in the family, the workplace and beyond. She runs group workshops and individual coaching sessions integrating mindfulness practices and the psychology of flourishing. She writes a blog with Huffington Post and also other guest blog spots. She is a qualified meditation teacher, a registered psychologist and a member of the Australian Psychological Society. The mother of two girls, Kellie lives in Melbourne, Australia. Visit her website here:

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APA Reference
Edwards, K. (2018). A Trance of Unworthiness. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 29, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 8 Nov 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.