To be or not to be…enough

I’ve seen something on Social Media these days, saying that this is not the year to make everything happen, but it is the year to be thankful for everything you’ve done so far. Cute,  but that was the moment when my inner critic started to tell me again how I didn’t do anything big so far, that’s not about me. But that was also one of those moments when I came to realize that progress will never be reached by constant self-bullying.

If I were a dramatic character, I would be a millennial Hamlet, consumed by anxiety and perfectionism, asking myself Am I, or am I not good enough? But I am not, and I come back and ask myself again: Good enough compared to what, exactly? To who?

And, as a restless perfectionist, I have to admit: that’s a great game-changer when it comes to the old matter of being enough. We often tend to tell ourselves that we’re not good enough period. But when it comes to telling what the other term of comparison is, we often put the story on hold. Because we don’t really ask ourselves with who am I comparing myself this time? And being enough is always about comparing yourself with another person or, even worse, with a whole set of social expectations.

This is where the trap actually is. Comparing yourself with somebody else makes you lose focus and perspective. You are not looking at your journey from the inside, as you should, but you look, instead, from above. You look down to your life, and you look down to the side of the other person’s life that you know about, and compare. And, as expected, you are never winning the imaginary race. Because no one can compete with a well-crafted image. And this is what we mostly know about other people’s lives. Well-crafted lives, created for the public eye. Basically, illusions where everything seems doable, and any failure seems easy to overcome. Unlike actual life.

But no one gets to see things like this from the beginning, it would be too easy. We have to compare ourselves to others, see our self-esteem and self-image be affected, and eventually get tired by everything, to see things clearly. Things that happen with age.

This is, however, the bright side, when you compare yourself to other people. The darker side is comparing yourself over and over again with society’s expectations from you. When you keep in mind that you are supposed to have your life together by 30 years, with a family of your own, a good job, a home, and possibly children, as you get closer to that age you tend to keep looking at your life, and then to look at your socially-imposed check-list.

The fact is you’ll never be on the same page with the never-ending list of social expectations, and this happens because every person has their own pace. There is no standard age for things like buying a house, completing your education, starting a family or a business. It’s true, coming usually from one’s dear people, the confrontation with the standards that society is imposing becomes much harder, as it borrows the voice of the ones you love. That’s why it is the darker, more damaging path to the Union of Never Good Enough.

But there’s nothing as damaging as looking at your life from outside in the long run. It makes you unable to be happy for yourself, and this is by far one of the most toxic things one can do. Because you can’t compare yourself over and over again and reach a balance. You can’t keep asking yourself why you’re not good enough and expect your mental health to be on point.

Mental health is, in fact, severely impacted by all the self-criticism and pressure one has to bear while constantly doubting on themselves. There is relief in accepting that your life and your choices have to only be meaningful to you, as you’re the only one able to access the whole image all the time. And there is joy to be found in knowing that whatever you feel like, is a valid and important feeling to be felt.

The reality is that you are and will always be good enough. No matter where you are in your life, no one could’ve done things better than you did. No matter what your inner mean voice says, it is only background noise. And no matter what you think, there’s a big, big difference between self-criticism and perfectionism, and it comes from the fact that critic comes from the inside, while perfectionism is always an outer voice. You are not too late and not too early either, because this is your life, not some social event to attend. And as long as you’re the MVP of your story, there’s no such thing as someone more worthy than you.

So next time when you want to turn into a modern Hamlet, asking yourself if you are good enough or not, remember what it made you feel like the last time, and ask yourself: Would I deliberately make my close friends feel like that? If the answer is no, then go for a walk, some popcorn and a cheesy movie, a bubble bath, or whatever makes you happy. You’re worthy of feeling good feelings about yourself and the life you’re living, so allow yourself as many occasions to do so as you can. And you’ll start to see why you’ve always been good enough.

The G that comes around

The first word starting with G that comes to my mind is Gangsta. The second one is Guilt.

But guilt is also one of my oldest visitors, as I have always been an introverted perfectionist. It was always easier to take the blame myself than to look for the person that’s actually guilty. And it took me years of inner conflict to see that, more often than not, guilt is an atavism, a toxic, unnecessary emotion.

Let me be clear: unnecessary, not useless. Guilt is, in fact, a very important emotion, as it stands for our inner moral compass. We often feel guilty when we say or when we do something wrong. Something that hurts or even harms the others. Something breaking our moral principles, and probably the society’s ones as well.

This only means that guilt is an emotion with huge destructive potential, as it is so intense, and people tend to feel guilty for so many reasons. That’s how I define guilt trips: unnecessary feelings of guilt. It takes us by surprise when we decide to cut off someone or to say No, it takes over whether it is or not the case to do so.

Obviously, all feelings are valid, and no one is ever allowed to tell you what to feel or not. But guilt is a legitimate feeling in very few cases. If your words or actions are not putting anyone in danger, if you don’t harm them or become a threat to their well-being or existence, your guilt doesn’t have a reason to exist.

Actually, I have the feeling that the thing we often label as guilt is, in fact, shame. A feeling that guilt is very often coming with as a pair. Try to put I feel ashamed for instead of I feel guilty when you tell how you feel to someone else, or even to yourself, and observe how it feels. If it rings true, if it is, indeed, guilt, and not shame… Just try and pay attention to yourself, even take notes of the process in your diary, if it helps you. If anyone would ask me, I’d say we feel, 9 out of 10 times, shame. But as shame is associated with being dirty, guilt becomes a more popular substitute.

However, there is another possibility, even if darker. To feel guilt as a result of your past experiences. If you grew up in a household where you used to be the guilty one for whatever happened or to be accused because there was the easiest way for the accuser to deal with their frustration or rage, there are chances that you’ve internalized the It’s all my fault mindset, successfully applying it today. In other words, toxic environments often create grown-ups that believe that they’re to blame for whatever goes wrong in their lives. Just like in their past, when they were blamed either way.

And this is how guilt becomes a toxic, irrational feeling, instead of a legitimate one, the moral compass that helps to separate good from harmful. By being used by the powerful figures of the grown-ups as a way of dealing with their negative emotions while avoiding taking full responsibility for their actions or words.

The best thing is, however, that one can work and break-up with the toxic mechanisms learned along with life. We can set ourselves free of whatever harms us mentally and spiritually. But this only happens while working together. When we tell our friends that they’ve crossed our boundaries again. Or when we tell them how their words or actions make us feel.

It also counts as healing our old wounds when we ask ourselves Is this what am I really feeling? And if not, then what is it that I am feeling? and observing ourselves. Looking at our patterns: the type of people we feel attracted to, the kind of contexts that we find ourselves jumping into, the kind of feelings that we allow to express themselves freely.

Because what we tend to label as guilt, is rarely actually guilt, and mostly a  mixture of rage, shame, and remorse. Three very different feelings, with different triggers, but which tend to pass anonymously, being labeled as guilt.

Managing guilt trips is, as any other remarkable change, a matter of work. A matter of understanding what’s triggering the feeling, of the life experiences that root it, and of questioning one’s mechanisms. It is about asking yourself How am I acting when I feel guilty? and How can I act different and healthier, instead? It is also about questioning one’s close people, as they can see some angles which are unavailable to you.

And, as dealing with any emotion, is about understanding it, about being patient with yourself, and asking for help. For the support, a specialist could provide, and especially asking for your loved one’s support and patience. Unlearning emotional patterns is a bit harder than building them, as you’re discovering new ways of being yourself. Your real, uncontaminated from other people’s unhealed traumas, self.