To be human is to feel that you are not enough. I can’t think of a better word to describe my anxiety. Am I giving my daughter enough attention? Was that email I sent nice enough, or not clear enough? Am I eating healthy enough to live long enough? Am I doing enough to help keep this country from careening further into chaos? Who the hell knows.
The anxiety of not being “enough” can emerge when you lack a solid, realistic definition about who you’re trying to be as a human on this planet. Because when you don’t have one, you tend to evaluate yourself based on how you feel at any given moment. So if you feel like a bad mother, you must be one. If you feel unqualified for the job, this must be true. This is exactly why feeling incompetent can sometimes get you into more trouble than being incompetent.
Because the Internet knows I have a kid, articles about “mommy guilt” are constantly popping up on my social media feed. “Look!” they shout. “Even famous people have mom guilt!” While it can feel nice to have your anxiety normalized, the truth is that these emotions do impact your functioning and your relationships. If you had a parent who felt “less than” in some way, chances are you can recall the contagiousness of their anxiety.
When you feel “less than,” facts and evidence tend to bounce right off you. It becomes impossible to evaluate yourself with any amount of objectivity. Your brain turns on its anxious autopilot, and you may find yourself doing the following:
- Attacking the problem.
- Avoiding the problem.
- Recruiting others to reassure you.
How do you respond to not feeling “enough”? Do you vacillate between furiously attacking your goals and admitting defeat? Do you borrow reassurance from those around you? What would it look like to refrain from these automatic responses? To do the slow, hard work of defining what being a good parent or a good citizen means to you?
Let me give you some examples.
Situation: You feel like you aren’t invested enough in your kid’s education.
Anxious Reaction: You become uber-focused on managing their homework.
Thoughtful Response: You take the time to determine how you support your child without functioning for them.
Situation: You can only find time to work out once a week.
Anxious Reaction: You give up on exercising entirely.
Thoughtful Response: You record your attempts and think flexibly about what you can and cannot do.
Situation: You feel like your boss doesn’t like you.
Anxious Reaction: You constantly ask your friends at work what they think.
Thoughtful Response: You define what it looks like to be a respectful, competent employee, and stay focused on that.
If you’re feeling anxious about whether you’re measuring up, odds are you have borrowed the impossible definitions of success that society trumpets. Or maybe you measure your worth by how people respond to you, a truly uncontrollable and frustrating variable. It’s a lifelong effort to learn to put the focus back on yourself and live from the inside out. To be able to evaluate your functioning based on the facts and your own principles rather than how you feel or what others think.
Learning to access the facts and my own thinking when I feel like I’m not enough is a gift I can give my daughter. Or as Kerr and Bowen put it, I’d like to be a mother who has “the discipline to act based on the knowledge of what will work best in the long run rather than on the feelings of the moment.”
So this week, I want you to try paying attention to how you squash your feelings of not being enough. How does this distract you from the ongoing work of living from the inside out? It might feel uncomfortable to put up with the anxiety of the moment, but what a relief it is to learn to respond to reality instead of anxiety.
News from Kathleen
Buy my book! If you haven’t gotten your copy of Everything Isn’t Terrible yet, you can buy it from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Indiebound, Target, or anywhere you buy books! But I encourage you to support your local indie bookstore.
Coming Soon! I have created some more awesome bonus materials that Hachette Books is going to be sending to newsletter subscribers who have bought my book, so get your copy soon if you haven’t already.
Catch up on my podcast interviews:
I Do Podcast – I talked about how we use our partner to manage anxiety, and how that can get in the way of growing up and have richer relationships.
The Second City Works – I had a wonderful conversation about Everything Isn’t Terrible and living in an anxious world with Kelly Leonard.
The No BS Anxiety Talk Show – More talk about the book and Bowen theory.
Read my other writing:
Got political anxiety? Read this essay I wrote for Medium’s Forge Magazine about preparing for the worst.
If you’re new to the newsletter, you can check out my website for past newsletters about anxiety and relationships. You can follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, or email me if you have questions about the book, want me to speak to your group, or want to learn more about my therapy practice in Washington, DC. You can also visit the Bowen Center’s website to learn more about Bowen theory, as well their conferences and training programs.