When a client tells me they never feel “good enough,” I know there is serious pain in that person’s life. As I listen, I hear how the person’s thoughts go moment-to-moment, scouring recent experience to see how he or she can be better somehow. The patient asks, compulsively, “How can I be more?”
This is especially common for children who grew up with a narcissistic parent. That habit of hyper-vigilant self assessment was needed to survive childhood. Think of it—if you need to anticipate what a narcissistic adult wants from you next, hoping to avoid negative consequences or gain much needed attention, how could you avoid learning to self-tune and quickly adjust to the narcissist’s needs?
As a result, adult children of narcissistic mothers unintentionally carry forward many unreasonable standards that mom had for them while they were growing up. Though you may no longer tolerate another adult treating you as your narcissistic mother did in the past, you may replicate that same pattern in how you treat yourself. Are your expectations of yourself fair? Do you ever meet the mark you set? Do you feel satisfied with your day more often than not?
When we get stuck in never-good-enough, we become worn out by the constant search to be more productive, valuable, loved, and attractive. Yes, self assessment is a valuable skill. But, when we constantly scan and measure our worth only by what we can do, what role we play, or who approves of us, we become increasingly empty. Instead of accepting our inherent worth as a perfectly imperfect living being, we become driven by our fears.
Never-good-enough feelings can sneak into our lives in many different ways. Here are some examples:
1. You end a long day of work where nothing went wrong and no one acted negatively toward you, but you still don’t feel that your boss or fellow employees were satisfied with what you did.
2. A friend of yours thanks you for the birthday gift you just gave her, but you think you detect some small disappointment in her voice.
3. Someone says you look good that day and you automatically tally that it has been over a week since anyone has complimented you on your appearance.
4. You have leisure time but you don’t use it because you feel you must be productive. You are baffled by friends who say they are “just going to relax.”
The self-doubts can feel never ending. It is awful to feel apologetic just for being alive, but sometimes that’s how we feel when we are in a never-good-enough state. Notice: Do you treat yourself with care and love? How often?
If not, there are ways to do so. Starting now, find opportunities to be kind to yourself. The next time you feel the anxiety of a negative opinion, end your self-reflection with naming at least one thing you did right. Or, at a minimum, one thing you did not do wrong.
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