Last week, a Reddit user called SparkyP asked a question all of us have struggled with at one point or another. "I've been feeling absolutely worthless, ugly, and doomed lately, like I'll never be good enough for anyone or anything and that nothing I do is right," she wrote in Reddit's AskWomen forum. "Any tips to fight this off, if it can be fought off?"
I don't know SparkyP. I don't know where she's from, what she's like, or what triggered these feelings of self-doubt. But reading her question made me feel sad and queasy, because it was so familiar. It's the same question I struggle with every day, the same question I've heard from middle-aged executives and angsty high schoolers, from women thriving professionally and financially, and those struggling to make ends meet, from people in loving relationships, and those who describe themselves as "aggressively single."
On the one hand, it's a huge, multi-faceted issue that encapsulates a whole set of sub-questions unique to each person — firstly, am I attractive enough, successful enough, wealthy enough, nice enough, funny enough, assertive enough, easy-going enough, elegant enough etc. And secondly, once I am [blank] enough, will my parents/boss/partner/society accept me?
But as big as it sounds, SparkyP's question is actually quite small and universal. Ultimately, she's asking the same question we all ask ourselves: "Am I worthy of love and belonging?"
What SparkyP is struggling with, what we have all struggled with, is shame. What is shame exactly? According to Dr. Brené Brown, a professor, author, and public speaker who studies the effects of shame and vulnerability in people's lives, and whose 2010 TEDx Houston talk about the power of vulnerability went viral, shame is "the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging."
When we feel shame, when we worry that we are not attractive or successful or wealthy enough to be worthy of love and connection, it's an intensely painful experience and often one that we're not eager to talk about with others. But as Dr. Brown wrote in her book Daring Greatly, shame thrives on this silence: “The less we talk about shame, the more power it has over our lives. If we cultivate enough awareness about shame to name it and speak to it, we’ve basically cut it off at the knees.”
Talk about shame, sharing our fears and insecurities with others, shines light in the dark places. By asking her fellow Reddit users to share their experiences with shame, SparkyP was creating a space for people to come together and heal, to say "I feel shame too, but here's how we can get through it."
Here are 15 users on how they combat their feelings of shame, and not being enough.
Fake it 'til you make it
Cut yourself some slack
In her research, Dr. Brown found that perfectionism, the need to be perceived as having it all together, was one of the greatest contributors to shame.
“Understanding the difference between healthy striving and perfectionism is critical to laying down the shield and picking up your life," she writes. "Research shows that perfectionism hampers success. In fact, it's often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis.”
Remember your inherent value
Ask yourself how you'd talk to a friend
Sometimes, when you're able to take a step back and objectively observe your self-talk, you might be stunned by how cruel it is. Would you ever tell your friend that because they had a second cookie at lunch they're never going to find love, and will ultimately die alone in a house full of raccoons? Would you say to your sibling that they must be a stupid, untalented nobody because they didn't get that promotion? Of course not! So why do we allow our inner demons to talk to us this way?
Reach out to those around you
“If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can't survive," Dr. Brown writes.
Remember self-esteem is a practice
When we have been trained in negative self-talk for years, it can be a difficult habit to break. Only a regular, compassionate practice can help us unlearn it.
If possible, seek therapy
If self-care is a difficult concept for you, think of how you would help a friend who was struggling. Would you take them out to a nice dinner, encourage them to cuddle up and watch a movie? Think of what you would suggest for someone you care about, and then do that for yourself.
Improve a little every day
Remember everyone struggles sometimes
When you're struggling the most with shame and self-doubt, try to remember that you're not alone, and that no matter what television ads, and your old high school bullies, and the mean voices in your head may say, you are enough as you are. Right now.