What's the one thing you’ve always wanted? You know, the thing you’ve always thought would make everything better?
The perfect job, car, house, clothes, puppy, relationship, etc…
For a long time, that one thing for me was the perfect body.
As I’ve written about before, I went through a period in my life of receiving attention and compliments for losing weight. This, combined with eighteen years of social conditioning, sparked my years-long struggle with negative body image and disordered eating behaviors. At the core of this struggle, I believed that the perfect body/diet/exercise regimen would make me happy and protect me from disapproval and hurt. I believed I was a failure if I didn’t uphold that state of perfection.
It took me years of hard work to break down this mindset – this “belief table” – and build a new one. It started with body positivity & intuitive eating blogs, which led to podcasts, then spirituality books, then journaling about my feelings instead of hiding them. Then finally, after realizing that those blogs and podcasts and notebook pages could only take me so far, I saw a therapist.
In addition to letting me talk through my feelings, he taught me exercises to work through my destructive, repetitive thoughts and eventually replace them with new, more constructive ones. As I continued to practice these exercises, I broke down that old belief table, and my feelings of “not enoughness” around my body grew smaller and less frequent. Although those thoughts and feelings still pop up, they are no longer at the core of my being. I’ve learned that I am enough, in the body that I’m in, right now.
I’ve realized, though, that those feelings of “not enoughness” haven’t gone away. No, they are still here, kicking and screaming -- they’ve just taken a different form.
I became aware of this recently after a shopping spree with my mom. The entire day, I just couldn’t relax and enjoy myself. I felt so anxious – headache, stomachache, foggy head, impatient and on the edge of tears. I was angry at myself for not being able to just enjoy the present moment.
As I was sitting in the car on the way home, it hit me like a ton of bricks – this is exactly how my feelings manifested in my body on “bad body image days” – the aches and tears and distracted mind. My not enoughness was back; it had simply taken a different form.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been on the job hunt after earning my Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) credentials. For various reasons, this has made me feel inadequate. I wonder if I’m actually prepared to fulfill the job duties. I wonder if I’m actually prepared for real-life “adulting.” Even further, I wonder what kind of job I truly want. I’ve never had a clear picture in my mind of “what I want to be when I grow up,” and there’s such a wide range of jobs for dietitians, which makes it hard for me to imagine where I fit in. I have interests in various areas, and my dietetic internship experiences just heightened all of those interests instead of making me zone in on one.
These voices telling me I’m not enough have been on repeat in my head ever since I began my job search. As I sat in the car, thinking these thoughts and feeling these feelings, I had three realizations:
1. All throughout my life, no matter what I’m doing, there’s always been an element of “not enough” there. Not tough enough, smart enough, fit enough, pretty enough, outgoing enough…you know the drill.
2. It's all in my head.
3. The truth is, nothing will ever make it all better. I know this because no achievement or material possession has ever completely quelled that inadequateness. I can have the dream job, body, relationship, car, house, clothes – it can still be “not enough.”
Life’s unpredictable. Even when you plan, even when you work your very hardest, you can't perfectly control the outcome. Bad things might still happen. You might mess up in places that you never expected. People might still criticize. There will always be something missing.
Unless you give yourself a damn break and realize it is enough; you are enough, right now, in this moment. Not in an hour or day or week from now. Not when you finally land the job or buy the car or lose the weight. Right now.
I’ve taken a step back to think about the self-limiting thoughts rolling around in my head every day. Is there tangible proof that they are true? Or are they just stories I’m telling myself as a means of protection so it won’t hurt so much if I actually do fail?
If you are in any way feeling inadequate, take a lesson from a girl with experience. Those negative, nagging voices in your head aren’t true, but they’ll continue to pop up for the rest of your life in some shape or form. It’s up to you to stop listening to them. In a twisted way, they’re trying to protect you by hurting you before someone else does. You need the exact opposite; you need love, compassion, hope, and joy. Other people will hurt you, scare you, let you down in a million different ways. You don't need the criticism and pain from yourself.