the not enough place

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.

shooting star and tree

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17 Comments

Filed under personal growth, sadness

17 responses to “the not enough place

  1. So well said. I visit that dark place way to often, its scary in there!

  2. Ahh, I know that place all too well. It is what drives me to always “do” and whispers that I am not worthy to simply “be.” I love the line from the poem – a wonderful reminder:)

    • Yes, Lisa, I suspect that many (if not most) of the high achievers and perfectionists in our society have this little corner room in their psyches… I wonder if anyone can be truly happy until they accept that they are enough and don’t have to constantly prove themselves to others or the universe? Just “being” requires a certain degree of serenity that I struggle to retain on a consistent basis. But I’m definitely getting better…. there’s always work to do!

      • So true! I have always been this way but I found that my husband’s abandonment triggered it even more. Because of course, in some twisted way, he left because I didn’t DO enough. Yea, I know how crazy that sounds. The good thing? That trigger made me more aware so I’ve been better able to address it than ever before.

        I spent yesterday reading and watching football after my morning yoga class. Success! 🙂

  3. S.

    Reblogged this on The Secret World of S. and commented:
    I love that this blogger has the wisdom and understanding to be able to write these words. Recently I have discovered that I have never really had self esteem. There have been times when I am wholly confident in myself, but in that dark corner of my psyche I believe that I am not worthy of the same amount of attention and affection i give to others.
    I am unsure if this realization will cause any dramatic shift in the way I treat myself, but I do hope that I can at least identify when I am entering that not enough place that is way too spacious for me.
    I hope to be able to dissect this more in a blog post soon, but who knows?
    All the best,
    xo – S.

  4. Reblogged this on benzeknees and commented:
    There are those of us who suffer in silence, never talking to anyone about the loneliness & lack of self-esteem caused by our childhoods. I only wish I could have put this into words this brilliantly.

  5. This was so beautifully written, it sums up how I feel a lot of the time. I re-blogged on Benzeknees.

  6. What a beautiful post. Thank you — I found you through Benzeknees.

    I have trouble with the holidays — all holidays, as my family members have turned dying on holidays into a competition (http://fiftyfourandahalf.com/2011/12/02/both-sides-now/). Your post is beautiful as is your use of The Desiderata, the favorite poem of one of my late sisters.

    Beautiful. Thank you.

    • Thank you, Elyse. The holidays have generally been happy times for me, but I have had dear friends for whom that has not been the case, and we always had a family tradition of embracing “holiday orphans” at our family holiday get-togethers. I have very fond memories of most Thanksgivings and Christmases and Easters spent with around long tables piled with food and surrounded by unrelated people brought together by a desire for connection. There is such a simple beauty in those moments.

      I am so sorry that you have had so much loss associated with the holidays. I hope that you begin to make a different tradition as time moves forward.

      Peace to you.

  7. I’ve noticed that it doesn’t matter how successful, beautiful, smart or kind someone is. Anyone can spend time in the ‘not enough place’. Its a crowded space with all kinds of wonderful people who have no idea how special they are or the company they keep. There is actually a pretty good book called ‘When You Think You Are Not Enough: The Four Life-Changing Steps to Loving Yourself’ Thank you for the post.

    • Isn’t that the truth, Jamie? Some of the most successful people I’ve known in my life have wrestled the “not enough” demons, including people who’ve achieved fame and fortune most of us can only dream of. It’s amazing to me how self-esteem has absolutely nothing to do with reality and everything to do with our ideas of ourselves. And it goes both ways, doesn’t it? Don’t we all know the amazingly compassionate, giving person who is so adored and yet feels unworthy and unlovable, and the annoying narcissist who believes himself better than everyone else and yet has no true admirers…. Incredible.

      What a journey it is… 🙂

      • As you say, I’ve certainly noticed that not only are over-achievers often not happy with what they’ve done and need to keep doing more, but also how this kind of thinking affects the sweet and lovable among us that make us feel small by comparison. Is it just that all of us normal people have these worries and fears, and only the truly narcissistic walk blindly tall?

  8. Every year, I have hope that things will be magical………….. every year, I am disappointed. I think for me, it’s mostly that it would be nice to have a day- one single day, where my kids don’t argue and are genuinely nice to each other. Every year, I hope it will be a good day; a nice day. And every year, I end up in tears.

    It is my deepest disappointment that my kids treat each other the way they do. Maybe we need to go a year without any gifts at all, so they can get some perspective. It just makes me so annoyed when someone gets in a snit because of something someone else got. This year it was over nail polish……………… *sigh*

  9. “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.” I feel this pretty much at all times.
    I grew up with a mother that I was never able to please. To this day, I still cannot do anything right. When I tried to discuss the ending of my marriage with her, she said, and I quote, “I don’t want *** to think I like him, but he HAS put up with you all these years.” Gee. I wonder where my “not enough place” came from?
    But you know what? I’m 45. I am done. DONE. trying to please her. Now, to repair myself…

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