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Human-beings are storytellers. We love to hear them from others. We love to see them on the big screen and we love to read them. But there are some stories that we tell ourselves, about ourselves, which are much more disturbing than enjoyable. They are stories, internal narratives, that run on an internal replay loop and ultimately diminish our inherent sense of worthiness.
I’ve said it too many times to count. It’s some version of, I’m not good enough. When did that become an ingrained pattern for me? I don’t know exactly, but it happened very early on and it’s taken a huge effort to rewire and move beyond.
Your story will be different but I suspect you might recognise something of yours as you read some of mine.
[ Related: Cultivating a Limitless Mindset ]
I come from a large Irish Catholic family. It was a happy childhood and I have no great negative drama or injury of which to complain. I am very lucky and grateful in that regard. All of my siblings are intelligent and accomplished in their different areas. Growing up in a modest semi-detached house there was little privacy, lots of noise, and a clear understanding that academic achievement was incredibly important.
I’m not sure if Parent-Teacher conferences were a regular thing back then because I only remember one. I was in Elementary School, which I attended at the same time as my older sister (1 year above) and my younger sister (2 years below). My mother met with all three of our teachers on a visit to the school one day. When I came home from school that day it was clear that all was not well.
My mother congratulated both my older and younger sisters on the glowing reports that she had received from their teachers. What had my teacher said? I was average and my handwriting was very untidy. “I don’t have average children”, my mother said.
The message was clearly received, I wasn’t smart enough.
Another impactful incident happened again when I was only in Elementary School. Most of my siblings competed in some form of athletics at a local or county level and it started with The Community Games in early summer in our local park. Again my older and younger sisters both consistently placed first in their age group races. I consistently placed second. I have a very clear memory of my dear father commenting that I seemed to always give up on the home straight.
The message was clearly received, I wasn’t competitive enough.
I wish I could say I know a lot of women who have no hang-ups about their physical appearances. I’m struggling to think of even one. I am tall and, objectively, relatively slim. I’m genetically lucky that I haven’t had great struggles with staying in shape over the years. Yet, even as I type that I’m wincing with discomfort.
One of my brothers decided I was fat when I was very young and decided to spend the next several years calling me “fatty” whenever it amused him. That was unpleasant in and of itself but it was overheard in the neighborhood and so became a taunt beyond the privacy of my own four walls. It didn’t last very long really. I was never fat enough for it to be a very satisfying insult for the perpetrator but that didn’t stop it becoming embedded in my inner narrative.
The message was clearly received, I wasn’t thin enough.
I’m not even 12 years old now and I have begun to tell myself a very convincing story of not being good enough.
As I said, this is no story of neglect, abuse, or hardship. Quite the opposite. I have overwhelmingly positive memories of my childhood and wonderful deep loving relationships with my mother and siblings. But still, these seemingly small, inconsequential, moments from a happy childhood had a long-lasting and negative impact.
For many years in early adulthood I confronted none of this. The internal Not Good Enough narrative would play whenever triggered and I didn’t even see the trigger. I never looked with curiosity at what now screams out as an obvious pattern. I expected to feel unworthy through ingrained habit and, rather than examine the validity of that, I harshly judged myself before escaping to distraction and self-protection.
I’m not unique. I am surrounded by women friends, most of whom have their own version of a Not Good Enough narrative. I’m not a therapist. I am no counsellor. I am just a woman on my journey, eager to live the fullest and most meaningful version of my life. I humbly share with you here 5 practices I have adopted to unplug the looping Not Good Enough narrative in the hope that you too might find them helpful on your unique journey.
Getting curious about emotion is not always an easy choice. But there came a point when l just felt I was on a merry-go-round emotionally and I needed to step off and see what the hell was going on. I literally got bored of me. I decided instead of looking away from the discomfort that I would stand in it and get curious about it.
I developed an awareness for how I physically felt, what I thought and felt, and how I behaved whenever an event triggered my Not Good Enough narrative. My most common Not Good Enough narrative was about my physical appearance. I think this is because there are just more triggers in the environment for this one, from ads in glossy magazines, perfect bodies on social media, and in movies and on and on.
It would begin with a physiological response, a dull pit of the stomach ache followed by a scowl. Next came a thinking pattern of distorting reality as regards how awful I decided to tell myself I looked, how unfit or disgustingly fat I was.
Swiftly thereafter the potent shame/blame cocktail showed up to tell me just how weak, shitty, and generally useless I was, totally lacking in self-control.
Followed not long thereafter by some form of self-destructive behavior - overeating, drinking, picking a fight about nothing with my husband or being short and testy with my kids.
I’m bloody exhausted just writing that. Feeling it and living it are infinitely more exhausting, especially when it’s on-going and repetitive. So, I got very curious as early on in the pattern as I could. The more I practiced the curiosity, the earlier I caught the pattern and was able to take action.
I approach it as if it’s a really toxic acquaintance who I’m being polite to but from whom I have made a firm decision to keep my distance. Once I catch the pattern I acknowledge it, but place it outside of me. I literally speak to it as though it were another entity and say something like;
Ah, I see you there lurking, pulling at me. I feel that. But I’m not going with you. I’ve been there and it’s not where I belong.
That’s all. I don’t feed it. There’s no negotiation. But then I need to take a path away from it, quickly, and towards something that serves me.
In Brene Brown’s excellent book, Rising Strong, she calls it the “SFD” for “Shitty First Draft”. This is where you write down that story you’re telling yourself when you are descending into Not Good Enough. You do it quickly, honestly, and you don’t edit it. This is where you get to look it in the eye and sit with it, in all that discomfort. Instead of opting for temporary self-protection you look to long-term repair. Without confronting and naming this, we become doomed to repeat it.
Our brains are wired for story-telling and when they don’t have all the information, they make something up to close that gap and resolve the story. It’s much easier for us to make up a “Why” for our stories than it is to just accept that, hey shit happens! The most dangerous stories we make up are the ones that damage our inherent sense of worthiness - and we do it all the time. So write your “SFD” and then breathe….try to step out of it a little and give it a huge reality test.
Shame is going to be woven into that SFD and it’s going to do anything to self-protect and hide. You need to name it and take away its power. This is where a close and trusted friend can be very helpful. If you have one of those amazing people in your life who loves you, can listen without judgement, and is a an impenetrable vault when it comes to keeping private things private, you could share your SFD with them and ask them to help with your reality check.
We often find it much easier to help others, to show others compassion, than we do to look inward and to show self-compassion. It’s more comfortable to frame ourselves as the heroic helper than to ask for help ourselves. Asking for help, we decide, makes us look, and feel, weak and needy. But strength isn’t found in denying our own vulnerability. Quite the opposite in fact. It absolutely and non-negotiably requires leaning into that vulnerability.
So, be compassionate toward yourself in this process. Tell yourself you’re doing the best you can in these moments and working towards being able to do better in the future and that that, is enough.
Hey, it’s a practice not a single dose magic pill. To transform an old controlling and destructive behavior takes time, effort, and patience. So, just begin. Accept that it will take some time. Don’t descend into a shame spiral if you don’t get it right every time, most of the time, or at all for a long time.
Everything new is hard at first but with practice, slowly, competence comes and then maybe eventually expertise. But the important thing is that as soon as you begin the journey you begin to free yourself from this destructive emotional endless loop. You’ll see it sooner and sooner and be able to intervene and de-rail it.
So, I hope you might find some of these steps useful in your own struggles and begin to experience change and more inner peace in your life. And remember, you truly are more than enough. Reach out to a trusted friend or family member to help you as you learn to rewire and move beyond this limiting behavior. And Good Luck!
If you’ve found this post useful please share it with others. What strategies have you found useful in addressing a Not Good Enough narrative in your life that others might find useful? Please comment below so we may all learn from you too.
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About The Author
Eimear Zone is an entrepreneur and co-founder of feminist brand and social enterprise, PEBBLE + ROSE. She writes on feminism, entrepreneurship, and mindset management. She can be contacted at email@example.com and IG @emtczone
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