Living with the belief that we are not “good enough” the single greatest deterrent to good mental health It’s something millions of us learned as children. We internalized a sense of self based on what we were told and how we were treated. We accepted these without questioning, without a filter, without critical thinking skills and without inhibition. We experienced all of this as a reflection of our worth and learned that we were broken, damaged, or otherwise inescapably insufficient.
Not being good enough is a common misconception and it’s something folks try not to think about (though it’s a driving force in their lives). When it comes out in therapy it sounds something like this:
I am not good enough because I’m not:
– thin enough – smart enough – pretty/handsome enough – educated/successful/accomplished enough (I’ve served MDs, PhDs, and CEOs who believe this)
I am bad because. I am:
– Lazy, crazy, not to be taken seriously – A disappointment – Dirty/Disgusting/Gross (No distinction between self and the abuse we survived) – Never going to amount to anything
And therefore, I am not:
– Acceptable – Loveable – Respectable – Worthy/Deserving (especially of support and help in getting better)
And as such I must:
– Endlessly strive/work harder (earn love, approval, acceptance) – Do things perfectly – Find someone to take care of me – Get a good shrink and the right meds
All of this crap begs an easily overlooked and important question: How good is good enough? Who gets to set the standards? Who does the measurement? Where’s the scorecard and what grades did we earn? Where’s the constructive criticism, the guidance and instructions on how to do this shit?
Of course it doesn’t work that way. For most of us it’s a never ending cycle of trial and error. We never get “there” because “there” is a subjective place within ourselves and we have no map to get to it. The cost of what was denied us as children is incalculable.
Intellectually, most of us know that these beliefs are not true, yet they feel true and as such they overshadow our attempts to be happy and to have the life we most want. How do we come to feel something that we’ve never felt? (Good enough).
It starts with addressing the relentless critic in our heads for whom only excess is acceptable. Most of us alternate between heeding it and ignoring/distracting ourselves from it. Try to notice who it sounds like (perhaps many folks from your life, those for whom nothing was ever good enough).
Write out what it dictates is necessary. Write it up like it’s a job description and not just a daily to do list. Now, imagine assigning this to someone you care about. Imagine how cruel it would feel to place these expectations on another person.
Answer the damned voice. Tell the critic, “My best is more than good enough. (It has to be, it’s all any of us have).” Tell the voice, “It is not selfish to take care of myself. It is necessary in order for me to be of service to others.” Finally, tell the voice that it no longer gets to be the sole assessor of your worth.
Grab some paper and answer these questions:
– Who are the most loving people in your life? – How do they see you? (don’t water it down) – Why am I convinced that they’re all wrong?