I wanted to write about this topic because I think many people, especially in Singapore, where I come from, suffer from this feeling of ‘never good enough’. This year I took a NICABM (National Institute For the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine) course titled “Working with Core Beliefs of ‘Never Good Enough’” where expert practitioners on the forefront of Trauma studies talk about this feeling of “never good enough.” While the “I’m not good enough” story is universal, these clinical psychologist underlined that research has shown that the country which has the highest concentration of people plagued by this feeling is in Singapore.
“And what we were finding in Singapore, where it’s so deep in the culture – the standards are so high, it’s very hard to ever feel like you’re good enough – it has to be an A+; an A isn’t good enough” – Dr Laurel Parnell, PhD
Pursuing Perfection vs. Pursuing Realistic Goals
Somehow, the cultural upbringing, the political space and the mindsets here are shaped by a continual need to ‘strive for perfection’ – but perfection is a lie. There is no such thing on this side of eternity and to chase perfection is an exercise in futility.
I think working towards building competence, growing as a person and loving others, as well as your own self well is a more achievable goal, something that I now work towards instead. I no longer hold myself to such high standards. If I did, I wouldn’t even make this post.
False Humility vs. True Humility
We also are taught that it is wrong to deeply celebrate our success and to grieve our sadnesses – there is a false humility where we feel the need to self-deprecate and judge other people who readily talk about their accomplishments as arrogant.
While I’m not a big fan of pompous people, I do feel there is a room to acknowledge our accomplishments and contributions to others and to ourselves. Being able to humbly acknowledge both our success and failures, that’s true humility.
However, our inability to do this comes from a sense of false humility that is instilled into us as children because (fake manners). However, it is also this layer of false humility that makes it difficult for us to be open about our sadness or to cry. ‘We don’t want to trouble others or make others feel bad’ we think, when really we’re just scared of being vulnerable, because when we were children our parent often told us to ‘stop crying’ when we needed their comfort, empathy and love.
Feeling Inadequate keeps you stuck in toxic relationships
I struggled with the feeling of ‘never good enough’ my whole life. It’s what kept me in toxic relationships where I didn’t feel like there was love or respect. It kept me in relationships where the other party no respect for my feelings or thoughts, where there was no empathy.
This feeling of ‘never good enough’ kept me for 8 years in an emotionally and physically abusive marriage.
The feeling of being ‘Never Good Enough’ also makes you susceptible to being gaslit, losing your confidence and allowing someone else to define your reality instead of being able to stand your own ground and face up to opposition and conflict with confidence and strength.
How trauma is normalised and the consequences of it
We are not taught to listen well, or to communicate well about our feelings in this day and age. Growing up as a girl in a Chinese family, I often was made to feel like I had to carry the weight of my parent’s broken marriage, and to stuff my feelings down because there were already so many bad feelings going around in my family – my parents both confided in me about their conflicts and grievances, I listened to them and tried to support them emotionally, as best as I could – however, I was just a child, and growing up I never really felt seen, heard or understood.
I never felt like I could be a child… I never understood the concept of growing up without the need to carry the emotional burdens of your parents.
I felt it was my role, the only way I could properly contribute.
I felt very strongly about the favouritism shown in my family, where my brother was often able to get away with treating my mother with contempt and disrespect, yet somehow she would still fawn over him.
This deeply angered me, because my mother was not respecting herself. I know now that fawning is a psychological defence mechanism in the face of trauma (apart from fight/flight/freeze responses) – and that it was the only way my mother knew how to cope at that time.
But still, it was wrong! And now I realise that even though those behaviours were normalised, they were most definitely not okay and something that I will definitely speak up against.
I Never Fit In and Most Likely Never Will, But That’s OK
Back then because I had not learned the art of communicating well about my thoughts and feelings, and also that of affirming myself, I just felt like I was a freak, someone that couldn’t fit into Singaporean society. I blamed myself and felt defective.
It didn’t help that I was a creative surrounded by many non-creatives. I was a dreamer who had somehow found myself situation in a social milieu that defined themselves by all the traditional markers of success in Singapore. Back then in the 90s they called it the 5Cs: Car, Condo, Club, Credit Card, Cash.
Now I’m not saying that these thing have no intrinsic value or that it wouldn’t be nice to have the 5Cs … or maybe 4Cs and 1B ( Car, Club, Credit Card, Cash, Bungalow)
All I’m saying is that these things shouldn’t define who we are or our worth. My standpoint is every single person has intrinsic worth and value, and that our tendency to judge people based on superficial markers debases people and reduces them to mere caricatures.
To be very honest, I am guilty of this too (especially when using dating apps), and sometimes, it’s inevitable. However, if we are cognisant of our tendency to make snap judgements about other people, perhaps we can reflect on our own behaviour and messaging, and live with a higher level of care and intentionality.
Every single thought and action you take ripples outwards and touches the lives of others, so when you decide that you want to live life more deeply and be more honest and thoughtful, do not underestimate the positive impact you can have on others around you.
Define Your Own Worth; Be Clear About What You Value
We live more than ever in an age that values image over substance, and this has had very negative impacts on our self-worth and sense of well-being. It is so easy to look at the highlight reels on Facebook or LinkedIn or look at the shiny lives of other people and feel like you are not doing well enough.
But what I’ve come to realise is that we are all running our own race. As Simon Sinek’s book ‘Start With Why’ elucidates, at the end of the day, if we know our ‘Why’ and can live out of that, everything else comes together, even if the road may be difficult.
Over the years I’ve read many books on personal and spiritual growth, communication and psychology, and I’ve learned a lot from the authors.
I have learned that others people’s opinions are just opinions and that they shouldn’t have any basis for defining your life and who you are. In order for you to truly live in a way that is congruent with your values, you need to ask yourself and reflect often on what your values are and why you are doing what you’re doing.
The Value of Morning Papers
Another thing I have come to do as a regular practice is this thing called ‘Morning Papers.’ It’s the first thing I do in the morning when I wake up – I head over to my iPad and start typing out whatever comes to my mind. This helps me to process thoughts and feelings about different incidences in my life, and learn how to get in touch with my truest feelings and thoughts – things I may have buried and repressed in order to ‘cope.’
But you can’t keep on coping through repression – it only gets you so far.
This exercise of ‘thought-dumping’ through the morning papers also helps to unlock my creativity and tap into the parts of me that seek to be seen, heard and felt.
It’s only when we learn to be vulnerable with ourselves and embrace ourselves in all our shades – the good, the bad, the ugly that we can learn how to truly be vulnerable with others in a way that does not allow us to be defined by the opinions, thoughts and treatments of others.
Never forget the most basic need for human interaction and connection. We were not created to live in emotional and mental isolation. Learn how to be open and vulnerable, even while holding space for yourself and others.
We never outgrow the need for validation and to be seen and accepted in our vulnerable places—in all our places—by someone we love. If we don’t have that, we only have so many other ways to cope. – Dr Johnson
Here are some key insights I gleaned from the course:
- Draw a clear distinction between who you are and what you do e.g. anorexic or bulimic clients tend to see things in black and white, ‘I am good only if I can keep to this diet/regimen’
- Accept that you are not going to escape judgment being applied to yourself because we evolved the ability to judge other things and problem solve because of that. We need to do it—all of us – judgement is not always bad; it serves a problem-solving function
- Do things from a place of wanting to achieve because it is intrinsically good, not because you need to prove your worth to anyone, then you’ll cultivate the inner strength necessary to work towards your goals
- Be willing to connect to the pain of self-esteem collapses when facing up to failure or rejection (which is inevitable)
- Understand this about human nature: The less people know and the worse they are, the more certain they are of their decisions and their opinions. The more people know and the smarter they are, the more uncertain.
- Shame fits the facts if it’s true that if other people find out about it, they’ll reject you. The function of shame in humans is to get them to keep quiet about things that will make other people reject them, but this doesn’t mean you can’t group together with other people to work towards changing the way society works
- Understand and internalise this: You are enough as you are; it’s not about the outer, it’s about the sense of wholeness inside.
- Use “Values In Action Strengths Finder” – This is a technique developed in positive psychology which points people towards what they want to offer to the world, what they enjoy doing, how they contribute and how they experience life instead of focusing on achievements
I feel that this is probably quite a lot to digest. So I’ll split this into another piece and post it later this week.
N.B: I am making a personal commitment to write two blog pieces a week. If anyone of you is willing to bug me about it and hold me accountable, I’d be much obliged.
“And those societies — I’ve been to Singapore as well — the high standards they have, they’re always comparing you to something else or someone else.
I say compare yourself to you, and if you had an A last time, you can get go for an A+. If you had a C last time, you can go for C+.
You just compare yourself to yourself, and the other one is a losing game. Because there’s always going to be somebody who’s way better than you, and that will make you discouraged because you think, Oh, I’ll never get there.”
Working with Core Beliefs of ‘Never Good Enough’ Dr Laurel Parnell, PhD – Transcript – pg. 8