Mike believed he had a good life and felt lucky for all the things he had. He was married to a loving wife, had a good job, owned a nice house, and had 3 healthy kids.
Despite all his good fortune, Mike could not shake the nagging feeling that he wasn’t enough. "I should be more successful. I should make more money. I should be where my boss is. I should have a graduate degree. I should have a bigger house. I should have more friends." These were some of the “shoulds” that plagued him on a daily basis.
“Could I get you curious about this part of you that feels inadequate?” I asked Mike at our initial meeting. After he consented, I suggested, “Let yourself travel back in time…back and … back and … back. How old were you when you first felt not enough?” I asked him.
He paused to reflect, “It’s definitely been with me a long time,” He said. “Maybe 6 or 8 years old? Around there.”
Mike's father became extremely successful when Mike was 6 years old. Because of his father’s new job, his family moved to an exotic country where they didn’t speak English. Mike was scared and felt like a stranger. Even though he attended an international school, he had no friends for a long time. His parents pushed him hard. They meant well and were trying to encourage him. But feeling scared and overwhelmed by the many changes in his life, he misinterpreted their words as disappointment that he wasn't enough--it was the familiar feeling he still had today.
We are not born feeling inadequate. Life experiences and emotions create that sense within us in a variety of creative ways. For example, when we were little and we felt afraid or anxious, our mind told us something was wrong with us, not with our environment. That's why children who were abused or neglected grow up to be adults who carry so much shame. A child's mind, not yet rational, concludes, “There must be something wrong with me if I feel so bad" or "I must be bad if I'm being treated badly.”
As adults, armed with education on emotions and how childhood adversity affects the brain, we can understand that feeling not enough is a byproduct of an environment that was insufficient. We are in fact enough! Yet to feel more solid in our Self, we must work to transform the not enough feeling.
One way to transform old beliefs is to work with them as separate child parts. With some mental energy, we can externalize ailing parts of us and then relate to them in healing ways.
For example, I asked Mike, “Can you imagine that your 6-year old self, who feels not enough, is sitting on my sofa over there so we can be with him and try to help?
I paused while Mike exerted the mental energy it took to visualize his child part with some distance, "What does that 6-year-old part of you look like? What do you see him wearing? Where do you see him? Is he in a specific memory?” I asked.
With practice, Mike learned to connect and communicate to that part of himself. Mike learned to listen to that little boy inside. Offering it compassion helped him feel much better, even though he had struggled with the concept initially.<