Here’s how this process usually goes (and if what I’m about to describe sounds like you, and hasn’t really worked for you, then you definitely want to read this piece a few times):
- Someone realizes that they don’t feel like they are “enough.” (This can be “I don’t deserve” or “I’m not worthy” or “I don’t matter,” as well).
- They embark on self-help. They try to understand shame and worthiness issues. They might dissect where the messages that they are not enough, came from (the media? Parents? A particularly exacting teacher?).
- They work with a kind, compassionate, and caring coach or counselor or therapist or go to some workshops or repeat affirmations or make some vision boards: I AM ENOUGH.
- They are often encouraged to find the evidence that they are enough–to think of all the reasons why they are a good, kind person who is deserving of love.
- Every time the “not enough” voice comes up, the work is–or so they say–to remind yourself that YOU. ARE. ENOUGH.
This might seem like a logical approach. If you are thirsty, you’d try to alleviate the thirst with something to drink. So–if you feel like you’re not enough, it’s time to fill yourself with the messages that you are enough, right?
Interestingly, this isn’t what I’ve found to be the most helpful approach.
The Logical Fallacies of “I’m Not Enough”
The first logical fallacy: Let’s start with the very message of “I’m Not Enough.”
I love doing “I don’t feel like enough” work with coaching clients. I ask one simple yet complex question, which I’ll also ask you to consider, here:
How would you define “enough”?
Most people think they have a really solid definition. You can probably list a lot of ideas: “I’d be enough if I…didn’t snap at my kids, made more money, lost X number of pounds, actually committed deeply to my spiritual practice, stopped procrastinating…”
But then we start to deconstruct it. Can you really know that any of those things are “enough”? And where are the parameters? If someone makes plenty of money and is the “perfect” weight and is deeply committed to her spiritual practice and never procrastinates, how do you know for sure that she is “enough”? And what if she does all of those things–but–she snaps at her kids? Is she then “not enough”? Does the balance sheet suddenly tip because she does this one thing wrong? Oh–it depends on “how much” she snaps at her kids? What if she has a massive rage-fest, one time a year, and she’s a perfect mother every other day of the year? What then?
I’m sure you see the point I’m getting at–that this “enough” idea is essentially undefinable. It’s a slippery-slope. The boundaries are loose and impermeable and this is exactly how we all use this to, well, completely mind-fuck ourselves away from being loving, kind, or compassionate towards ourselves and others.
(Note: if we set up standards of “enough-ness” for ourselves, we’re doing it for others, too. Hello, conditional love.)
The next logical fallacy: Understanding where the “not enough” came from, who taught us this idea in the first place, is the antidote to alleviating it.
This one is only partially true. It’s only helpful if you’re going to use that understanding to see, in a compassionate way, the pain that the message-bearer was in when they imprinted their criticism and hurt onto you.
Unfortunately, I see that a lot of well-intentioned coaches, therapists, workshop leaders, etc., will then encourage their clients to tell that person to “Fuck off” in an angry letter that they’ll never send, or they’ll find all the ways in which the early message-bearer was a screw-up and thus can’t be trusted, or they’ll instruct their clients to “not listen” to that voice, or even to tell that voice to “Shut up!” every time they hear it.
Why doesn’t that “work”? Because hatred is hatred, folks. If you’re externalizing it and heaping the blame and criticism right back onto the person who first told you you weren’t “enough,” or hurling expletives at that voice, you’re just spinning the same wheel that you’ll eventually turn back onto yourself.
The third logical fallacy: That finding evidence of enough-ness by listing good qualities, or repeatedly affirming your enough-ness (“I am enough; I am enough”), will be the antidote to feeling like you’re not enough.
This is a logical fallacy because it pre-supposes that the “enough” is not already sitting right there–that it needs to be found, fortified, or repeatedly acknowledged, in order to exist.
In other words, it’s like standing with your back to a buffet of food, refusing to acknowledge that the buffet is there, being quite hungry, and saying, “I HAVE FOOD. I HAVE FOOD” over and over, in the hopes that the food will come because you keep repeating that you have it.
If you’d only stop assuming that the food isn’t there in the first place, you’d see that there’s this buffet that you’re totally ignoring. It’s not intentional ignoring. It’s not that you aren’t working hard enough to see the food, and need to work harder to believe that the food exists.
The food is right there. Fact. Done. Period. You’ve got to stop assuming the food is not there, if you want to see that the food already exists.
You’ve got to stop desperately trying to find the proof of being enough–that in and of itself carries the implicit assumption that you aren’t enough, that being enough is hard to find and feel, or that it needs justification or fortification in order to last.
The Truth About Enough
You don’t need to find your enough-ness. You don’t need to assert it more often, in order to conjure it into being. You don’t need to go back and get angry at the people who are wounded JUST like you are, in probably almost the EXACT same ways, in the hopes that angry catharsis will purge you of your pain (if that really worked, their criticisms and anger directed at you would have healed them, after all).
What you actually need is to question the voice. Question definitions of “enough” (or deserving, worthiness, or “mattering” to others). As you question, listen carefully to what the voice is saying.
Start to ask yourself why this voice would say this. What wound might prompt a voice to say such a thing–that you aren’t enough, aren’t deserving, or don’t matter?
That’s where you’ll find the help you’re looking for–within the voice that sounds so angry, but that is actually so wounded and so desperate for help that it’s going to start screaming, if it has to. If you’re desperate for water, your behavior will get more desperate. The hungrier you are, the more irritable you are. When you’re emotionally starving, the needs of those emotions, demanding nourishment, also get more extreme.
That’s where you’ll start to discover that this voice that tells you that you aren’t enough…might just be an addiction. It literally might be this thing that you turn to, to avoid taking risks, as a means of self-sabotage and playing victim. You might realize with startling clarity that you don’t actually, truly, honestly believe you “aren’t enough,” and that you just like to tell yourself this so that you don’t have to really put yourself out there (in career, in relationships, in lots of places).
It’s through listening to the voice, not trying to drown it out with affirmations, that you learn this valuable information and can then give less weight to the message–next time it comes up, you might take a breath and say to yourself, “Ah, yes. I totally see how I’m turning to that old message, again.”
This voice that tells you that you aren’t enough…might be defending against a pre-conceived idea that its needs won’t be met from the get-go. Sadness over “not being enough” feels familiar and less vulnerable than actually asking your husband to please hold you for a few minutes, or telling a friend that you are terrified of completely irrational things.
It’s through listening to the voice, not spending time getting angry at whomever first told you that you weren’t enough, that you’ll learn this valuable information and can get to the important business of meeting needs. You might take deep breaths and muster up the courage to say, “I’m going to ask my husband to hold me for a few minutes. If he says no, I’m calling a friend. I’m going to find someone to hold me for a few minutes, even if I feel completely ridiculous.” Or perhaps you’ll say to yourself, “It’s time to tell my best friend that I get anxious about these things that I know aren’t really serious.”
This voice that tells you that you aren’t enough…might be trying to keep you from making more mistakes, and thus it’s actually confused. This “not enough” voice might think that if you tell yourself you’re not enough, or don’t matter, or don’t “deserve” something, that this will be the punishment that protects you from making more mistakes.
The voice might not realize that actually, what would really help when you make mistakes is forgiveness. The voice might have also been taught that forgiveness is for wimps and chumps who let people take advantage of them; forgiveness is the same as pretending something didn’t happen; forgiveness means that what abuses did happen are somehow okay.
It’s through listening to this voice, not hoping and praying that you’ll finally figure out the “not enough” equation, that you might realize: “Holy shit. No one ever taught me about forgiveness, in my family. People were mad at you until the storm passed, and if I made a mistake, I had to eat shit until they stopped being mad, which is not actually ‘forgiveness.’ If I learn how to actually forgive–what that process looks like–I’ll have another option for recognizing that when I make mistakes, there’s another way to try not to repeat them, other than beating up on myself.”
It’s listening to the voice–not rejecting it, making it bad or wrong, or trying to sprinkle affirmation fairy dust on it until it goes away–that gives you this incredibly insightful information. Then you might say to yourself, “I have always felt like forgiveness is like saying that when I did something wrong, that’s okay. I’ve never considered that that might not be true. Let me look at that.”
You might start looking at everyone’s mistakes, and say to yourself, “Wow–every time they make mistakes, they’re actually not waking up in the morning to screw up my day. I don’t need to judge them until they do it better, either. Whether or not I forgive them has zero effect on whether or not they’ll make mistakes, because we all make mistakes.”
Next time you ask yourself what it is that you struggle with, don’t say that your primary issue is “feeling like you aren’t enough.”
Say that your primary issue is struggling with listening to the voice and resisting the temptation to reject it or ignore it (you and me both, sister–this is an ongoing journey).
Next time you’re tempted to go into “not enough” or any messages that are close-cousins, here’s one simple mantra that can replace those forced affirmations: “I’ll discover something, if I listen closely without attachment.”
Or here are two questions to ask yourself: “What are my definitions of ‘enough’? Can I really know that this is an absolute definition of ‘enough’?”
Spend less time searching for the enough-ness (trust me; the buffet table is right there).
Spend more time noticing and deconstructing the stuff that sits in the way when you’re ready to pull up a chair and feast.
Someone asked me, recently, about my take on New Year’s Resolutions–being a life coach, and all. Did I think they were helpful, for people? Pointless? Annoying?
My answer: I think New Year’s Resolutions are like anything else in life. Your experience of it is all how you relate to it. (And, by the way, we could be talking about whether to set goals or not set goals; whether to own a day-planner or not to own a day-planner; whether to have quarterly objectives or not to have quarterly objectives, etc.)
Every year, around this time, there’s a rash of articles on NYRs–here’s how you make them and keep them; a little tough love around keeping them; why it’s so helpful to keep them; the proof that they can work; the proof that they don’t work; NYRs are awful and you shouldn’t do them; here’s my rebellious stance on not making them and why I’ll never make them, again.
Truth? It’s all how you relate to whatever it is that you’ve got your attention focused on. People who enjoy making NYRs enjoy setting goals and following through. People who don’t care to make NYRs, just don’t feel called to make them.
And people who are passionately against them? If we just cut to honesty: clearly, there’s a trigger there.
Can’tcha smell it? That passionate rejection can carry just the wee-est (if that’s a word) hint of insecurity about, ahem, not following through on things. Perhaps the slightest little soupçon of judgment permeates their souls when they don’t follow through (again, another year, again, another year) on a resolution.
Or, even–a major shame attack (because it’s another year, again, another year, again, another year, again, and they’re perpetually saying they’re going to do stuff, and then not doing what they say they’ll do).
That place of self-criticism is a hard, hard place to sit with.
So, the answer often becomes to push it to the external: Damn those New Year’s Resolutions! They are the problem! I’m not taking it any more! I won’t subject myself to that, anymore!
Be the Steward
The thing is, this isn’t about what’s external to you. It’s internal. Your experience of anything is all about how you relate to something. You are not “subjected to” New Year’s Resolutions. You are the steward of your life, not the intangible NYR. You’re choosing how you use them.
Click to tweet: You are not subjected to New Year’s Resolutions. You are the steward of your life. http://ctt.ec/9JXMq
If you use NYRs (or goal-setting, accountability, day-planners, organization kits, The Desire Map, a life coach, so-and-so’s 3 step plan, a workshop, a guru’s teachings, etc.) to beat yourself up and make yourself wrong for those times when you don’t follow-through or don’t see the results that you want, you’re going to have a miserable experience.
If you use NYRs as a practical means to an end, and you create the experience of setting them and following through as a positive addition to your life, you’re going to have a good experience.
For example: Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project was an entire process of understanding what made her happy as an end-goal, focusing on a specific aspect of happiness each month, charting it and tracking her progress, noticing the places where she needed to change up what she was doing…and it made her happier.
If she had treated it as a chore; if she had had a field day of criticism when things didn’t go as she’d hoped; if she had not been accountable about charting her progress and then turned on herself for not being accountable…surely, it would have been miserable.
Again, this is about being the steward of your own life. This is about deciding what narratives you’ll choose to take away from any experience. This is about taking personal responsibility for one’s own insecurity or sadness for any time that you didn’t follow-through in the past–without the critical bashing, without the shaming, and without making yourself “bad” for whatever behavior you chose.
What You Truly Want
In other words, if we all looked at the things that were triggers for us (like New Year’s Resolutions, not to mention people we don’t like, jobs we hate, etc.) and decided to examine why we were so triggered, why there was such a passionate need for outright rejection, and especially if we searched ourselves for any statements that put the “fault” for our feelings on something “out there,” like an arbitrary old New Year’s Resolution…we’d get much clearer.
Perhaps we’d all even get much clearer on what we truly want, because I’m guessing what we all want beyond NYRs like “lost 10 pounds” or “write a novel,” are things like…Love for ourselves. Acceptance. The ability to reconcile our behavior without self-hatred. The capacity to deal with and work through our own insecurity. Happiness. Peace. Choices that reflect what we truly desire and that honor how we want to feel in our day-to-day.
The rejection, the trigger, the lining up of a position to fight against something, just places another layer between you and what you actually desire.
A willingness to look at the (admittedly intense) feelings of “I don’t like that!” and “That’s where the fault lies!” and “I’m sick of this!” permeates that layer.
So perhaps there’s just one New Year’s Resolution that we could all make that would significantly better our lives–commit to looking at everything that you fiercely reject, not with the aim of somehow mindlessly affirming your way to liking it, but so that you clearly understand the real, underlying motives of why you so fiercely reject it.
Resolve to bring more awareness into your heart. That’s a resolution that betters not just you, but the entire world. That’s the kind of resolution that will give, and give, and give–as long as that’s how you choose to relate to it, of course.
What are you ready to destroy, burn up, leave behind?
I have been thinking about the so-called “destructive” urges, and how I resist them. Perhaps you do, too. Perhaps you think of destruction as negative, violent, hostile, aggressive.
And…maybe not. Maybe we do the world a kindness when we raze something to the ground when it’s no longer structurally sound. When we’ve been tolerating it for far, far too long. When we’ve tried every avenue for working around, working with, and working through, and the exhaustion can no longer be borne.
There can be different flavors of destruction.
Sometimes destruction is expressed as sheer waste. It takes something full of potential and tramples it, kills it off with no regard for or respect for its inherent life force. That’s the kind of destruction that I learned, early on: Someone crossed me, I’d put them in their place. I’d let them have it. I’d burn bridges to save my pride.
The kind of destruction I’ve felt called to, lately, is the kind where I’m burning off the last of something that needs destruction because it has served its useful purpose. It’s destruction as an act of creation. I’ve looked at what it might be there to teach me, and when I surrender, instead of coming to a place of peace with it, thinking, “Ah, yes, now I can keep this around because I’m at peace,” I think, “I’m at peace–and–I just don’t need this around.”
A few things I’m destroying in the new year:
- Relationships that leave me feeling off-kilter. He-said, she-said, so-and-so said. Flimsy commitments. “Maybe” we’ll get together sometime–no follow-through. Lacking support. Triangulation dynamics. Breaking confidences. Lacking accountability. Making excuses. Going through someone else to communicate a message. Not taking ownership of behavior.
- Any expectation whatsoever that I’m to respond to all emails, text messages, or phone calls for fear of upsetting anyone. My dance card is full; I’m here to dance. We could all do well, to get off of our devices.
- Gossip. I don’t want to hear your gossip, be around you as you gossip with others in public forums, or gossip, myself.
- The barking dog who lives nearby (not literal destruction of the dog, of course). After two years of golly-gee-gosh, couldja-maybe-do something about your dog that barks for hours, please, pretty-please, with my neighbor, the formal complaints with animal services have been filed and the homeowner’s association has been contacted. Fear of not being “nice”? The flames are feeding high, burning that one.
- Pretending it didn’t happen the way that it actually happened. I know the truth. I won’t lie for you, anymore.
- The boundaries that keep me from breaking wide open. Here I am, declaring it to the Universe, knowing the risk I’m deliberately invoking: Universe, I am willing to be broken wide open, to be completely undone and undefended and tender.
- Clutter, and especially the feeling of guilt over getting rid of the clutter that I’ve been given that I specifically requested not to receive, in the first place.
- That little clammy moment of hesitation where I ask, “Is this money going to be appropriately spent?” before I donate to charity. Time to just give.
- Debt. I’m almost done paying off my student loans and my car. In 2014, they’re gone, and I’ll be debt-free.
- Assuming responsibility for what’s not mine, to save someone else from taking responsibility, themselves.
- Including everyone. This one is especially hard. I want to think of myself as “inclusive.” I’m realizing that not every person, and not every relationship, is quite right for the exact process that I’m in at any given moment. Good people, just perhaps not matches for certain life experiences.
- The shelf in my living room corner that I haven’t really liked for well over a year, yet that I leave there because I think, “I still don’t know yet what I’d put in that corner.” Same goes for the painting hanging above the television.
I have no preconceptions about what should come up to replace any of this–this isn’t a list that arises by saying, “I know what I do want, so let me destroy what I don’t want.” I only know what it’s time to let go.
What have you tended to, worked with, and examined, to realize that the natural life cycle of that relationship, that item, that belief system, has met its time for…destruction?
Deeply contemplate this, and contemplate it from the place of getting honest about what you know is worn out, lived out, tried out, wrung out, and simply does not work.