Will I Ever Be Good Enough?

Aunt Deedy & Mom, East Hampton, 1958

Aunt Deedy & Mom, East Hampton, 1958

Have you wondered where your internalized message of "I'm not good enough," comes from? Do you feel you give life your best, work hard, try hard, but still can't give yourself credit? Are you constantly beating yourself up and thinking that somehow you should be more, do more, be better, and you don't measure up in your own mind? 

But how does the message "I'm not good enough" get internalized? Where does this come from? To start with, I want you to think about small children and how impressionable they are, how they are soaking up life and trying to learn and understand the world around them. And, the most important thing to them is gaining love and affection from their caregivers. They do not yet have a worldly or experienced understanding of human behavior or why people behave in certain ways. Their main goal is to be loved, and this is of course, what every child deserves. 

So, given that the child's goal is to be loved and cared for, the child begins to try to "fix" the adult problems so they can achieve their goal. They don't do this consciously, of course, but many start this at a very early age. "If only I was a better kid, this would not be happening." "If I did better in school, my parents wouldn't fight." "If I listen to my parents' problems, maybe they will be less stressed." "If I do more chores or housework, maybe Mommy won't be so sad." 

Children are like sponges and take in their environment on emotional levels as well as physical and intellectual levels. They learn very early that if Mommy and Daddy are happy then they themselves will be happier too and get more of the love they need. "When Mommy is happy, she will play with me and spend time with me." "When Daddy is not mad, he will be nicer to all of us." Kids want peace, love and harmony in their lives and need it to thrive emotionally. So, if it is not there, guess what they do? Try to fix it by trying to be a better and better kid, or they may also try the opposite and act out to get their parents to focus on them. But they are learning and internalizing that no matter what they do, they cannot fix their parent's problems. They are kids, and of course this is not their problem to fix, but they don't know that yet. So, they keep trying. 

Many times parents in dysfunctional families will blame their children or project onto their children the bad feelings the parent is feeling at the moment. Narcissists do this all the time. They are internally self-loathing, but project this onto their children rather than embrace and resolve their own feelings. It's always someone else's fault. A child knows no different. Of course, they take this on too. "It must be me." "It must be my fault if my parent is mean to me, or can't love me." "I must be unlovable." So the child ends up carrying the emotional baggage of the family and takes on the burden. "If only I could do more, be better." 

If this sounds like pieces of your childhood, hopefully you begin to realize the message was wrong. It was not your fault. It was a distorted reality that you had to buy into to survive in a dysfunctional environment. Understanding that is the first step towards healing and unwinding the negative message of "I am not good enough." You can also begin to take ownership of your own life, play with those voices in your head, and realize that you can change yourself as an adult and be who you want to be. 

- Dr. Karyl McBride