As I was struggling with getting my first online workshop finished, I could feel the old ‘not good enough’ story poking at me. ‘You’re not good at technology’ ‘Why do you always think you can do things – you can’t’ ‘You’re too old for this’ ‘Who are you kidding’ and the list goes on – that endless chorus of the not good enough choir belting out their tired old song.
Luckily, now I know ‘Not Good Enough’ is just a story I learnt many years ago. I now know I can choose to listen to it or not. COVID fatigue, isolation and my own internal pressures mean my defences are down and that is when shame creeps in. If I hadn’t had a deadline I probably would have delayed posting it or just not bothered. Deadlines are great for those of us who feel shame (which is a large majority of us in the western world) as we can’t let others down – that would be layering shame on shame.
So… my imperfect video is up. The chorus is still whimpering in the background and I am anxious about my messy little video being criticised AND that’s ok. I can feel some discomfort but I am not giving into shame anymore. I see so many of my clients struggle with their not good enough stories and the pain of those stories seep into all aspects of their life – it’s always in the house when there are addictions and domestic violence.
I have been thinking a lot about shame since COVID – at times when we feel pressured, threatened or fearful our need to ‘do well’ ‘do it right’ or ‘do it perfectly’ is in full flight. This has been apparent as I watched clients adjust to this unpredictable new world where they were emotionally, financially and physically without much of a compass.
When our world is out of sync, old default stories pop up and I hear them every day with my clients – ‘I’m not doing the homeschooling well enough’ ‘ I am not exercising (cleaning, cooking, drawing, painting etc…) enough’. ‘I am not a good enough partner, parent, worker’. The main story is I am not doing COVID well enough compared to an invisible ruler that sits in our heads and is implicit or explicit in our world. The demands on parents to work from home and homeschool is a case in point – how can this be manageable – even in a secure family situation. Something has to give and it is often our sense of self – our sense of coping and not being able to ‘rise up to the occasion’ ‘like everyone else’.
When things are uncertain we need to find a place where we sit in the bigger picture, where we belong, where we feel good. For those of us with shame, that is a demanding ask in a COVID world that is constantly changing because we have to be on our toes so no one notices that we are not being and doing everything perfectly – or at the very least being perceived to be doing everything perfectly. Shame is a house of mirrors.
In our wise minds we recognise that no one ‘knows how to do’ COVID but our shamed minds are pedalling fast, comparing ourselves with others – the neighbour who is working from home, baking bread, homeschooling, dropping off food to neighbours and jogging every other day when we are having difficulty sometimes just walking around the block.
Shame is always about comparison and I hear it not only in the ‘not good enough’ stories with my clients but also in the ‘better than’ stories. You know those ‘judging’ COVID stories about the neighbour ‘breaking the social distancing rules’ letting their children spend too much time on screens’ or being ‘lazy’ and ordering in food. That feeling of self righteousness when you ‘are doing the right thing’ and looking down at others who are not. The judging voices (internal and external) that imply ‘not good enough’ mother when one of my clients decided to take her child
back to day care because she couldn’t manage working from home and caring for her child.
When we are in shame we feel either better than or less than others, we have no safe place just to be ourselves. We lack compassion not only for ourselves but for others. And if we need one thing in this time of COVID it is to be reassured that we are all doing the best we can do AND that is good enough. Each time we feel less than or better than someone else it is just a reminder to take a breath and sink into compassion for all of our wounded selves as we are being tested in these uncertain times. In these social distancing times perhaps we can fill the space between us and within us with compassion, a COVID hug that reminds us we are perfect exactly as we are.