Am I good enough? I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. This is a question I have asked myself many, many times over the years. I wonder if any of you have thought this too? Am I a good enough mum, daughter, friend, partner, wife, colleague, even therapist?
Here is an article I’ve written sharing my ideas about this question:
Am I ‘Good Enough?’
Am I good enough? Who decides? Who decides if anybody is good enough or not good enough?
Donald Winnicott, a British paediatrician and psychoanalyst, introduced the concept of the ‘good enough mother’ in the 1950s. From observing thousands of babies with their mothers, he developed the theory that the babies and children who grew up more resilient and content, were the ones whose mothers or primary caregivers gradually allowed their child to make mistakes, fall down, or not always get their own way. He believed that a good mother is a ‘good enough mother’.
I have many clients who come to me feeling that they don’t really deserve to be in my counselling room. They observe that there are other people much worse off than them. They feel that their problems are small and insignificant compared to people around them. Yet they are distressed, anxious, depressed, feel isolated or withdrawn. Without realising it, they believe they are not good enough. There will be many of us, clients and therapists alike, who may have felt, or still feel, like this.
When a client believes that they are not good enough, they feel unworthy based on how they think other people want them to be. Carl Rogers, the father of the Person Centred Approach in counselling, talked about ‘conditions of worth.’ He proposed that people have a basic need for approval and because of this, we are drawn to ways of behaving to gain this approval from others. A young child quickly learns that some behaviours are more acceptable than others. They learn to behave a certain way, suppress certain feelings or expressions, and hide what they really feel, in order to gain this approval. Eventually, maybe on a sub-conscious level, they are constantly trying to live up to those expectations that they have created for themselves. Sometimes these expectations can be imposed upon them by parents or caregivers. This can lead to constantly feeling that they are not good enough; I need to change, I need to be a better person, it’s all my fault, I don’t deserve to be happy, I deserve to be treated badly, I’m a bad person.
My daughter’s refreshing, somewhat simplistic, if not blunt approach to life is ‘if you don’t like it, lump it’. According to the Cambridge Dictionary online, this phrase means you are telling someone that they must accept the situation whether they like it or because it can’t be changed. What my daughter means by it is ‘what you see is what you get, if you don’t like it, put up with it. This is me; good bits, bad bits, if you don’t like it, too bad because I’m not going to change for anyone. She’s comfortable in her own skin. How refreshing is that?
Everything that has happened makes us who we are. Sounds a bit corny, but it’s kind of true. Isn’t it? I remarried three years ago in August 2014 at the age of 52. In my wedding speech I said ‘my children, especially my daughter maybe, will tell you that I believe that life is an adventure. Sometimes it’s a roller coaster. Things can come across our path that we have no control over, and when we least expect them. Some things are harder to deal with than others, but everything that happens to us on that adventure makes us stronger, teaches about ourselves and about life.’
In my own life, for many years I have felt that I wasn’t good enough; everything was my fault, I was to blame for people being upset or relationships that went wrong. I needed to change; I was too moody, too bossy, too clumsy, or too thoughtless. I should be a better person, friend, partner. My self-esteem and confidence were very low and I did feel that I could never live up to other people’s expectations of me. I realise now that these were the expectations I placed upon myself. After many years of my own personal therapy and experiences working with clients, I’m now able to think a bit like my daughter: ‘don’t like it, lump it.’ As in; this is me, this is who I am, warts and all. Everything that’s happened in my life has shaped me into who I am and I am able to accept myself. I still have high expectations, but these are now realistic ones. I talk about expectations with my clients. Expectations are good, they help us to do a good job, be thoughtful, finish an essay on time, but it’s important to keep them realistic and achievable. As Val Wosket writes: ‘it is fundamentally important that the counsellor is able to help the client see that the ingredients of good parenting … may be found within the client themselves.’ (Wosket, V. 2011, p.47)
Working with the concept of ‘good enough’ with clients can be like walking a tightrope. By this I mean there is such a subtle difference between ‘am I good enough?’ and ‘I am good enough’ that I sometimes wonder if my clients feel that I am agreeing with their negative inner voice that tells them that they are not good enough. With careful and sensitive exploration, we both discover this is not the case and the client begins to accept that they are indeed ‘good enough’. The relationship between client and therapist is so important when working with this issue. Rogers believed that the relationship itself is the most important part of therapy, and offering the client a safe, trusting and accepting space to explore the feelings they have denied for so long, can really make a difference. As Fiona Ballantine Dykes writes: ‘a client who has very low self esteem because of past negative treatment or abuse, might in the therapeutic relationship, experience themselves as “lovable” for the very first time … This is the kind of shift that therapy can achieve.’ (Ballantine Dykes, 2010, p.121)
So am I good enough? I have come to learn over many years that yes I am. In contrast to my own childhood, I have encouraged my daughter to be open about her thoughts and feelings, good and bad, and perhaps this is why she’s able to be so comfortable in her own skin. I have also been privileged to see some of my clients be able to say ‘I am good enough.’
Nicola Thompson, MBACP, August 2017. Counsellor and Psychotherapist at Inner Vision Counselling
Ballantine Dykes, F. (2010) in Barker, M, Vossler, A. and Langdridge, D. (2010) ‘Understanding Counselling and Psychotherapy’, London: SAGE
Wosket, V (2011) ‘The Therapeutic Use of Self’, Hove, East Sussex: ROUTLEDGE