How Are You?
Good enough! The first memorable time I heard that phrase was when my supervisor responded to my query “How are you?” I was surprised, delighted, and curious when he said, “Good enough!” with a delightful upward lilt and a chuckle. What does it mean to be good enough? Is it “okay” to not be great or superlative in some way? I grew up in a family of overachievers. Good enough would never cut the mustard! If I was not doing my best, trying the hardest, and putting in more than my fair share, then I was not keeping up. I do not recall this ever being said to me explicitly. But somehow, I intuited that it was the expectation. My natural inclination to present the rosy picture and to minimize the negative aspects of myself was wired from an early age.
The Origin of Good Enough
When good enough is the bar how does that change things for me? Pediatrician and child psychotherapist, Donald Winnicott developed the theory of the “good enough mother,” in which sensitive responses to an infant’s needs over time will translate into appropriate dependency until there is a gradual transition to more and more autonomy and tolerance of frustrations or deferred gratification. Along with this, psychologist, Ed Tronick, has concluded that our children require 30% of our warm, reliable, and, consistent attention to form secure attachments with their caregivers. Three out of ten times I need to stop and be wholly present when my children make a bid for attention.
Was I Enough?
I imagine that I was very hard on myself when I was not attentive or present with my young children. I also imagine that I learned from a young age to be self-reliant, capable of finding my own entertainment, and able to figure things out. I do not carry a conscious memory of not being attended to in my childhood. I do carry distinct awareness of the times I was not present to my young children or my partner. Was it good enough? All of us made it into adulthood, with our ability to attach or connect intact, if only occasionally. And if Tronick is right, then what I had to give at the time was enough.
The Best I have is Enough
I think I do the best I can. I imagine all of us could say that about ourselves and our parents, most of the time, certainly 30% of the time. What if good enough became the new bar? How would that change things for me? For us? How would I know it? What if, during what has undeniably been a hard slog of two years, one in which our nervous systems have had to work in overdrive, what if we stop and pause and notice, just for today, for this hour, for this moment, recognize that I am okay-good enough? And if I do that then what?
What Would Change?
We are fundamentally wired to look for what is wrong. We self-critique and are harsh in our estimation of our performance. We strive to be better, more, the best. When in fact, we do not need to do more, be more, or even be other than who we are. Nothing I am saying is news to you. But what will be the point at which you turn these words into actions that are forgiving, accepting, and compassionate of yourself?
If I recognize that I am good enough then…
- I would probably take on fewer projects and tasks
- I might sit and do nothing more
- Perhaps I would take more chances and be free from worry about outcomes
- I wonder if I could own my mistakes without shame or blame
- I might truly live a life of zero negativity; seeing all that is wonder-full and awesome
- I imagine I would be more forgiving of others, seeing people with warm eyes
- I think I would sleep better, enjoy the world around me more
- I would savor the food I eat
- Perhaps, I would think one thought at a time
- And relish my accomplishments, small and large
- Maybe I would need no recognition or acknowledgment
- I would be present when I am with you
- I might take the risk to be more vulnerable-just at this moment
- I would worry and plan less
- Disappointment and expectation would become distant relatives
- I would better tolerate my uncomfortable feelings, that’s all
- I am certain I would sing and dance and laugh more
- I would ask for what I need, knowing that asking is the task, not getting
- I would slow down
- I would experience satisfaction, routinely
Just for now…
I do not deny that we need to be alert to dangers. We need a nervous system that protects us without us needing to recognize the danger first. We will not change our evolutionary spots. And we can give our overworked nervous system a tiny break by acknowledging that right now at this moment, I am good enough. And we can do this again and again throughout the day-noticing that despite the danger, we are still alright. Even while we traverse rocky terrain and scale mountains, in the moment of noticing we give ourselves a gift of ease and acceptance. Right now, today, as I read this, I am enough. And that is good.
Hayley Hoffman, LPC, CIRT
Hayley is a certified Imago Relationship therapist. She works with couples and individuals. She offers weekend intensive workshops for couples and individuals interested in delving more deeply into the origins of their adult adaptive behaviors. Hayley facilitates process work in women’s groups, Polyvagal Practice, and Safe and Sound Protocol. She is currently accepting new clients for in-person or virtual telehealth. Email her here if you want to learn more.
Getting the Love You Want Live in person April 29-May 1 in Metro Washington DC.