Many of us feel like we have to earn our self-worth. Maybe we need to net a hefty paycheck. Maybe we need to have a pricey home. Maybe we need to get a prestigious promotion. Maybe we need to make straight As. Maybe we need to lose 20 pounds in order to finally realize that we’re enough.
But in reality, we don’t need to do anything at all. We are enough just as we are.
In this month’s “Therapists Spill” series, four clinicians reveal when and how they realized that they are truly enough.
For Julie Hanks, LCSW, a therapist, writer and blogger at PsychCentral.com, being a performer and songwriter spotlighted her worries of being good enough. But ultimately embracing her imperfections on stage finally helped her see the truth.
I’ve spent many years feeling that I should be different than I was. I should be thinner, more talented, more confident, smarter, more disciplined. In addition to being a therapist I’m also a performing songwriter. Feelings of “not being good enough” created a lot of stress related to being on stage and offering my songs, especially in live concert settings.
I remember 15 years ago talking with one of my producers and expressing my dissatisfaction with my technical skills playing guitar and piano. He looked at me and said, “People don’t respond to your songs because you’re a great technical musician. They like you because of the genuineness in your lyrics. Just be you. Give your gift.”
The next time I performed I felt freer to be me. I’ve learned over the years to embrace the imperfections in my musical performances and use them to show that I am real. Some of the most memorable moments for audiences have been when I’ve forgotten a chord and strummed the same chord over and over while singing, “Yes, I did write this song. I just can’t remember the next chord. So I’ll just play this one until it comes back to me,” as the audience and I laughed, and then I went on and finished the song.
Another important concept about being good enough is the idea of separating my worth from my performance. My worth is unchanging and is inherent because I was born. I exist. Period. My performance, however, on any given day, in any area may be great or poor or somewhere in between.
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.
Christina G. Hibbert, PsyD, a clinical psychologist and expert in postpartum mental health, realized that she was enough after picking up the pieces after a family tragedy.
Even though I’ve worked for years helping others feel like “enough,” I don’t think I really internalized being enough “just as I am” until a few years ago. In 2007 my sister and her husband both died tragically, and we inherited our 6- and 10-year-old nephews just weeks before I gave birth to our fourth child, bringing us from three to six children practically overnight.
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.
What I realized, over time, was that I had been measuring “enough” in all the wrong ways. 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 –i t’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.
I used to ask my clients, “What if you were paralyzed from the neck down and you could no longer do anything but sit there and be? Would you be 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.
Ryan Howes, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist in Pasadena, California, and former perfectionist, discovered the power in imperfection.
I’m glad you used the term “good enough” instead of “perfect,” because it was reading Donald Winnicott’s concept of the “good enough mother” that freed me from the bondage of my inner perfectionist.
Winnicott proposed the radical idea that mothers who display an “ordinary loving care for her baby,” with occasional screw-ups, misfires, and empathic breaches made room for the infant to develop a sense of self as well as the ability to understand and forgive themselves and others. Perfect attunement at all times prevents development in these areas.
As a young therapist, I was terrified of making mistakes that could upset the client or reveal my inexperience. But after reading Winnicott and experiencing the benefits of “good enough” vs. “perfect” a few times in session, I was able to relax.
For example, more than once through the years, I’ve failed to schedule the right time for my appointment, leaving a client without a session. In the next session, after my embarrassed apology, we usually delve into a discussion of the feelings of abandonment that were stirred up and end up having a powerful session.
Personal therapy helped Joyce Marter, LCPC, psychotherapist and owner of Urban Balance, LLC, realize that it’s OK to struggle, and this struggle doesn’t take away from being inherently normal or enough. It’s part of our humanity. She also noted the importance of focusing away from the external as a measure of worth.
To be human is to deal with the various psychological issues that therapists help clients address, manage and overcome. Dealing with stress, depression, anxiety, self-esteem problems and relationship issues are normal life issues that we all face as part of the human condition. We are not crazy or bad or inadequate. We are human.
I laugh because in my own personal therapy, I have thanked my therapist multiple times for “making me feel normal.” Her standard response every time is “you are normal.” I have finally integrated this belief and understand that even when feeling overwhelmed, irrational, confused, emotional or any of the other challenges we all face from time to time, I no longer view those states as meaning that somehow I am not normal or not enough. We are all works in progress and nobody is perfect.
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. Focusing on these externals is a recipe for feelings of perpetual inadequacy as perfection is unattainable and sometimes enough is never enough.
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.
As Eckhart Tolle suggests in A New Earth, detach from ego and focus on your essence — the deeper being within — your true self — perhaps even your soul. Let go of the external and focus on how you really are inside. You are already perfect, lovable and enough just the way you are.
We all know those people who try to pump themselves up with more and more accomplishments, whether it be material possessions, multiple credentials behind their name, or compulsive participation in competitive sporting events.
For some, enough is never enough and they keep chasing the external successes hoping that the internal feelings of self-acceptance will follow. In therapy, I work with clients on achieving self-acceptance and self-love. Then those accomplishments can be enjoyed for what they are, rather than a way to fill oneself up.