Not smart enough, not pretty enough, not strong enough, not talented enough, not loving enough, not disciplined enough, not brave enough…
If you’re caught in the “not enough” trap, nothing about you ever seems quite good enough. Standards by which you measure yourself become inhumane. Successes are rarely enjoyed, for you always feel as if you must do better. Perceived failures are magnified. Life becomes a quest for utter perfection—like the carrot dangling in front of a horse, it is chased but never truly experienced.
“If I’m 98% perfect in anything I do, it’s the 2% I’ve messed up I’ll remember when I’m through,” begins a little ditty. This is the emotional violence we perpetuate against ourselves, in our own heads. The problem often begins when we allow others—family members, our spouse, friends, a boss, popular culture—to define who we are or are not. Unfortunately, these roots of self-image often stretch far back into childhood, when negative messages we received from parents and others imprinted us with a feeling of being stupid, fat, lazy, weak or otherwise inadequate.
At the heart of living a relationally intelligent life is how you relate to yourself, because the reality is, we are all enough. We are all worthy of love and connection – even when we mess up, even when we are imperfect. That’s what self esteem truly is – the ability to hold yourself in warm regard, flaws and all.
As adults, we can learn to truly accept ourselves—with all our strivings, quirks, faults and shortcomings—as being enough right now. It’s a skill that takes practice. The more we do that, the less vulnerable we are to the opinions of others. And we all need that protective boundary to take care of ourselves.
Go Ahead, Compare Yourself
Perfection makes liberal use of comparisons. The next time you get that feeling of not being enough, stop to examine the standard you are using to gauge yourself.
A playful way to look at the power of comparisons is this: Compare your own physical measurements to those of a person who embodies ideal physical beauty by contemporary media standards. Dwell on the differences.
Then list all the achievements you’ve accomplished up to your current age. Be extra thorough. Now compare your list to that of composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart at age 12. By that time, Mozart spoke 15 languages and had composed numerous major pieces of music, including an opera. Dwell on the differences.
If you’re perfectly miserable at this point, your job is to notice how negative comparisons affect your available energy for work, family, relationships—and for yourself. How do they block the real you from showing up in those relationships? Do you begin to shrink and not share your ideas because, well, they must not be as good as other peoples ideas? Do you hold back on that business idea because of what other people may think?
Did You Ever Wonder…?
Here are some more questions to ponder:
- How is it that if something is not perfect, then it is nothing?
- Is it possible to accept myself and treat myself in a loving and caring manner regardless of my accomplishments or lack of them?
- Why must I be outstanding or special? Do I have to be better than others?
- Why does failing at something transform me into being a failure?
- What would my life be like with more humane standards?
- Can I be satisfied with progress, not perfection?
When you are able to hold yourself in warm regard, flaws and all, you are on your way to holding others in warm regard, flaws and all. Another key to living a relationally intelligent life.
Relational growth and relationship intelligence is a never-ending process of learning and growing in skills, experience, wisdom and compassion. And those skills must first be applied to your relationship to yourself! Most of us are not spectacular in any category of life. And yet each one of us is worthy, lovable, competent, effective, attractive and smart enough to live lives of contribution, caring and value.