I am embarrassed to admit how often I have a committee meeting in my head, with the members loudly comparing notes about how I don’t measure up. The committee tells me regularly that I am not smart enough, not thin enough, not stylish enough, not brave enough, not attractive enough, not nice enough – you get the picture. I have talked to enough people to know that I am not the only one with these critical voices and their relentless messages. This negative self-talk is, in fact, rather common. This realization led me to two questions. What is enough? And, what are the far-reaching consequences of this self-talk?
When I am listening to the committee in my head, I am giving away the power to decide when or if I am enough. I believe this committee is made up of many members and the messages are based on the experiences that involved each of these members: my Grandpa who commented on my weight almost every time I saw him; the kids in school who made fun of me; my parents; the neighbor across the street who insisted I was pregnant when I was not, because of the size of my stomach. Most of my life I heard people say to me that I was not good enough, thin enough, pretty enough, or smart enough. I recently learned a secret. Just because I heard people say these things to me, doesn’t mean they really said what I heard. Sure, there were people in my life who said hurtful things. There were also people who said loving things and expressed concerns that I heard as criticism because of past experiences. After a while, I didn’t need anyone else to tell me I wasn’t measuring up, because I was telling myself all the time.
I talked about perception in a previous post, and how my perception is based on my experiences and what I believed those experiences meant. My perception also has an effect on what I hear when someone is speaking to me, or what I decide a look or a gesture means at any given time. Today I know that my perception can change at any time if I choose to change it, even regarding past events.
So, what is enough? I have struggled with trying to answer this for myself. Merriam-Webster defines enough as occurring in such quantity, quality, or scope as to fully meet demands, needs, or expectations; in or to a degree or quantity that satisfies or that is sufficient or necessary for satisfaction (Merriam-Webster, Inc., 2013). What I get out of this is that ‘enough’ is determined by each of us individually based on whose demands, needs, or expectations we are trying to meet or on what we deem as necessary for satisfaction. Tying all of that in with my perception, with my experiences, leads me to my own answer to what is enough. I started with this, enough is when I meet the expectations I perceive others have of me. Because perception is all about the stories I am telling myself that are made up based on my experiences, I then revised my answer to, enough is really when I meet the expectations I place on myself to be or look or act in a way I believe is appropriate or acceptable. I thought about it a little longer and eventually ended up with this answer – enough is the stories I make up when I compare myself to other people.
I do not talk to anyone else in the harsh way I talk to myself. I don’t go around saying to other people, “Look how fat you look in that! You can’t leave the house looking that way.” “You are such an idiot!” “Stop writing, stop talking! No one wants to hear what you have to say anyway.” “You don’t deserve the job you have. You don’t have what it takes to lead other people and run a business.” “Look in the mirror! You’re so fat, it’s no wonder your husband doesn’t want to be close to you.”
I would not stand for anyone talking to my children, my friends, my husband, or my coworkers that way. Yet, these are some of the exact words I say to myself on a daily basis, and sometimes multiple times a day. What are the far-reaching effects of this self-talk? I think the far-reaching effects are similar to the effects on someone who is bullied, because all of those words are the words of a bully. When I think about people who are bullied, I think about people who are withdrawn from others, full of self-doubt and hopelessness, and sometimes suicidal. I think of people who have a hard time connecting with other people at a heart level and giving and receiving love. Is it any wonder that all of those things have been true of me to some extent throughout my life?
Now what? I decided that enough is the stories that I tell myself when I compare myself to other people. I identified the far-reaching effects of negative self-talk and regularly telling myself I am not enough as self-doubt, hopelessness, lack of close relationships, and not being able to give and receive love well. What do I do with this information now? What I know to be true for me is that this self-talk, this act of comparing myself to other people, is not serving me well in meeting goals (or even setting goals oftentimes) or in developing close relationships. I can remain a victim of my own limiting beliefs, or I can take responsibility for changing my thinking, my self-talk, my stories, and my relationships.
I recently watched a video of my oldest granddaughter singing with her first grade class at their Christmas concert. The words to the chorus I remember well – Take one step. Then another. Soon you’ll see, everything will be alright. What a powerful message for those first graders, and for me! I don’t have to change everything in one day. I just need to take one step, by telling myself to STOP everytime I start comparing myself to someone else or start telling myself that I am not enough. And then another, by turning that negative self-talk around and reminding myself of the positive choices I have made and of how I am taking steps forward. Soon I will look around and see that everything is alright, and I AM enough, just as I am.
Merriam-Webster, Inc. (2013). Enough. http://i.word.com/idictionary/enough