All of us have trauma we carry from childhood. We may have been adopted, left alone too much, from an alcoholic family, from smothering parents, the child of a divorce, an abusive family, a poor family, a drug addicted family, parents that valued money more than love, we may have had no family–having been passed around multiple foster homes, a homophobic family, a neglectful family . . . the list goes on.
As John Bradshaw, author of Homecoming, reminds us, “All families are dysfunctional to some degree.”
As a reality check, if you made it to adulthood and are reading this, your family also had a lot of stability and love. They should be honored for their gifts as much as questioned for their shortcomings.
When we internalize our family’s dysfunction, we come away with a core belief that, “something is wrong with me,” or, “I’m not enough”- not smart enough, good looking enough, athletic enough, talented enough, rich enough, outgoing enough, intelligent enough, black enough, white enough, tough enough, etc.
This “not enough” belief is also full of should stories. “I should be better, better looking, faster, smarter, more disciplined, more relaxed. I should be funny, white, straight, tall, sexier, shorter, heavier, thinner, cooler.” This internal story goes on to conclude that if I achieve what I “should be” then I’ll finally be “enough.”
Together these beliefs and stories set up a no-win situation in our minds and the way we live our lives: A belief that I’m not good enough but will be enough when I fulfill my corresponding “should story,” leaves me in endless catch 22 situations—never feeling enough, but always believing it is just around the corner when I meet another goal of the “should story.” As a result I can suffer from depression, anxiety, and fears of all kinds. The resulting dilemma is an inner psychological construct with a voice that tells us to seek full acceptance and love, but never find it.
For example, say my story is that I’m not enough because I don’t have money but I will be enough if I become rich. Low and behold I make it— I become rich. While this will act as a panacea for a short time, because I was trying to compensate for a lie to begin with, it won’t fix the core problem—the mistaken belief that something is wrong with me and it needs to be fixed.
Remember, there is nothing is wrong with you!
Your value as a human being is innate. There is nothing you need to do outside of yourself to achieve it. This is why we are so drawn to observe children and their innocent, open hearted approach to themselves and others. They have yet to learn any stories about being not good enough. They are expressing their true nature, something most of us have lost touch with.
The movie Citizen Kane is a story of a man who gained money and power to compensate for being abandoned in childhood (all children conclude that the reason they are left or abandoned by parents is that they are somehow not good enough.) When the character of Kane achieves great wealth and fame he feels great importance for a time in his life. However, he eventually falls into despair, realizing his solution didn’t work to cure the underlying sense of loneliness, fear, and being “not enough.”
There are many solutions to this dilemma. Self-Compassion and Mindfulness are two great methods (see previous blogs). Many of us also need a Psychodynamic approach – being mirrored by another person with unconditional acceptance.
One goal in therapy is to develop an unconditional positive regard for ourselves. When this is achieved we heal and return to the open heartedness of childhood—but this time with the maturity of an adult.
These internal “not enough stories” can be extraordinarily persistent—leading us into deep despair, doubt, addictions, and ongoing relationship issues.
If we don’t get help with our “not enough stories”, we may spend our entire lives unconsciously avoiding the actual solution to genuine happiness—as is told in Citizen Kane.
Is your belief of being “not enough” holding you back? Are you stuck in self-doubt, relying on an addiction, keeping yourself endlessly occupied with work, money issues, parenting duties, internet, talking, business, entertainment, etc.—so as not to feel the underlying emptiness? It is very normal to have this internal drama. Everyone I have met has some version of it. The courage to get help can be all it takes to break through to your authentic life, and your authentic happiness.
As Blaise Pascal, a French philosopher once famously said, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”
We can suffer many abandonments early on. John Bradshaw writes at great length about the “abandoned child” inside of us—the one who didn’t’ get the attention, safety, love, admiration, nurturing, or encouragement they needed when they were at their most vulnerable.
In Citizen Kane, two scenes, one in the beginning of the film, and one at the end, exemplify the abandonment issue the central character suffers from throughout his life. After his parents abandon him early on, he internalizes a belief of being “not good enough.” He then spends his life trying to prove to others that he is “enough.” The only problem is that, while he attains more success than anyone around him, he never faces the internal pain. As a result, it festers like an unattended wound.
Kane looks in all the wrong places to find his worth—to money, women, power, etc.— but he never takes the deep journey inside, through the pain and back to the authentic, joyful, “inner child” who was left so early on.
When after all his attempts fail and his wife leaves him, triggering the deep unresolved abandonment wound, and "not enough" issue, he has a nervous break down.
That is, he seeks for love, but does not find it.
Take a look: