Far too many of us are familiar with the sinking feeling that we aren’t good enough in some way… we’re not loving enough, generous enough, skilled, funny, attractive enough, we didn’t do that job well enough. Another version is when we “should” ourselves – I should have done that, said this, shouldn’t have x,y,z. Again, we’re saying something’s wrong with who we are or what we’ve done.
This leaves us feeling tense and anxious, because what’s underneath is the fear of being rejected, a fear of not being loved. And as we are hard-wired for connection, this is a really potent fear.
But I believe it’s possible to let ourselves off our own hooks of having to meet certain standards to be acceptable, and that there is a way of loving ourselves and others that is open-hearted and free, that doesn’t depend on being “good enough”.
But first, let’s take a look at how this feeling of not-okay-ness plays out in our lives. There’s a never-ending struggle to measure up to some standard. We look for others’ approval for reassurance, and we are constantly walking on eggshells with gauging others’ reactions.
We feel guarded and defensive and have a sense of shame and of dread that we’ll be “found out”. We are tougher on ourselves than we are on others, and have some pretty harsh voices in our mental chatter.
What woke me up to the possibility of another way was something I read in Brené Brown’s latest book, “Dare to Lead”. She was describing how to choose people that you go to for support and honest feedback, especially when you’ve messed up. This was the sentence that stopped me in my tracks:
“The people on your list should be the people who love you not despite your vulnerabilities and imperfections, but because of them.”
Say, “Whaat??” It was mind-boggling for me. I had thought accepting other people (and myself) in spite of flaws was what I was aiming for.
You mean I could have loved my ex because of his flaws? You mean I can have a whole new perspective on someone loving me because of my imperfections? Rather than needing to change or hide or pretend?
As I tried to get a handle on this, what came to mind was my love of India. It’s where I grew up, and I really feel I’m home when I’m there. It’s a beautiful country, with so much richness of culture, and friendly hospitable people, and… it’s an assault on your senses. Some aspects of living and traveling there can be exasperating, and others feel like a shock to your system.
Lights going out on a regular basis, for no apparent reason, or the water being shut off for hours at a time are among the day-to-day experiences that can be frustrating. We kept candles and matches handy, and a bucket full of water in the bathroom all the time.
One especially uncomfortable aspect that you cannot avoid has to do with bathrooms. A number of years ago I was traveling by bus in the mountains… Drop-dead gorgeous snow-capped mountains all around, along with the drop-dead feeling of looking out the bus window straight down into deep gorges – and no guardrails on the roads.
We had stopped at a tea stall for a bathroom break. I’m waiting my turn with the other women to go into the tent-like structure, and when I go in, I see a 5-foot by 5-foot trench in the ground. It was about 5 feet deep and had two 1” x 4” boards laid across the center, spaced about 10 inches apart. I needed to walk on these boards to the center to “go”, while managing my shoulder bag & TP! You can imagine what I saw when I looked down! I DID NOT want to lose my balance and fall in!!
But it wouldn’t be India without these kinds of experiences, and it’s only our western conditioning that makes us cringe! For people living there, or once you get used to it, it’s just the way it is. In a way, it’s the price of admission! It’s part of the ride! And I love India – all of this included!
What memories or experiences in your past can you think of that make you cringe? I have any number of them. There are some very painful memories I’d rather not revisit, and patterns I don’t want to fall back into.
There are also habits that can easily go unnoticed, like berating myself for not saying something different, or not talking to that person at the party last evening. Anytime I’m being hard on myself for something I did or didn’t do can bring up feelings of regret or shame.
Where do you judge yourself (or others) as not being good enough? What might you or others have done that feels “unforgiveable”? Where do you withhold love from yourself for not being perfect?
I believe that we all are always doing the best we can, no matter what it looks like. The idea that you have to be a certain way in order to be worthy of love is really an illusion and is a rejection of whole chunks of ourselves, others and the world.
So how can we love all parts of ourselves and others?
Hafiz, one of my favorite poets, puts it this way:
All this time
The sun never says to the earth,
[or “you have to be good enough”].
With a love like that,
It lights the
What would it look like if we loved like that? We’d be set free from the eggshells and the fear. We could relax, laugh, love freely and wholeheartedly, and we’d have some great stories!
I believe that this “loving because of our vulnerabilities and imperfections” starts with giving ourselves grace in areas we have judged ourselves as “not good enough”.
Where might you start to love yourself and others in your life “because of” vulnerabilities and imperfections? These days I’m using it as a mantra for myself. “Love because of… Love because of… (whatever my current judgment/guilt/embarrassment is about)”.
Let’s all be like the sun and pour out that radiant, shining love that covers the whole earth, horrific bathrooms and all.
Peggy R says
I just spent several minutes typing something in here and then something happened and I lost it all. So anyway….
Thank you so much Lois, for sharing all of that and reminding me again of India. I’ve only begun recently to start processing the trip I took last Spring. I truly want to go again and understand completely your strong connection.
And yes we are terrible self critics! I realize that I have a much harder time forgiving myself for things than others due. So lately I have been working on self forgiveness.