Have you ever read one of those self-help books, articles, or blogs that encourages you to think you’re enough? That who you are is “good enough” and you don’t have to keep trying to measure up to an impossible standard?
I’m sure for some people this is encouraging. But what about when you don’t feel good enough?
If you’re really struggling with feelings of unworthiness, then just hearing assurances that you really are good enough isn’t going to help much. Positive affirmations have their place but they can’t dislodge or replace thoughts that are really rooted into your mind. They’re not a substitute for personal growth work and (in some cases) getting help from a professional therapist.
So what do you do when you feel like you’re unworthy? How do you change things when you think you aren’t “good enough” and this belief is part of what defines you?
Figure out where this thought came from
When you struggle with ongoing feelings of unworthiness, combating the voice that says “I’m not good enough” can often be easier when we understand where it’s coming from.
Therapist Karyl McBride says, “this message of unworthiness” usually “goes back to the family of origin” (“Do You Feel Not Good Enough?”). At some point, someone or something that had a deep impact on your formation as a person put the message “you’re not good enough” inside you. It may have been deliberate or accidental, but the fact remains many people picked up the idea that they’re unworthy from other people while they were growing up. Read more →
Have you ever thought that maybe you’re going through something that you can’t handle on your own, but something held you back from asking for help?
That’s a feeling quite a large number of people who struggle with anxiety (and I’m sure other mental health issues as well) can relate to. Maybe you don’t think it’s “bad enough” to bother with therapy, or you’re concerned that therapy won’t do you any good. Or maybe you’re worried about what other people will think of you if you seek help. Perhaps it’s a financial concern, or pressure from someone in your life, or something else entirely that’s telling you not to ask for help.
The stigma against talking about mental health issues is lessening, but it hasn’t gone away completely. Admitting we need help with something that’s going on inside our own heads is rarely easy. But there’s nothing wrong or weak in seeking help. Rather, it’s a choice of strength and self-care to seek out the help you need when you’re struggling with anxiety.
Waiting 10 years for treatment
While some of the things I’m going to say in this post might apply to other mental health issues, I’m going to focus on anxiety (and to a lesser extent depression) because that’s what I have direct experience with.
Meet Flynn. He’s 2 years old, weighs 15 pounds, and lost his previous home (not sure of the exact circumstances). I brought him home from a local humane society a couple weeks ago. I’d asked them if they had a sweet, cuddly cat that would do well in a single-cat home. They recommended Dorito (I’d originally planned to keep his name, but he doesn’t respond to it at all and it just didn’t “feel right” to me. Hence the name change, after Flynn Carsen from The Librarians).
My new kitty cried for the entire car ride home. Once I released him from the cat carrier he promptly hid under the couch for the next six hours. Poor little thing’s been through a lot. But we’re starting to settle in and get used to each other. And after two weeks together I’ve learned that
He loves meat and will beg in the kitchen for beef, poultry, and fish
Catnip mice are his favorite thing. He just lays on the floor while hugging and chewing on them
My fleece mermaid blanket must have a texture he likes, since he danced around with a look of wonder on his face the first time he touched it. It’s our favorite blanket
His purr is furniture-rattling in volume and intensity
He likes sleeping with people. Usually he picks my bed and spends the night curled up near my feet or legs
But I’ve also learned some other things:
He’s terrified of people in motion. If you stand up or walk into a room his eyes get big and he runs away
If you reach out toward him he flinches, like he expects you to hit him. But he’s sweet and affectionate if you’re sitting down and he comes up to you
He doesn’t like being picked up
The slightest noise is enough to make him startle awake, leap in the air, and/or flee the room
He spends most of the day hiding, only coming out to spend time with us in the morning and evenings
I don’t know what happened in Flynn’s past as Dorito. Being a storyteller, I have a completely theoretical narrative that goes like this: Dorito’s owner was a sweet, elderly person who was confined to a wheelchair. They fed Dorito in the kitchen, invited him to sleep in the bed, and showered him with love. But this person had a caretaker that came in during the days and wasn’t kind to the cat. So Dorito learned that people walking toward him meant he’d be kicked or grabbed or chased out of the room. And then when their elderly person passed away, Dorito was dumped off at the Humane Society.
Of course I have no idea if that’s anywhere near the truth. What I do know is that I’ve adopted a very nervous cat. He startles at the slightest noise. He flinches if you touch him. He doesn’t do “normal cat” things like lay around all day and nap (at least not out in the open). And he’s taking a very long time to relax around us, especially my 6′ 3″ younger brother.
After a few days of this, someone in my family described Flynn as a “useless cat” because he won’t cuddle. And then someone asked if I could return a defective cat. I was behind the couch at this point trying to convince Flynn to come out and raised my voice just enough to say, “He’s scared and he needs our love and understanding!” After that the (mostly) joking suggestions that Flynn wasn’t the cat we were looking for stopped. He also started becoming more friendly, which helped with that.
I don’t know what in Flynn’s past made him so scared. But I know that right now he’s easily startled, worried, and only wants touched on his terms. So I decided to love him where he’s at and work with him. It’s not going to help if I lecture him, saying he’s got it so good now that he should just suck it up and move forward with his life. He needs patience. He needs someone not to push his boundaries because that will only prove we can’t be trusted not to go too far. He needs someone there for him when he does want held and petted.
And then I started thinking, isn’t that what hurting people need too? Love, understanding, acceptance, and someone to be there for them on their terms. But how many times do we meet someone who’s going through something we don’t understand and yet we treat them as if they’re “lesser than” because they’re still showing signs of their past trauma? Why are we so much more willing to extend grace and compassion to a nervous cat than to an anxious, depressed, or hurting human?
Then I had another realization. The way I’m treating my cat is the way I want to be treated when I’m anxious, nervous, or on the edge of panic. I want patience, understanding, and someone who will ask what I need instead of pushing me to just get over it. And it’s also the way I should treat myself (I’ve recently started seeing a counselor to get help working through my anxiety and she was delighted with this realization). We must give ourselves the same compassion, love, and permission to be ourselves that we long for from other people and should extend to others who are going through similar things.
So that’s what I’ve been learning from my nervous cat. I think he’s turning out to be a pretty good teacher.