"The sacred act of listening to ourselves and each other wholeheartedly is increasingly taking back seat to our grabbing, catapulting ourselves ever faster for more of whatever that thing is that helps us feel "good enough"... When we give up racing to be better than average then we can experience ordinary and simple joy, connect deeply with ourselves and others and make a difference in our families and communities."
Are You Above Average or Good Enough?
by Traci Ruble, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
It is an interesting time to be a psychotherapist. The internet, our relationship to time, our relationship to spirituality, our relationship to relationships, our relationship to our body and our relationship to ourselves has radically changed from even just 40 years ago. We used to have such a strong code of conduct that we were not so cast about by all the options available to us. Men and women married, they had roles to play in their families, jobs and communities, they had a singular career, a singular set of beliefs about self, community, God. But now it is all up for grabs isn't it?
In the midst of this glorifying and terrifying freedom to choose there is more freedom to move quickly from one idea, one conversation, one blog post, one status update, one high tech idea, one tweet, one fast food taco to the next - every impulse satisfied instantly and it is dizzying and numbing. We are moving so fast we barely have time to notice that we have a pimple on the tip of our nose, the sunset is glorious today, there is a very subtle tingle of sadness beneath our busyness or our breathing rate is shallow and fast. Our inner life - where our vulnerabilities, sensations, longings (known and unknown) and vitality dwells, is only given a general nod as a feel good one liner on someone's Facebook feed. The sacred act of listening to ourselves and each other wholeheartedly is increasingly taking back seat to our grabbing, catapulting ourselves ever faster for more of whatever that thing is that helps us feel "good enough". And it doesn't feel abnormal for most. The attainment of goals, achievement of that car, acquisition of that title feel very purposeful and exhilarating Many will never know that "not good enough" is beneath that velocity because they manage to run fast enough to outpace it.
Psychotherapy...what an enigma in this fast pace culture or is it? The primary goal every client comes in to therapy with is they want more of something or less of something and they want it fast most of the time. More sex or less anxiety. More friends or less stress. More love or less depression. More intimacy or less uncertainty. Psychotherapy is being burdened by our light speed need for sound bites, medicine, a quick fix, or outsourcing inner work to a guru, therapist or coach with answers rather than journeying through the jungles at a safe pace that allows us to really learn how to thrive here, not just survive. Who has the time to sit still long enough to dream and inquire about what a life worth living is when someone else can tell you what we should dream in a 300 word blog post? Our surroundings are changing so fast our inner landscape has no time to adjust - often not fully perceptible by us until we wind up in a therapist's office depressed, anxious out the wazoo or completely lost as our love life hangs in the balance.
In our velocity and inability to slow down enough to just "check in" and "say hello" to our insides we are saying to our vulnerabilities, longings, dreams that they aren't wanted. We are saying to ourselves "we aren't wanted". Many in this culture carry this wound of "not being enough" or "not feeling wanted" from childhood. We are propelled into doing and being more in an attempt to outpace the painful feelings that go along with those wounds.
Dr. Kristin Neff says self esteem is the notion of feeling inside that we are above average. A painful race to enter - because there are limited spots on that podium so the only choice, if you have bought into the esteem idea, is to run faster and faster and trample on your relationships as you race to the top. Whew I am sad and exhausted. Dr. Neff advocates for self-compassion instead of self esteem. Self esteem is fleeting but self compassion is always available to us. I caught myself buying in last week to the "better than" race. Beneath it was the "not enough" wound. I started moving so fast I was sick so I moved away from my social media "crack" and placed one hand on my heart and said "hello in there, what's up" and the tears came. I met my "not good enough" story.
This achievement culture is even more heightened in the San Francisco Bay Area and the Silicon Valley. I love working with high tech over achievers. I have seen many of them in my office struggling to sort out what is healthy striving versus working hard to earn love - often that latter buried far out of awareness at first.
I am a good fit for working with these folks because I used to be part of the silicon valley rush. The electricity, excitement and culture is intoxicating and it draws the high achievers. When they wind up in my therapy office they are still coming down from their intoxication, if not still intoxicated by the sense of purpose and excitement the "doing" and "being" had for them. But they arrive because they are suffering from anxiety or panic attacks, feelings of confusion that they have everything they want but still feel bored, lethargic and not totally motivated or they find themselves still single because they haven't been able to make time for connection or not quite sure how to do intimacy.
Brene Brown is one of my favorite voices on "good enough" topic. I like people who speak directly and as she says are "naked" as they voice themselves but who are also smart and whose work is backed by research. Her book Daring Greatly has many insights about our culture and vulnerability and certainly her thoughts on perfectionism are out of this world but I love this little gem on joy:
"We risk missing out on joy when we get too busy chasing down the extraordinary. Scarcity culture may keep us afraid of living small, ordinary lives..." - Brene Brown, Daring Greatly
She says the "abundance" movement that has grabbed hold in our spiritual circles and Oprah circles and is another version of escaping "not being enough" by generating "more than we need". Some spiritual teachings are being used like any other "thing" to side step this wound of not feeling "good enough" common wound in this American culture of ours. I had a moment after my own self inquiry last week when I caught myself in the "not enough" that was fueling the whole over achieving/over tweeting - I sat and gave total and utter permission to myself to be good enough....not super special, not better than, not rich, not poor....enough. Oh did that feel good. When we are a light unto ourselves and we move through the world knowing in our bones we are enough through practicing self kindness, common humanity and mindfulness as Dr. Neff has researched - we transform our world. When we give up racing to be better than average then we can experience ordinary and simple joy, connect deeply with ourselves and others and make a difference in our families and communities.
Psychotherapy, then, is not an enigma, in this time but the perfect antidote. It is the kind of medicine this fast paced over achieving culture needs. Inside the four walls of a therapy office there is a place to inquire, to journey inward, to practice self compassion, common humanity and mindfulness all in the care of a safe relationship who serves as guide through the jungle. If you can't tell, I love my job and I am humbled by the jungles I traverse inside myself and with clients. Through this work I have learned or am learning to fall in love with being ordinary.
Traci Ruble is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist working in downtown San Francisco and Psyched in San Francisco Founder. She specializes in working with couples, leads online mother's support groups and clearly likes working with recovering over-achievers. ; ) You can find more out about her at www.traciruble.com.
Labels: Over Achieving, Self-Inquiry, Traci Ruble