A ‘not good enough’ story is the one I learnt early on in life.
I was 6 when I witnessed my mum’s slit writs and two puddles of blood on the kitchen floor. She was ushered to the hospital and stitched up. News spread like fire in Azerbaijan, and later that day I found myself on the staircase alone with several dozen pairs of shoes. As relatives and neighbours trickled in, I sat alone reflecting on why my mum tried to die and leave me behind. None of the adults took time to explain anything to me. I came to the conclusion that somehow I was not worth living for, that I was the cause of her unhappiness and that it was my fault she wanted to die. In short, I decided that I was not good enough. Looking back over my life, I can see how that belief has played out in many aspects of my life.
Here’s how that pattern showed up in education.
At school, although I worked hard, there was a girl in my class who performed better than me. Intellectually, I knew she had more support at home. I still beat myself up for not matching her results. When we were graduating from school, the top performers were awarded a medal. I had excellent marks in all subjects except one ‘4’ (equivalent to a ‘B’), so I got a silver medal and not a gold one. I knew that to get a gold medal, you needed to pay bribes and have connections in the town hall. Still, I never went back to school to collect my award, because it was not good enough.
You’d think I’d get wiser with time, but exactly the same thing happened when I graduated from my Masters course in England. I was three points short of getting a distinction, so I didn’t bother to go to my own graduation ceremony. Anything short of perfection was not good enough.
In my work life, the ‘not good enough’ story showed up in two ways.
For many years I was plagued with an imposter syndrome. I didn’t feel good enough and lived in fear of being discovered as an incompetent fraud, so the only solution was to hide out and keep a low profile. This story made me work harder than others; the belief that what I offered wasn’t sufficient nearly ran me into the ground.
And then there was money side of things, of course. Coming from a poor family, I made a vow to never be poor. But what qualifies as poor or rich? How much money is enough, right? Contrary to my hopes, my bank balance didn’t make me feel any better on the inside. I still felt poor irrespective of the amount I earned.
Another area of my life where the ‘not good enough’ story caused a lot of pain was in relation to my body.
Irrespective of my size and shape, for many years I didn’t feel comfortable in my own skin. Whether I weighed 53 kilos or 80, my attitude towards my body was the same. I could detect (or imagine) some fat lurking under the skin and redouble my efforts to reach perfection. It was hard work and with time I gave up, choosing to ignore my body, except the story drained my energy in the background and encouraged me to hide away even more.
As to writing… well, don’t let me even start on that one!
It’s only becoming a mother that made this pattern so unbearably painful that I had to stop and take a hard look at it. On the one hand, I felt not good enough to mother my own kids. In my head, everything I did was short of perfection. Not only did I give myself a hard time, sometimes I turned against my husband too. My children deserved the best, I told myself.
But here’s the paradox: meeting my children’s needs was not good enough. I needed to be well, nurtured and resourced for them to feel settled in themselves and happy. The moment I slip into the old story, they mirror my inner distress right back at me. This realisation made me wonder whether I absorbed the story of ‘not good enough’ from my own mum long before she slit her wrists. Knowing how much this belief has cost me in life and how much it has held me back, I want to set a different example for my kids so that they can grow in the knowledge that they are whole and loved.
After all, it’s just a story.
It can be hard to see it for what it is sometimes. I had to clear many layers before I could step out of the story and see it for what it is.
I’m working on a healing compassion meditation on ‘good enough’ which I will send out to people on my e-mail list in mid-November. Consider joining in and please share your thoughts on this topic below.