Much has been said about enoughness and its flip-side, not enoughness. Not surprisingly, I’m kind of partial to the subject, and not just because it shows up often in my therapy and coaching work with women.
I also have my own vivid memory of a long ago scrawl on a crumpled piece of paper, my plea to the universe: will I ever be enough? In that moment, I was smack dab in the middle of the war of enoughness vs. not enoughness.
Have you ever felt like you’re not enough?
If so you’re in good company. And while it may be a common experience among women, it can also feel confusing. Not enoughness can lurk below the surface for years, and your awareness of it might be fuzzy. You can even become conditioned to it, unable to actually name it until someone else (like a therapist or coach) points it out.
Feeling like you’re not enough can also show up in different ways for different women, including…
- thinking that other people are better than you
- believing that you must always prove yourself
- unrelenting regret about past choices you’ve made
- seeing yourself as being fundamentally flawed
- agonizing over making the right decisions
- just generally being hard on yourself
You may even be wondering: What’s it like to experience enoughness?
According to the dictionary, enoughness is “the state or condition of being enough; sufficiency; adequacy.”
Personally, I would add a few phrases to flesh that out…
- feeling comfortable being who you are
- moving toward self-acceptance
- realizing you only have to be you
- understanding you don’t have to be different or better
- considering that your core self is fundamentally enough
Your internal experiences of not enoughness may be subtle.
You may experience them in multiple ways, particularly in those moments when you compare something about yourself or your life to someone else’s life.
In those instances something gets triggered for you, or you sense something’s missing about you. Perhaps you think you don’t have your act together or you don’t measure up in comparison to other people and their lives. You might then notice uncomfortable feelings of distress, dismay, or inadequacy, particularly when you compare yourself to other women.
This happens often because women are wired to keenly witness what other women do, how they act, and the choices they make. In fact, we tend to aspire to be like other women who are popular and perhaps have something that we don’t.
For a simple example of this, consider how you might choose the clothes you wear.
Or to get more granular: think about the roller coaster of trends in women’s jeans during the past 20 years.
It begins with the fashion industry, dictating new jean styles as a way to encourage women to spend more money.
And then, when an influencer or a woman who is well known starts wearing the new jean style other women jump on board.
One day you look up and see those jeans everywhere.
You get used to them even though you may not even like them at first. (I mean, skinny jeans? Whose idea was that?)
Although you’re probably not consciously aware of it, a subtle internal pressure to fit in moves you to adopt this style. And there is a certain kind of relief in that—moving away from not enoughness towards enoughness—even if you have to lay down on the bed to zip up your jeans.
My point is that we mimic other people’s choices and go along with what is expected of us because we don’t necessarily feel safe being our unique, complex selves. And unfortunately that sets us up to be right back in the war of enoughness vs. not enoughness.
However, the fundamental truth is this: you are enough no matter what choice you make.
It is possible to break from the crowd and make conscious choices that are meaningful to you: to go along, to be different, or to find some other way. You can even do this in small and subtle ways.
Recently I read a blog post that illustrated this beautifully. It was about a woman who set an intention for the year to focus on rest, replenishment, and stepping back from consumerism and social media.
But she had to veer from her intention early on when she realized she needed to buy a more comfortable pair of jeans. It turned out that ditching her skinny jeans and getting new ones actually supported her need to rest and replenish.
I like this story because it illustrates that sometimes even a seemingly minor gesture can help us claim our core sense of enoughness.
That said, human beings definitely have a tendency to follow the crowd.
It makes sense because our ancestors rejected members of the tribe who couldn’t keep up or didn’t fit in. Literally, they weren’t enough, physically or mentally.
As a result, our ancestors’ brains created neural pathways to keep them fearful (and hopefully safe). Those neural pathways were perfected and passed down, along with generational trauma and all sorts of other things.
And then, most of us are born into families that hold strong beliefs about what is good or bad, right or wrong. From an early age we’re taught to push down qualities that are perceived as unacceptable. We are encouraged to fit in.
Consequently, our own experiences of not enoughness are conditioned not only by our biology but by long histories of familial and societal constructs, wounds, expectations, and judgments that we interact with every day, often unknowingly.
James Hollis writes eloquently about the challenges and possibilities of claiming enoughness:
What would happen to our lives, our world, if the parent could unconditionally affirm the child, saying in so many words: ‘You are precious to us; you will always have our love and support; you are here to be who you are; try never to hurt another, but never stop trying to become yourself as fully as you can; when you fall and fail, you are still loved by us and welcomed to us, but you are also here to leave us, and to go onward toward your own destiny without having to worry about pleasing us.’
Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life –James Hollis
Clearly, there are many reasons enoughness is difficult to embrace.
Sometimes I think that’s the most frustrating thing: that we keep trying to embrace it.
In fact, as I got older and moved into midlife myself, I began to wonder if we give it too much power by engaging with it over and over. Time and again we proclaim we are enough, yet still struggle with it.
And although I don’t usually write in great detail here about my own life experiences, today I want to share what’s helped me.
Accepting how much I don’t know was a turning point in my personal journey to enoughness.
I used to believe there were more certainties than uncertainties in life.
Now, I believe the opposite is true.
I used to think saying I don’t know or I’m not sure was a sign of weakness.
Now, I think it’s a sign of wisdom.
I used to consider ambiguity, mystery, inconsistency, and contradiction as puzzles to be solved.
Now I consider them solutions in and of themselves.
Over a decade ago I heard a wise woman talking about uncertainty.
She said something that made me sit up and take notice: There’s a tremendous joy that comes with accepting the wisdom of uncertainty.
I was just beginning to understand something about this and I knew she was right. At least, some deep part of me understood what she was talking about.
Since then I’ve ridden those waves of joy and aliveness in the face of the unknown and it is so freeing.
I’ve also crossed the more difficult terrain that comes with letting go of certainty and turning toward uncertainty.
When I accepted life’s uncertain road I found myself in deep and unexpected places of grief.
I had to release a lot of assumptions about who I am and how life and relationships work. It’s been challenging at times, but definitely worth it.
It also gets better as you go along. And for me, at least, it will be a life long journey.
I’ve discovered one of the biggest joyful payoffs of this journey is this:
When I step into the place of uncertainty it no longer matters whether I’m enough, because I’ve released myself from the need to know.
Yes, that’s right: I stopped engaging with questions about being enough.
I reasoned that if I was choosing to sit with the ambiguities and inconsistencies of this uncertain life, why would I sign up for the ancient battle between enoughness and not enoughness? There are no winners there.
So I tried to let it go and called a truce between the opposing sides. I figured that sometimes I’d be enough and sometimes I wouldn’t be.
I decided to live with that and see what happened
And then, an amazing thing did happen.
One day I was writing in my journal and the words came rushing out…
Sometimes she wants to wail at the top of her lungs. She wants to stand on the heath, barely dressed, and invite the storm like mad King Lear. She wants to feel the battering winds. Tears streaming. Mascara running. Not giving a damn…That’s the wisdom of the wild woman. Will you dance with her?
(There was actually a lot more than that, but you get the picture.)
I ‘m not sure what it was. Maybe a visitation from my inner wild woman? But in that moment something fell away. I understood that who I am had always been there. That there was an essential me, the heart of me, that was far beyond questions of enoughness.
And she was just…me.
Just like you are just…you.
You have always been there too, beyond questions of being enough or not enough or too much.
You will always be there. This essential you. This core you.
And if this is the first time you’ve considered this, you can claim it right now. Repeat after me: Oh, wait. I was there all along. I just lost track of myself.
So maybe enoughness can be simpler.
When you think about it, our struggles with enoughness are often directly related to our histories, emotions, thoughts, roles, bodies, and relationships.
Yet, you are not your…
- history, although you’ve lived it.
- emotions, although you feel them.
- thoughts, although you think them.
- roles, although you play them.
- body, although you have one.
- relationships, although you’re in them.
These things aren’t you. They are simply the content of you. But not the core you.
Because you have always been you.
You simply are. Something about you has been you your whole life. Unbroken. Unchanged. Uninterrupted.
Call it what you will: soulful self, intuition, quiet knowing, essence, core, creative force, inner wisdom, higher self.
Whatever you call it you are complete and whole. Right here, right now. Exactly as you are.
Because you are enough. And I love that about you.
I’m handing over the last word to James Hollis…
To become a person does not necessarily mean to be well adjusted, well adapted, approved of by others. It means to become who you are. We are meant to become more eccentric, more peculiar, more odd. We are not meant just to fit in. We are here to be different. We are here to be the individual. –James Hollis
Want support with your own journey towards enoughneess and embracing your inherent self-worth?
If you’d like help knowing yourself better and feeling freer to be who you truly are, my free course — Finding Yourself Again — is a good place to start.
My course can help you gain insight on the critical voices and beliefs within you and begin to transform them with creative and imaginative approaches. It’s based on the same practices that have helped my clients reclaim what’s missing and move toward what matters.