The term ‘good enough’, as used by many therapists, stems from the work of D.W. Winnicott, a psychoanalyst and object relations theorist who used it in relation to the mothers and children he worked with. The good enough mother, though less than ‘perfect’, is good enough to be able to care for her child in a way that helps them to develop high self-esteem, good ego strength, and a strong sense of self.
The good enough mother, according to Winnicott, is actually more effective than the mother who does not know when to step back. While there is a time in the infant’s life that they need constant care, there also comes a time when the mother needs to step back a bit so the child can grow and learn for themselves. If mother is unable to let go when the child reaches this stage, the child may become overly dependent and have difficulty developing the confidence they need to explore their own way of being, their own values, beliefs, choices and sense of self as they grow. The good enough mother knows when to let go, when to stand back and let her child take the initiative.
Applied to the self, ‘good enough’ indicates the ability to‘be’ or do-nothing-more-for-now, after a period of hard work, knowing when you have reached your unique and very personal limit. Just as the good enough mother is in tune enough with her child to know when she needs to step back, beinggood enough with oneself means knowing when we have given our best and it istime to rest and give ourselves a pat on the back, no matter how small the achievement may seem.
Perfectionism might be defined, in part, as the inability to step back, to let go, to accept where one is at. In this space, acceptance of difficulty, of struggle and of vulnerability, is anathema. The overriding feeling is that one is never good enough and that only by continual striving and forcing of personal limits will one reach a point at which they will feel ok.
This can result in a kind of paralysis or ‘stuckness’ in which the person can neither find the energy to go forward, but cannot allow themselves to be where they are at. Compassionate acceptance of personal limitations can help a person to make the shift out of this ‘life paralysis’, into a more relaxed, grounded and reflective space. In this space, making clear decisions, dealing with daily stressors, and simply enjoying life, with all its inherent terms and conditions, becomes a possibility.
The pursuit of perfection, and a damning inner critic, plays a part in many emotional difficulties, such as depression, severe anxiety, OCD, and eating disorders. When the inner critic is at full throttle, the idea of having self-compassion can feel counter-intuitive, even dangerous. It can be as though if you were to ease up on the self-criticism for a moment, you might suddenly spin out of control. I use the term good enough in the title of this blog, in the hope that it might be a reminder that good enough, really is good enough, and perfection is not all that it seems.
In this blog I will write about all things related to counselling, psychotherapy and emotional issues. I will also try to keep in mind the overall theme of good enough, and the importance of grounding the self in reality for emotional health. Being human means that meeting difficulty is inevitable, but it can also be our best opportunity for growth, and ultimately growth is what counselling and psychotherapy are all about.