“I hear what you’re saying, and I can see what I’ve done, but why don’t I feel it?”
How many times have you told yourself that you’ll ask out that girl or apply to a new job when you’re ready? And how many times has that hypothetical sense of preparedness been based on a feeling? For some, taking risks is predicated on feeling like they’re good enough, in addition to thinking it. So, when pop-culture and the self-help industry tell us to remind ourselves that we’re enough, we often find ourselves stuck in limbo, thinking but not feeling it, considering but not believing it. Most of the clients I see who struggle with self-esteem have difficulty with making sense of how they can rationally believe one thing and “feel” another, thus doubting their rational judgments.
Black and white, or all or nothing, thinking can make us believe that unless something is perfect, if there’s any doubt, the implication is that the odds are 50/50; my judgment may be right, but it’s completely up in the air. Those of us who tend to overly trust our intuitions, to believe that they mostly protect us, refuse to take risks unless the intuitive judgments are in agreement with the conclusions of our more systemic reasoning. In essence, perfect harmony is the one and only pretext.
But what if no one really feels like they’re enough, and what if they still choose to act anyway? How do they do it? Fundamentally, cognitive behavioral therapy and even existential therapy help you see enough of the nuance to create a significant sense of self-doubt, but this time in a more positive way. (e.g. “Maybe I’m wrong about whether I’m attractive.) And if, in treatment, you accept that feeling, or intuitively concluding, that you’re enough is the long term goal you’ll likely never fully accomplish (meaning you’ll never arrive at the point wherein you feel like you’re good enough all of the time), then you can choose to act on your more rational thoughts.
I’ve spent a good portion of my life waiting to feel like I was enough, and eventually realized that my hopes were in vain. “Good enough” is a destination akin to “self-actualization,” a mythic realm toward which we should head but never expect to reach. The problem isn’t that people don’t tend to feel like they’re good enough, because no one does most of the time, but that, sometimes, they wait for the feeling in order to live. Our intuitions are powerful and integration takes time. Because the process of harmonizing your intuitive thoughts with your rational judgments is a somewhat lengthy one, at some point, you may want to choose to take risks based on your reframed beliefs. So, even if I intuitively believe that I’m stupid, I can continue to remind myself of the praise I received while I was in school. In turn, I can then choose to write articles and continue our podcast. Do I ever feel like I’m smart? Sometimes, but rarely. For me, integration means accepting my proficiency in some areas and the lack-thereof in most others; at bottom, it’s knowing that I’m sort of smart and being okay with it. But, that’s a difficult feat.
All of us struggle with nuance, thus we look to our intuitions for safety. The downside is that our intuitions are often simplistic; they may protect us but frequently prevent us from experiencing joy. Some of my clients tell me that their intuitions have prevented them from being raped or abused, but I follow-up by asking: But what have they taken? If I jump to conclusions each time I’m approached by a stranger, I’ll never make a new friend or have a new romantic partner. If I constantly tell myself that I need to feel smart before publishing an article, I’ll only do so a small fraction of the time.
Our thoughts, feelings, and actions constitute a system that’s multidirectional, therefore we don’t need to have harmony between all three. If I feel sad and hopeless but my mind tells me that something is possible, I can still act. And if I do, I can, then, feel less sad and hopeless if I succeed. Will I feel like I’m smart or good enough? Maybe or maybe not. However, if I continue to choose activity, I’ll get that much closer to finally ending my journey.