“Sometimes the hardest part of the journey is believing you're worthy of the trip.” - Glenn Beck
This past week, my friend was being really hard on herself and telling me about how she didn’t feel good enough for anything. Not good enough to be in the career she wanted. Not good enough to have a relationship. Not good enough for her current job. As she was telling me these things, I knew there were no words I could offer her that would change her mind. These were her own self-doubts, and changing them would have to come from her. There’s a difference between feeling inadequate at certain things occasionally, and feeling like an inadequate person in nearly every aspect of your life.
Sometimes, we just feel like we aren’t good enough at certain things at certain times. A few therapists provide some personal insight on these moments.
Julie Hanks, LCSW, a therapist, writer, blogger, songwriter, and performer felt like her guitar and piano skills weren’t up to par, and this affected how she saw herself as a performer and as a person. She says, “Recognizing that my performance isn’t tied to my worth has allowed me to develop a more stable sense of self, to feel freer to express myself in all aspects of life, and to accept criticism in a more helpful way.” You have worth for simply existing. There's nothing you need to do to try and gain self-worth.
Ryan Howes, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist says, “We often over-identify with the externals in our lives — how we look, what we wear, where we live, our job title, our education, our relationship status, our bank account, etc… Sometimes we focus on the externals so that we will feel good enough about ourselves to feel we deserve love (i.e., “If I lose 10 pounds, then I will be datable”). If you focus on the inside, the outside will fall into place.”
Christina G. Hibbert, PsyD, a clinical psychologist and expert in postpartum mental health, inherited her sister’s two kids after their parents died. This happened around the same time she was having her fourth child. She says, “Before, there had been times when I’d felt like I wasn’t enough — as a mother, psychologist, friend, wife — but this was the first time I completely doubted if I was “enough” at all… Enough isn’t about what I do or don’t do, what I say or don’t say, or even who I appear to be; being “enough” is simple –it’s about love… Each moment I love my children, I am enough. Each day that I wake up, out of love, and work for my family, I am enough. And even the days when I don’t feel very loving, I am enough."
When not feeling good enough is something that continually affects many aspects of your life, there's probably a deeper problem you should deal with. Karyl McBride, Ph.D, has an amazing insight which comes from counseling and working with dysfunctional families for over thirty years. The simple answer to the question is that the feeling most often comes from your parents, probably like every other dysfunction you have. But the real and more complex answer is that it’s not so simple to identify and solve. This feeling has been taking a lifetime for you to internalize. The first step to overcoming it is to understand the root of the problem.
McBride explains that the most important thing to a child is to gain love and affection from their caregivers – “Their main goal is to be loved, and this is of course, what every child deserves.” Children don’t understand why their family is dysfunctional. They don’t understand why they are abused, mistreated, ignored, or abandoned. They just know that they are not receiving enough love and attention, “So, given that the child’s goal is to be loved and cared for, the child begins to try to “fix” the adult problems so they can achieve their goal.”
Children start blaming themselves for their parent’s problems, and then try to find the solutions within themselves. They start thinking, “If only I was a better kid, this would not be happening;” “If I did better in school, my parents wouldn’t fight;” “If I listen to my parent’s problems, maybe they will be less stressed.” When problems in their parent's lives continue, children think they didn't do enough to fix them. They want peace, love, and harmony in their lives, and when it’s not there, they “Try to fix it by trying to be a better and better kid, or they may also try the opposite and act out to get their parents to focus on them.” McBride says, children “are learning and internalizing that no matter what they do, they cannot fix their parent’s problems.” But they still believe it’s their job to do so, thus feelings of inadequacy begin to develop.
She explains that as children grow older and see where all the dysfunction in their family is really coming from, it doesn’t mean the negative internalized message goes away - “I couldn’t fix it, so I am not good enough.” She says that this kind of internalization can’t be fixed by simple words of positivity or telling yourself that you are okay. You have to uncover the deeper trauma and then release it.
The important lesson behind all this is that the feeling of not being good enough does not come from you. It was never your job to try to get love – it was someone else’s job to give it to you. You didn’t fail, someone else failed you. McBride explains it like this: imagine you are carrying a heavy bag; as you recover you’ll begin to throw things out of the bag realizing they aren’t your burdens, because they belong to someone else. Even though you are carrying the problems of others, it is now your job to realize which ones they are and who they belong to. You can’t begin to unburden yourself until you learn whose burdens you’re carrying.
For some, it’s easy to see whose problems you’re carrying. You had an insecure parent who said you were worthless. Or your father was an alcoholic who abused you. Or you had a single mother who worked all the time, so she didn’t have time for you. Perhaps your parents divorced, and one of them left, or stopped living with you. No matter the situation, none of those problems were caused by you, and it was never your job to try to get a parent to spend more time with you, or just be there for you when you needed them. It was their job, and they failed you. You are not the one who is inadequate. Not then and not now.
Hibbert, the mother who inherited her sister's two children, had a little more to say about being enough, "What I know now for sure is that full of love is the only thing we need to be, and loving is the only thing we need to do. When I am full of love, I am most fully me, and that is always enough.” You as you are is always enough, but you are the one who needs to believe that. You need to believe that you are enough to love and be loved, enough to succeed, enough to accomplish your goals, and enough to live out your dreams. Just start to unburden that load that doesn’t belong to you, and you will see how enough and worthy you are.
"It's not who you are that holds you back, it's who you think you're not." -unknown