From The Hello Therapy Podcast - Episode 01 - Listen here
In a society that constantly pressures us to meet certain standards, the narrative of not feeling 'good enough' can profoundly affect our mental health and overall well-being. This episode of the Hello Therapy Podcast peels back the layers of this pervasive challenge, it discusses the roots of this narrative, its manifestations, and its impact on self-esteem. Moreover, practical strategies are shared to help individuals reclaim their self-worth and embrace contentment.
Imagine that your life up to this point has been written up into a book, and the chapters describe all of your experiences - your achievements, key moments in your life, the good times, the bad times, all of the details of your relationships, your friendships and so on. Everything is in this book, organised into the different chapters of your life. And this next question is important. So consider this - what would the title of your book be? What title would best describe your life so far?
If you are someone who struggles with low self-esteem or someone that doesn't feel good enough, or perhaps you are self critical, it is likely that the title of your book will reflect that.
So maybe the title is something like the 'I'm a bad person' story, or the' I'm unlovable' story or the 'I'm worthless' story. And when you dig into these negative self stories, these story titles, what they have in common is that old chestnut - the 'I'm not good enough' story. Not feeling good enough can show up in numerous ways, whether it's a global feeling that you've had most of your life, perhaps because of a difficult childhood, or perhaps you've had difficult childhood experiences, or it can be more contained to a particular part of your life, like work or parenting.
Maybe you feel you're not a good enough mum or dad, or maybe not feeling good enough has been triggered by a particular event like losing your job or a relationship ending. And it can be quite subtle, like a felt sense that you have about yourself that's just under the surface, or it can be much more obvious and show up in how you talk to yourself day to day or how you talk about yourself to other people. When you persistently don't feel good enough, it can cause you to feel low in mood. It, of course, impacts yourself esteem and your confidence. It can lead to other feelings, like feeling like an imposter, and feelings of shame and guilt.
So what can we do about it if we feel like this and it's getting in the way of living a fulfilled, content life?
First - this is an important step in changing the not good enough story - awareness that it is there. How do you become aware? You name it. There is something very powerful and often transformative about naming the storyline that dominates your life and dictates your decisions. And if you have a deep sense of not feeling good enough, the second thing to hold in mind is that your thoughts do not reflect facts. So the headline or story that you're buying into - that you're not good enough - is an internal narrative. It is a collection of ideas and thoughts reduced down into the thought: I'm not good enough. But just because you think it does not mean that it is true.
Can you notice what your mind says as you read that? Is it saying something like: 'yeah, but I'm definitely not good enough, I actually have evidence that I'm not a good enough person, because I yelled at my kids on the way to school this morning, or I cheated on my partner last year, or I messed up at work, or I was told by my parents when I was growing up'.
And our minds are really good at that, aren't they? They are really good at dredging up lots of memories that can really help us feel like the not good enough story is true. Now, another powerful thing to realise is that you do not have to engage or get hooked by these thoughts or the not good enough story.
Have you ever heard of that saying, looking at something through rose-tinted glasses? So that's where your perspective on something is so positive or optimistic. You ignore the negative aspects of a situation.
With the not good enough story, it's like you have dark tinted glasses on and they colour your perspective of the world and how you interact with it.
You are experiencing your life through the lens of not feeling good enough, and the first step is to realise that you have the glasses on in the first place. Once you do realise this, you are in a position to do something about it, to change the narrative you have of yourself, to not engage or buy into that negative self-story that has been holding you back all this time.
So the next time you notice that you're not good enough story is showing up - and this can be as simple as a thought that pops up in the form of 'I'm not good enough'. Or maybe it shows up more as self-criticism, like a thought like I'm rubbish at this. Try and step back from it and see it for what it is:
An unhelpful pattern of thinking that makes you feel rubbish about yourself, that stops you from making changes and blocks you from pursuing your dreams and your goals.
And once you have stepped back, ask yourself:
OK, well, what is helpful to me right now? What action can I take that moves me in the direction I want to go in, that helps me be the person that I actually want to be?
Now you may be thinking that is a lot to remember, and the thing to bear in mind with these tips is that they are skills that you can learn. A really good starting point is the psychological strategy - Pause, Breathe, Notice and Name, or PBNN for short - first coined by Russ Harris. So, whatever situation you're in, and you can do this silently in your head or out loud if you prefer:
Pause - so just stop what you're doing.
Breathe - take a slow, deep breath. Really try and focus on the in-breath, hold it for a moment and then slowly exhale. This is your grounding breath. Now feel free to do more of these, but if you're short on time, then just do it once.
Notice - what your mind is saying, what thoughts are showing up? And you can say something like this to yourself: I notice that I am having the thought that I am not good enough, or I notice I'm having the thought that I'm rubbish at this. What you are doing here is important. You are stepping back from your busy mind, a mind that is bombarding you with negative self-talk, and you are observing your mind at work and in doing so you're taking the power out of those thoughts. Our thoughts have slightly less hold on us when we can step back from them and we can watch them or observe them.
Name - name the story. Say something like this to yourself: "Ah, here's the not good enough story showing up, or, "here's the I'm worthless story".
Going back to the book metaphor, when you are hooked by a negative self-story, it's as though in that moment you have taken the book off the shelf, you're avidly reading that story, you are immersed in that book, and doing pause, breathe, notice and name helps you realize that you are reading those pages, it helps you realize you are immersed in that negative story and it helps you decide well, okay, if I'm sitting here engrossed in this unhelpful story, I can't also do the things that matter to me. I can't also play with my kids or write that important email to my boss, or do the yoga that I love doing or chat to a friend, so I am going to choose to put the book back on the bookshelf
A bonus tip with this and one thing to watch out for when you're doing this exercise is your tone - the tone of voice that you use with yourself, because if you have a tendency to be self-critical or your tone is quite harsh or cold, then the pause, breathe, notice & name strategy is not going to be as effective, because it basically ends up being a tool that you beat yourself up with.
So try and do this exercise with compassion, with understanding for yourself. The understanding that it's really hard to feel this way about yourself. It's really hard to feel not good enough as a person, and using a warm tone is really key.
And if you don't know what that might sound like, because maybe you've never done it before, just not used to it imagine that you are talking to a friend who is going through a really tough time and needs your support, and use that tone with yourself
Because in that moment you need support. You need to help yourself with this narrative, and being harsh and critical and unkind with yourself is not going to help that process.