Will I Be a “Good Enough?"
In a previous blog about “improving your emotional health by banishing perfection”, I looked at the idea that constantly aiming for perfection results in low self-worth and a sense of not being “good enough”. I want to reclaim the concept of “good enough” as an ultimately positive mantra for living in harmony with your human condition. We carry the weight of our early parental messaging that being a “good” person somehow equates with being a “perfect” person. This burden of perfection results in a low-grade anxiety that makes us judge our every action too harshly. This self-criticism can rear its ugly head at defining, transitional times in our life, like when we are becoming a parent…
A Pregnant Pause
I once worked with a young lady who was pregnant with her first child. She was so excited, most of the time, but underneath also immensely anxious and terrified that she would not be a good enough parent to her child. Her parents were, at least in my view, very nurturing, and she had a healthy attachment to herself. Yet, she went about her life immensely anxious and unsure about her work and relationships. Up to this time, she had yet to have a successful relationship with any partner, even the father of her coming baby. So there she was, going into motherhood . . .alone. A situation that would make anyone anxious. Yet within my client was the panic and disbelief that she couldn’t have any healthy relationship like she had with her parents and so nurture her own child amidst so many failed attempts with others.
Shake, Rattle, and Roll
Soren Kierkegaard put forth the idea that the more we are shaken in life the more we are faced with the possibilities and imagination of what would otherwise be unavailable to us. Suffering is the forgotten teacher. My client was faced with a threshold, an opportunity to begin something new in her life, and the life of her child. The anxious shaming part of herself that she felt safe enough to put forth in therapy was receiving kindness just from the mere presence of the space of therapy. Yet this left her with a responsibility to herself to continue the development of her own self.
Ask Questions of Your Future
What does it mean to be a 'good enough' individual as we go about our life? I propose a simple solution having put forth this case of the anxious up-and-coming mother: "Where and how will you be, when your child is crying and can't sleep because of nightmares, or is anxious about their first day of school, or experiencing the sadness of the loss of the family pet, or their first relationship, or when they hate you and want to leave home forever? Where and how will you be with them?"
The Good Enough Parent
We will inevitably fail in our relationships. That's what will happen when we are in close proximity and intimacy with others. Yet it is what we do when things get hard that makes us “good enough”. The term the “good enough mother” was put forward by Donald Winnicott to describe a “mother” (read parent) who is NOT perfect, she/he is real - in all of her three dimensional complexity. She does her best, pays attention to her baby, holds the environment by offering physical and emotional care, provides security and when she fails, as she surely will do, she tries all over again. At times she will be given every ounce of her love and patience while being under pressure and strain. At other times she will display as being both selfless and self-focused. Dedicated and ambivalent. She is “good enough” at all she is attempting. She is excelling at “imperfect parenting” - that is the ideal course to follow.
What Is Your Inner Voice On About?
My client was measuring herself and her ability to parent through the lens of how others were parenting (including her own parents). Somewhere along the line she internalized the idea that she couldn’t be a perfect mother, partner, person. The inner voice in her head was spinning her a yarn and making her fearful. Through gentle, nurturing self reflection she could move towards the empowering place of integrating “good enough” as a life skill.
Letting in the Light
If you are too self analytical and critical, measuring yourself harshly against an impossible standard - you will stop the flow of life. We might be highly sensitive to how we think people perceive us and imagine that they are judging our actions. We can't control the behavior of others beyond reflecting on how our behavior may have had an effect on them, but we can choose to meet others with love through first being able to bring love to these places of hurt within our own life, that we are bringing light too.