There is a very dark place inside some of us. I think of it as the “not enough” place. It is a space in our psyche in which we are consistently less than adequate, always falling short of expectations, never quite good enough for the task or person we are striving toward. This place has no light. It is heavy, pregnant with expectations never met, people never pleased and ideals fallen away.
For some people, this place was constructed early, as part of some childhood experience — an emotionally distant or highly-critical parent, physical abandonment, or unstable family dynamics. For others, it appeared suddenly, maybe even overnight, the result of an intensely traumatic experience that shattered their sense of personal safety and value. Whatever the cause of its appearance, once present it is a difficult place to dismantle.
The not enough place is where all our worst personal demons are housed. Once in the room, we are treated to a litany of our short-comings, a veritable laundry list of all the ways in which are less than we should be. Our imperfections, in all their stark, harsh realness are on display, brightly lit for all to see who enter. It is in this space that we are told that we are now and always will be unworthy, unlovable, not necessary, a human mistake.
Sadly, it is often those we trust most who first thrust us into this place, slamming the door behind us and subjecting us to the torment of our worst thoughts about ourselves. Parents, extended family members, teachers, coaches, boyfriends, spouses…. The people whose esteem we value and strive for most are the very people most capable of creating the darkest corners of our psyche through their mistreatment or neglect. Some of them constructed the not enough place intentionally, believing that it would help us to see ourselves more clearly or avoid the pitfalls of hubris or relinquish fanciful self-concepts.
Some people are blessed to travel through this life without more than a cursory visit to the not enough place. They don’t stay long enough to absorb any of its poison, but instead are strong enough to resist its sirens’ song of denigration. They blithely move on, secure in their self-worth and sense of place in this world. They are the truly lucky.
But others are not so lucky. Some fight a lifelong battle with the not enough place, boarding it up time and again only to sneak back and re-open its dark chamber once more. Others succumb to its thrumming mantras of self-loathing, giving up entirely on their sense of self-worth and hiding fearfully behind a mask of their own making, hoping desperately that it never slips and reveals their unworthiness to the entire world. Then there are the few, so ravaged by the beatings endured in the not enough place, that they surrender completely to the madness. These are the Sylvia Plaths of the world, for whom no amount of external validation can convince them that they are worthy of love, or friendship, or even breath.
The holidays can be a magical time, but for many, they can also be a time of considerable stress, emotional highs and lows, and a readjustment of all kinds of expectations. I suppose that I am publishing this tonight as an homage to those feeling let down, perhaps most of all by themselves. If you have a not enough place in the deepest recesses of your heart, please stay away from it this season. I guarantee you that there is at least one person in your world who believes you worthy, and lovable, and valuable, and irreplaceable to them.
I have, on my bedroom wall, a prose poem called The Desiderata, given to me by my dear friend Caitlyn some 20 years ago. When the not enough place starts its infernal pestering, I remember and recite these lines:
Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars, you have a right to be here.
The trees and stars do not have to ask if they are lovable or worthy or valuable. And neither should we.