Never good enough

Those three words have been the curse of my life. If I had to identify one thought that has plagued me for as long as I can remember, that has to be it. The feeling has always been with me. No matter what I do or how hard I try or how much I achieve, I never feel that I have accomplished enough.

I used to think that if I could just get one more good grade or lose one more pound or get one more pat on the back, then I would finally fill up my "enough" deficit. I've had enough therapy to realize that there is no amount of achievement that will ever make me feel good enough. I was lucky in that no one made me feel this way. My parents never criticized my report card or told me to try harder. They never pressured me to achieve academically--in fact, I think they would have loved for me to bring home a "B" just so I would see that it's not the end of the world.

I look at my resume, and all I see are people who have done more. It's what psychologists call "upward comparison," when a person compares him/herself to those who are somehow "better off." The wide world of the internet, the fact that I have freakishly successful friends, and my own abysmal self-esteem means that I perceive many people as being more successful than I am.

There are a lot of really amazing, cool, brilliant, successful people out there. In many ways, it's inspiring and I feel honored just to be allowed to listen in on some of these people's conversations. These conversations also make me feel tremendously insecure, because my Inner Critic voice is blathering away in the back of my skull that "I suck, I suck. I don't have get paid to blog about science. I haven't won any awards. I haven't gotten any feature-length stories. Therefore, I suck."

I am aware that I'm measuring myself against Pulitzer Prize-winning veterans of science writing. And I still feel that as a newbie to the field, that I'm never going to measure up.

This "upward comparison" helps explain why I get so distressed sometimes at seeing images of freakishly thin women. It's not so much the thinness, but the achievement of thinness that gets me. The thinness itself is irrelevant. But the fact that someone has "achieved" something I haven't really tortures what little there is of my self-esteem. When I get depressed, these "I suck" mantras only get louder and more constant. My initial attempt at losing weight was a way to make these mantras shut the hell up. I just wanted to feel better.

And, like so many other things in my life, I never felt like I had lost enough weight. There was always someone thinner or sicker than me.

It's a shitty way to go through life, in this frenetic quest to achieve something, anything, just so you can feel good about yourself. And the achievements, when they come, do give a momentary rush. Just as quickly, the rush is gone. Only now, the bar has been raised, the achievement itself has been discounted and brushed off, and nothing less than the past achievement will be tolerated. The demands go up and up and up.

This is one of the mindsets that still leaves me paralyzed and unable to really move forward. I can't imagine ever feeling like a success. I can't imagine looking over my resume and feeling satisfied. I get frustrated because I know I have accomplished what looks like a lot of things to outsiders. It just doesn't feel that way. Nothing is ever good enough. I want it to be. I want to feel successful and satisfied, I just can't figure out how.


Anonymous said...

Thank you, i could relate to what you wrote so much although the words that have always haunted me are more like "never enough"..never restricting enough, never losing enough weight, never achieving enough, the list goes on..

And like you i have no idea where this came from but i've been like this my whole life and as i try to explain to my (thankfully very patient) other half it's not something i'm going to be able to unpick and change any time soon unfortunately. I have a lot of insight into the problem but am still unable to change it!

Anonymous said...

I really relate to this post - the whole, not feeling good enough.

You wrote:
I can't imagine looking over my resume and feeling satisfied. I get frustrated because I know I have accomplished what looks like a lot of things to outsiders. It just doesn't feel that way. Nothing is ever good enough.

I can look at my resume and see objective evidence of things that I have done, but I don't feel like I have done much of anything. It is like there is this disconnect between the evidence and my feelings.

I also get stuck in the whole comparison thing, looking at things my peer group is doing or things they have accomplished and it really doesn't make me feel good (which begs the question, why do I do that?!!).

It sounds like perfectionism is showing its ugly head to you - it sorta drives people to keep trying to attain that ultimate goal - perfection - and even if objectively we achieve that goal, it still isn't enough.

I wish I had words of wisdom as I struggle with what you have written about in this post. You are good enough. It's the learning that you truly are a good enough person just as you are that is the journey and challenge. *hugs*

Angela Elain Gambrel said...

You are you. And that is good enough.



Melissa said...

I can really relate to this and especially the relentless drive and the sense that the rest of the world is always s step ahead, whether in social or career or any other standard that I've chosen to focus on. For me too, it became linked to my ED and probably something I will always have to be aware of, but I've noticed it easing recently. I've been doing lots of self talk and reminding myself that whichever part I'm focusing on is normally only one element. I've also Bren trying to be kinder to me and remember that as long as I'm trying, I'm doing okay. I also try to keep my own journey ad a point of reference - ie, we all take different paths and nothing is really comparable.

Don't know if these make sense or help at all. Like Anhrla, I think you're totally great and more than enough... and hope you can feel that one day.

Cathy (UK) said...

First, I will say that I always admire your honesty Carrie.

Second, you're a very bright young woman so you needn't worry about not being 'good enough'.

Third, this post exempifies the heterogeneity of AN, the different personal meanings of the illness - and the resultant implications for therapy, including therapy during the re-feeding process.

I cannot personally identify with the overwhelming desire to be thin or the need to 'stand out in the crowd' in any way that many anorexic people describe. I never chose to try to lose weight; my weight loss (which was extreme) was a side effect of behaviours I 'used' to control anxiety and depression. It was the behaviours themselves that kept me in the illness. I didn't like my thinness and found it embarrassing.

I attended a few group therapy sessions at one time and it drove me crazy that I was surrounded by girls vying with each other to be the thinnest. I was very thin, and not through choice and I didn't care in the slightest how my body compared to others' bodies.

I think you're good enough - as do many people :)

Fellow OCD Sufferer said...

As with many of your posts, I can relate so much to this one, as well. One thing that really caught my attention was when you mentioned that "it's not so much the thinness, but the achievement of thinness that gets me." You have put into words something I have tried to understand about myself for so long! That just sums it up beautifully - that's how I felt when I was struggling with anorexia. That's how I feel right now with my current OCD struggles. It's not always about wanting the end result, but about being able to "achieve" what others manage to achieve or at least, seem to achieve. Thank you for putting that into words!

Since I have only ever really been in treatment for OCD, I see what you write through the lens of that experience rather than from the perspective of someone who has been treated for an eating disorder, though I suspect there are a lot of similarities. When I read your second to last paragraph I was stuck by how it resembled, so closely, the classic OCD paradigm. The harder you try to grab hold of a feeling that you want so desperately, whether it is to "feel clean" or to feel "good enough" or basically just to feel "right" in one way or another, the less you feel that way you desire. And each time you do something with the specific goal of obtaining that feeling, you get that sense of relief if you manage to meet the unreasonable standards. But next time it will be even harder. To put it in terms of the stereotypical washing compulsions, you want to feel clean. You wash extra well in order to obtain that feeling. And you feel great - for a little while. And then something else happens and you have lost that feeling, so you must wash again to regain it. Only now it's slightly harder to obtain that feeling from just washing once, so you go ahead and do even more. And there it is, that "clean" feeling! It's back...but not for long...and so the cycle continues.

That's just my way of seeing it anyway. The similarity between what you described and the way OCD works just caught my attention.

I have always struggled and still struggle with upward comparison. And when you mentioned "this quest to achieve something, anything" I could relate so much with my own struggles. Though I recognize that it is irrational, and that I spend far more time washing and cleaning than the average person, I still feel like I am always trying to live up to "normal" standards and that I am never "clean" enough. My OCD somehow latched onto this one area of my life, and my value as an individual seems to hang in the balance, causing me to devote the perfectionistic zeal I formerly put into school work on washing the "right" way and avoiding "laziness" by making all types of washing/cleaning so complicated and time-consuming that it rendered my dysfunctional. It's funny how it really can be ANYTHING no matter how little sense it makes, no matter how much we tell ourselves that what we are doing to ourselves is hurting us more than helping. It can be starving yourself, washing your skin raw, or in general, trying to achieve a sense of worth by setting ever-increasing standards.

You are a wonderful writer and I hope that as you continue in treatment you can learn to appreciate the accomplishments you have achieved and not berate yourself for those things you have not. It is certainly something I am just starting to work on and hope to continue to improve at! I don't want to go back to who I was "before" treatment. I want to be "better" and not in the way I used to define being "better." I want to be kinder to myself and happier with my life, and I hope that those things will allow me to succeed and be satisfied with what I am able to achieve.

Amy said...

"I just assumed, in spite of whatever accomplishments I had thus far managed in life, that everyone I would be competing with would always be that much more accomplished, and confident as well, and would wear the right clothes, and would actually be able to remember what ‘ontological’ means." -- Caroline Kettlewell, Skin Game

Colleen said...

this was a beautiful post, and i think anyone who has suffered from an ED can relate to it. i know i sure can.

Anonymous said...

Your posts really make understand more about myself and the disease. I can totally relate to what you are feeling, I am right there with you-I always am trying to compare to others and its tiresome.

HikerRD said...

Hi Carrie,
There's a great book by a therapist who studied 12 women recovered from bulimia (Sensing the Self by Sheila Reindl)which has a chapter "sensing enoughness" which speaks to this issue.It's terrific.
I often recommend making a balance sheet of sorts to help identify our positives, what we feel good at. We are so good at identifying the negative,but really need to work to remind ourselves of the wealth of positives we hold.
And for the record, I look at your blog--its design, its wisdom, and its following and yearn to make such a dent as you have, Carrie!
Lori Lieberman, RD, CDE, MPH, LDN

Kinder Brain said...

This reminds me of a parable I heard. "A learned biblical scholar and teacher from ancient times named Avi, devoted his life to his students and his work. He told his students, "When I die and meet the Great Creator he is not going to say - 'Why were you not Moses?'. He is going to say, "Why were you not Avi?"

I have hated myself since I was 4 years old and I relate to this post. I try to take a spiritual approach and remember that I was put here to be ME. And that is good enough. The journey of finding me and being me is my life's work. Tall order, goes against everything I was taught as a child, but worth it.

Anonymous said...

Carrie, I thank you for your brute honesty. "Never enough" was always justified as my impetus to do more, to be better; sort of like the Olympic motto "Citius, Altius, Fortius (Faster, Higher, Stronger). But the Olympics are only every 4 years...We don't have to run a marathon everyday. I've learned to pace myself.

My other thought is that "never good enough" triggers a core belief. Groucho Marx did not wish to belong to a club that would have him as a member. My take on this saying used to be that anyone who accepted had low standards. I felt the need to work for acceptance. The problem was with accepting myself.

Argh, the tough work of recovery.

Kaz said...

SUCH a good post. :) And so true of course. I know I always compare myself to the experts or experienced or people who excel at something. It never gets us anywhere but deeper in the hole we are already in.

Anonymous said...

It is painful to see a girl skinnier than me. It eats at my mind and my heart. It plagues me. But all these posts are right- when would it end. If I "beat" her, I'll see another. If I beat the next, there will still be children. Children who are smaller, and more deserving of good things, so who am I to take up more space than they do. The ultimate goal of anorexia is to make you so small that you disappear. You're only "good enough" when you've worked so hard that it kills you. Not exactly a healthy goal or a goal that will benefit ANYONE- not you or anyone else. So to take your mind off of AN is the only option then, and set goals in other areas. Comparative only to yourself.

KristineBaldo said...

Carrie, I always find your posts interesting. My daughter has an ED, and I get insight into her ways of thinking through you. IMHO, I think that in this post you have hit on the core issue of EDs, and perhaps many other types of mental illness. It seems to me that the feeling of never being good enough is another one of those feelings that everyone alive has had at one time or another. It is a mystery why some people fully believe it and act accordingly, and for others it is just a temporary feeling, soon forgotten and seldom returned to.

Some ideas I got about this from the book "Anorexics and Bulimics Anonymous" make a good deal of sense to me. People who don't feel good enough, who grow to hate themselves, who are smart enough to be able to see the difference between themselves and others who are comfortable with themselves, spend much time trying to figure themselves out. They necessarily become self-centered, and need to project the hatred of their inner selves to something else, often conveniently to their own bodies. They split themselves into warring halves. Everything, either in or out of themselves, is always "better" or "worse". The fact that we all just "are" is a foreign concept to someone who sees everything in terms of black/white, good/evil, thin/fat, and so on. A person cannot be intimate with someone when she always feels either superior or inferior to that other person.

Insight into one's own, as you call it, "crazy thinking" rarely brings lasting change. I don't know the answer. I know that Anorexics & Bulimics Anonymous and Overeaters Anonymous bring a Higher Power into the picture to relieve the sufferer of the faulty thinking that she has identified. CBT and DBT supposedly help people change thinking patterns. Good luck to you!

Jade said...

I agree. It's so hard not to compare yourself with everyone, and so many times deciding that you're less than others. But you have to remember that people are also comparing themselves with you and seeing themselves as inadequate. You are an amazing person, if you weren't you wouldn't have so many people who read and love your writing and blog. Keep it up!

Anonymous said...

Ah this is me all over and always has been. The stupid thing is that so many people will look at you and think how inspirational you are and how they wish they would achieve as much as you, and possibly some people might wish that about me, yet none of that matters because we can't feel it inside ourselves.

Unknown said...

So well observed and expressed, Carrie.

I've come to believe we're all born with a variably malleable predisposition on this. Some people are born prone to feel "never good enough" and some are all too ready to go "whatever" and these thoughts are only a little related to actual accomplishment.

I believe it IS malleable, however. People born with high ambition (a more positive word for this) can learn to moderate this, and people with too much delight in their achievements can learn to moderate that as well.

Too much of any trait can make life hard. The first step is realizing it - and most people don't! As usual, your self-knowledge is helpful for the people you are sharing it with!

Anonymous said...

I have those same thoughts about everything. I believe it and accept it as true. Whenever I challenge this thinking it's like more evidence is discovered to ensure I don't inadvertantly think I'm ok. It is nice to know though that I'm clearly not alone which is much more helpful.

Collett Smart said...

What a brutally honest post! Thank you for sharing this. There are so many people stuck in the upward comparison 'game' and I think many do not realise that there are others there too. I often tell teens that others just fake it really well.

I will share this right away!

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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nour·ish: (v); to sustain with food or nutriment; supply with what is necessary for life, health, and growth; to cherish, foster, keep alive; to strengthen, build up, or promote


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