One of my clients has a long history of feeling that she is not enough. That there is nothing she can do to prove to herself and others that she is worthy.
This despite the fact that she hears from people all the time how amazing she is. That she is well-regarded by both the CEO and the president. That people have stayed with the organization just to have the chance to work on her team.
This has been an ongoing conversation, and she’s been consistently frustrated by the voice in her head that is constantly telling her all the things in her life that she is failing at.
A common challenge
Many of my clients, both men and women, struggle with a version of this story. It seems in fact, that the more successful they appear, the more they struggle with this story. And they resist giving it up. Because if they were enough, if they were satisfied, what would they do? Maybe they would just sit on the sofa and eat donuts all day!
My experience is that this doesn’t happen.
A bold experiment
Back to my client. I asked her if she wanted to do an experiment. And she is generally enthusiastic about these experiments, so she said yes.
But the experiment, in my mind at least, was a bit woo-woo, a bit out there, especially for someone who is in the middle of a high stress corporate job. I had some thoughts like, “What is she going to think of me?” and “What if this doesn’t work?” and “What if she laughs at me?” I tried by best in that moment to take action anyway, because at some deeper level, I felt the experiment to be “right.”
The experiment was this. First, to see that the voice in her head was trying to protect her. That it wasn’t about beating her up or making her feel bad. That it really wanted the best for her and was doing it in the most helpful way it could see—by providing constant reminders of the things that were left undone. By berating her, because that is what her parents had done, and because that is what she had absorbed as the best way to succeed in life.
She saw that with a little reluctance, but agreed that yes, this voice was trying to protect her, and was actually trying to help her succeed by making her feel like there was always more to do.
Talking to that voice in your head
Now the experiment begins to get a bit weird. I asked her to talk to the voice.
Some of us have talked to the voices in our head. I know I have. But it’s often from a perspective of wanting the voice to stop, of berating the voice that feels like is berating us.
I took a different approach here. I asked her to tell the voice that she appreciated the voice’s efforts, its dedication to service, and its protection and help over all these years. I asked her to really feel that appreciation. And then I asked her to ask the voice to be quiet, just for a few minutes. After all, there are other parts of herself that might want to say something. Aspects of herself that she was not as familiar with.
The voice agreed to be quiet. And then I asked her to listen with her whole body, to be open to something other than language, perhaps an image in her mind, perhaps a felt sense.
We spent some time in silence together as she was going through this process. And what happened after just a minute or two was profound.
Allowing something bigger to emerge
First, she said she had this immense sense of knowing that she was in fact, enough. More than enough, really. Amazing even. She was a bit embarrassed to tell me this.
But then, as she was telling me this, we both got an image in our heads. Of a tattoo, on her inner left wrist. Something that she could look at every day, in moments of doubt, as a reminder of this felt sense of being enough.
While I did not get a clear image of what the tattoo would look like, my client did. It was an infinity sign.
She has not gotten the tattoo, and the actual design has evolved somewhat, but in that experiment, we established that she can feel her own deep knowing that she is enough. And we now have a consistent language, and a consistent practice that we have developed together, where she can access this bigger part of herself whenever the voice threatens, well-intentioned though it is, to make her life miserable.
And every day, she draws her soon-to-be-real tattoo on her inner left wrist.
Having that reminder, and having access to that space, helps her to see things differently. It has helped her to say no to things that are not consistent with her talents and values. And to say a more focused yes when that is called for, too. She has more impact, with less stress.
When the mind slows, when the voices clear, when the panic subsides, we don’t stop doing things. But what my client says, and what my experience is, is that we often see even bigger possibilities than the ones we were considering.
When we see that we are enough, that we have always been enough, that the intelligence that is looking out through our eyes is the same intelligence behind the flowers and the trees and the stars, we can ask ourselves, with sincerity, “If not us, who? If not now, when?”
Even my own willingness to engage in this experiment was about a deep sense of knowing, and being willing to proceed despite the question that my own judgmental, afraid of being laughed at, loud-but-small voice was asking me.
That voice has been telling me not to write this piece as well, and yet here I am and here it is, emerging from a quieter presence.
The voice is always there, always trying to protect me, always trying to protect you. But there are other aspects of you, too, and some of these aspects are much, much bigger. And just like the bully who goes away when you start to ignore him, that voice can eventually quiet, too.
What calls you in your quiet moments?
Can you ignore the voice trying to protect you and keep you small? In those moments when that voice is quiet, can you feel the bigger part of you that wants to emerge? The vast intelligence you are made of? The infinite presence looking through your eyes?
Rest in that, as often as you can, and watch your world change.