Do you often find yourself thinking you are not smart enough, not pretty enough, not thin enough, not strong enough, not talented enough, not loving enough, not disciplined enough, not brave enough, not generous enough…fill-in-the-blanks NOT ENOUGH.
“Not enough” often begins as a simple quest to be a better you. At first it feels normal, natural, reasonable even. You want to excel, to achieve, to do your best.
But somewhere along the way, the “enough” line in the sand gets moved, and before long you are routinely holding yourself to standards you would never dream of imposing on those around you. You wake up each morning, and instead of jumping out of bed feeling inspired and excited, you are battling waves of exhaustion and fear before the day has even begun. And even when success comes your way, you cannot allow yourself to enjoy it, because you are always bracing yourself against the next wave of self-disappointment.
Before long it feels like your life is one long hopeless lunge towards the carrot you no longer believe you have any right or ability to catch.
How does this happen? How could our good intentions to be our best get so twisted and tangled?
The foundation is often laid in our early years, long before our brains possess the abstract reasoning abilities to separate out the negative messages swirling around us from our internal assessments of those messages’ validity. When those around us experience shame, assign blame, externalize anger, or otherwise involve us in their own power struggles with themselves, we come away thinking their emotions, feelings, and thoughts are our own. They feel inadequate…we are the inadequate one. They struggle with poor body image….we perceive ourselves as “fat” or “ugly.” They have a bad day at work….it is our fault for not being “good” enough.
In short, we do not learn well where they end and we begin.
So what is the solution? The simplest answer is found when we examine what happens when someone throws a boomerang in our direction. When we catch it, we send the sender – and ourselves – the message that whatever it brings to us is ours. But what happens if we don’t choose to catch it? When we refuse to reach out and catch a boomerang, it has no other choice but to return back to its sender, and we are freed from the burden of a battle that is not our own.
I used to catch the boomerang every time. I took in each message the world around me threw me that I was not enough as I was, that I needed to prove myself to earn my place, that I needed to change my outsides before my insides would be acceptable, that all my worth was tied up in my accomplishments. When “good” things would happen, I would experience a momentary high, only to be laid so low again when the tide inevitably turned. “Not enough” became my middle name…and in time it was the only name I recognized as my own.
When I entered my own process of recovery, I heard over and over again that “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over again expecting different results.” Slowly but surely, I learned how to catch myself when I was about to step onto the hamster wheel of “not enough” once again, and I learned that I could back away and head off in a new direction instead…a direction that felt more self-affirming, more self-loving, and more interested in the quality of the journey rather than in arriving at any specific destination.
Since then, I have dedicated my life to the pursuit of unconditional self-love and self-acceptance. I have realized over the years that it simply feels better to be my own friend, to stand on my own side. I have also realized that when I feel better about me, it becomes easier to allow myself to succeed, because my definition of success has changed accordingly.
When I view myself as “enough”, regardless of what a single day’s events may bring, I allow myself to celebrate even my foibles and fears as the teachers they are, and I hold up hope high in front of my own eyes as the carrot I have already attained.
An Experiential Example: Go Ahead, Compare Yourself
When you read the phrase above, you probably caught yourself saying, “What? Compare myself? But I’ve been told comparing myself to others is the root of all my problems!”
My answer to this is, “It depends on what you focus on.” For instance, what normally happens when we compare ourselves to others is that we think we are comparing apples to apples as we are focusing on specific areas where we believe we don’t measure up.
However, we rarely spend any time examining our standards for comparison. Are they realistic? Can the subject of our comparison even meet those standards – in other words, are they even attainable?
So let’s take a simple example to illustrate the point. You might want to have your journal handy for this exercise.
For part one of the exercise, think of someone whom you believe embodies your “physical ideal” – the person you most wish you looked like. Now compare your own physical measurements to that person. Spend a few moments dwelling on the differences you perceive between you and the target of your comparison. Notice your inner state, your thoughts and the emotions you are experiencing as you ponder those perceived differences. How do you feel? How willing are you to actually “go for it” and reach for your own stars while you are experiencing these types of thoughts and emotions? Jot down some notes in your journal.
Next, make a list of all the achievements you are proud of, from early childhood to the present day. Be sure to list out every accomplishment you can recall – big or small. Now, compare your list to that of composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart at age twelve. Consider as you are reviewing your own list of accomplishments to date that, by that time Mozart was twelve years old, he already spoke fifteen languages and had composed numerous major pieces of music, including an opera. Again, spend a few moments dwelling on the differences between your list and Mozart’s list of accomplishments. Notice your inner state, your thoughts and the emotions you are experiencing as you ponder those perceived differences. Ask yourself how willing you are to actually “go for it” and reach for your own stars while you are experiencing these types of thoughts and emotions. How do you feel? Jot down any notes in your journal.
The first time I did this exercise, I felt predictably miserable by the time I reached this point. I was also wondering what the heck the purpose of the exercise was – I was perfectly capable of making myself miserable without any extra help, thank you very much!
And that is precisely the point. Let’s just say you have believed for quite some time that, if only your outer appearance looked different, or if only your list of accomplishments were longer, you would feel so much better and be so much happier, more successful, and more accepted.
Yet you are wasting so much perfectly valuable energy that is gridlocked in just getting you through a day bogged down by impossible comparisons – energy you could be pouring into your work, your family life, your relationships, and your relationship with YOU. You think the comparisons will help you feel better, do better, be better.
But they are the obstacle – the only obstacle – in your path.
So the question then becomes, “When does it make sense to let those comparisons go, in the name of actually experiencing that happiness, joy, success, satisfaction, body- and self-love they have been promising to deliver to you one day, some day, when you finally measure up?”
And the answer is, “NOW.”
Letting go of “not enough” can feel daunting when you are facing down the challenge alone. But help is available. At Southlake Counseling, we know firsthand how painful it feels to live in a constant state of self-disappointment. We understand how powerful “not enough” can be as a negative motivator. Most importantly, we know that it is possible to break free into “enough” – to learn to love ourselves, our bodies, our relationships, our lives, and ourselves, right where we are, as we are.
If you want to say NO to “not enough” and say YES to life, contact us today at 704.896.7776 or Kkrueger@centerforselfdisocovery.com We look forward to meeting you and celebrating the day you look “not enough” straight in the eyes and say “never again!”
p.s. Stay tuned for next week’s Say Yes to Life Monday Motivator for more on this important topic.