I can remember that moment, I was just a small girl listening to my parent’s argue–when my penchant for “earning love” announced itself.
Maybe “announced” is the wrong term. It was more like, it’s necessity became evident. My father had come home after a night of drinking and he was in a rage, my older brother was practicing guitar moves in the mirror and my mother had checked out, yet again, in what a call, the “codependent stupor.”
I was alone. Completely alone.
It was from that day on that I learned that in order to be loved, I had to make myself incredibly useful if I wanted to survive. I had to forfeit most, if not all, measures of self to the order of convincing others to like me, or at the very least, pay attention.
If that meant tending to my brother’s drunken piles of vomit or cleaning the house in a frenzy to my mother’s propitiation, so be it. No one had the presence of mind to notice how withdrawn and depressed I had become or how my social life was relegated to watching General Hospital episodes and binge eating stale crackers in front of the TV in a fantasy loop.
And so it was, this past weekend, when I caught myself recanting the inner critic’s voice, who I’ve identified primarily as my alcoholic Dad—that I very nonchalantly told it to, “SHUT THE FUCK UP.”
I chose to pursue the easier path (which for me is never easier) of not beating the shit out of myself for not being perfect.
Late Saturday night, I lay in bed with intense Coachella FOMO. This, in and of itself, is absolutely ridiculous. I am super-thrifty and would never waste that kind of money, I hate crowds and the only thing worse than crowds is crowds AND heat. I thought-stopped and started to list all of the things I HAD accomplished that day. The list, as I’m sure you’ve guess by now, was astounding.
We are so mean to ourselves sometimes.
We, us survivors of trauma and abuse–are never enough. I could be playing with my dog and all I see are the hairs on the carpet or the dust on the mantle. I have already tasked myself with twelve more things I need to get done as soon as I am finished what I am doing. It is a non-stop clamor to feel safe, but we are never really present in the moment, and the loop keeps us from ever truly feeling safe.
We are unrelenting with the expectations of ourselves mainly because in childhood, that meant a semblance of safety, or the “illusion” thereof, and a few shreds of validation in the hurricane that is a dysfunctional family system.
The problem is that we don’t know how to shut the voice off. The “never enough” voice is incessant, nagging and hellish.
And so recognizing (I know, I know) is the first, crucial step. Calling “bullshit,” saying “nope, I will be easier on myself today” as inane as it sounds, is mind-bending. I will have normal expectations of myself like my girlfriends have, I’ll quip to myself. Maybe I won’t burn out today trying to outperform the inner critic. Hell, I might even try my hand at being mediocre.
And so it was, for two entire days, every time I felt inundated with a shitty, “not good enough” thought, I gently redirected. Every time I felt anxiety and started self-critiquing how lousy my life is and how epic everyone else’s is, I turned the phone off.
Us women have an ENTIRE other layer. And as much as I love and embrace sexuality whole-heartedly, I also will never feel like enough paired against a Kardashian’s curated reality via social media. They’ve not had my life and I certainly have not had there’s.
So back to the list. I am on number 17, literally, in bed, not fighting insomnia (embracing that too). I cleaned, took care of my fur-kids, paid bills, bathed, self-cared, cooked, did dishes, called Mom, went for a walk, spoke to my nephew, meditated. I look at the list and I am blown away.
In the end, perfection is an absolute liar in the face of unreasonable expectations that are reinforced by social media and toxic parenting. We all know this intellectually–it’s just how to not integrate that thought train once it starts.
Thankfully, we can start to examine these voices. Many people, including myself, are breaking from social media or uninstalling all-together. And many more are challenging false beliefs from childhood through different types of therapy. The work feels endless, but I am hopeful.
Maybe the truth, no matter how painful or difficult, is worth coming back to. For me, it involves telling that little girl that she was enough all along enough times so that she starts to believe it.