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I was infected at the age of four, although I couldn’t have identified it then or even put it into words.
It was just a feeling eating away at my core.
A feeling that there was something inherently wrong with me. Something that wasn’t wrong with other children or anyone else I knew—something particular to me. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but I knew I was broken. I knew that if anyone knew who I really was, I would be ridiculed and shunned.
This idea was instilled in my head and carefully nurtured throughout my childhood by the shame-loving religious culture I was raised in, a culture that eagerly reminded you at every turn that you were a sinner and you had better never forget it.
My infection happened at a young age and with a distinct religious coloring, but the disease is endemic in our culture, in all of its many forms.
It’s an epidemic of “not-enoughness,” and it’s something I see playing out around me every day. It’s a quiet, insidious disease, one that isolates, attacks on the sly, and thrives on shame.
It hides behind corners, waiting for a chance to jump out and say, “See! I told you there was something wrong with you.”
It does, I know, because I’ve yet to meet a single person who hasn’t wrestled with it at least a time or two.
It’s the critical voice in your head that keeps you from going for that raise because you know you’re not as qualified as so-and-so and why risk the rejection? Anyway, if you speak up it might expose you for the fraud that you are at your current job position.
It’s the stab of envy you feel as you watch a couple communicate with vulnerability and trust. And you know you could never feel safe enough to bare your soul that way in your own relationship.
It’s the flair of self-righteousness you feel when you watch someone speak about how they “attracted” something into their life. At least you’re grounded in reality and know your place in the world and aren’t so proud as to think that the universe actually cared about you one way or the other.
It’s the loneliness you feel as you watch people connect around you, knowing that if they knew you they’d want nothing to do with you. Better to stay aloof and have them all think you’re stuck-up than risk that happening.
It’s the fuel that keeps you focused on pleasing, pleasing, always pleasing someone to keep their love in your life.
It’s the fear that keeps you from speaking up about how you really feel, what you really need, and what you really crave.
It’s what keeps you in the dark, stuck, unfulfilled, lonely, perpetually disappointed by everything and everyone, and being an even harsher judge of yourself than you are of everyone around you.
It’s a tragedy.
Because the truth is: my tiny four-year-old self was worthy.
You are worthy.
You are not broken.
You and I, and every other human on the planet, are all wired for connection, worthy of radical love and acceptance, and don’t have anything to prove.
It’s not: you’re enough after you change certain things about yourself. You’re just enough. Right now, in this moment, exactly as you are.
I can say it 100 times in 100 different ways, but the only person who can convince yourself of this—and heal yourself from this disease—is you.
“Not-enoughness” can only be eradicated by radical love and acceptance, two of my favorite things.
It’s eradicated by being named, as so many things are. And the beautiful thing about it is that the cure is to do exactly the opposite of what it calls for, to put a soothing balm over the pain of its sting rather than lean further into the pain.
It calls for self-judgment and criticism.
It’s healed by self-love and acceptance.
It calls for negative self-talk.
It’s healed by positive affirmations.
It calls for isolation and hiding.
It’s healed by connection and sharing.
So if you recognize this in yourself, don’t make it one more thing that’s wrong with you. Wrap it up in love instead. Begin to transform that voice inside your head into one of radical love and acceptance, rather than criticism. Begin to catch it every time it creeps up within you and quietly whisper, “I am enough.” Whisper it until you believe it, and then whisper it to the person next to you, too.
Ask yourself, “If I believed that I was enough, how would my life look different?”
It’s time for a culture shift.