When is enough enough?

I had the opportunity very recently to discover something about myself which is causing me to really think and try to uncover if what I’ve discovered is something that needs changing. I’ll be honest right now and say that exploring this through my blog is going to be a bit uncomfortable, as it exposes my vulnerability, but I think – or at least, hope – that what I share here speaks to one of my readers.

I grew up in a home that was neither physically nor verbally affectionate. Both parents worked outside the home and were busy with other activities beyond their jobs. I only have a few memories of spending time with my dad’s family but in those memories, I don’t recall a lot of affection or praise either. That is equally true in my mom’s family. A hug hello and goodbye, often required by the young children to their aunts and uncles, were all that was given at gatherings. I do, however, recall quite vividly that the easiest way to get parental attention was to do something wrong – from getting caught sneaking a quarter from mom’s wallet to buy a candy bar at the community pool to any bad behaviors at school – we were at the forefront of a parent’s attention. As the only girl, and born between two brothers, I chose often to be the ‘good’ child in order to remain invisible to that kind of traumatic attention. Don’t get me wrong, I was far from perfectly behaved, but I guess I was pretty good at hiding what I’d done wrong and being well-behaved and dutiful as my punishments happened far more rarely.

I do recall that, while not spoken of one-on-one, great positive accomplishments were noticed and used to share with neighbors and friends. This is much like the bumper stickers you see on cars that say, “My child is on the honor role”. In a sense, it was bragging rights to show others how well you’ve trained or taught your children without praising the actual child. It became ingrained in me early on that the only way my parents were going to speak positively about me, even if only to others, was to “do” more and “be” more. I can’t begin to count all of the choices I’ve made in my life that were, subconsciously and sometimes consciously, made in order to please my parents so they could tell me how proud they were of me. Meanwhile, I spent a lot of time and energy on turmoil inside myself, fighting my own authenticity in order to become the person who would finally “do” enough and “be” enough to get the praise I so desperately desired.

It was around a decade birthday (40, if you must know), that I finally admitted to myself that what I needed from my parents they didn’t know how to give. For my birthday, I gave them a booklet of some poetry I’d written over the years, hoping that my voice in black and white might break through to them. When pointedly asked, their response to “what did you think?” was a simple “it’s nice”. That response was a break-through moment for me, realizing that it wasn’t possible for them to “get” me for who I was at the core, and I had to accept that. And slowly, I made small steps to liberate myself from the constant stress of trying to please them and began to realize that I could only be enough for myself – that was the only thing over which I had power and control.

While this liberation was a long process, I thought I had pretty much conquered it. But it came up, loud and clear and very unexpectedly, and in that new realization that it was still present, I began to wonder if all I’d done was change the ways in which I chose to try to “be” enough and “do” enough and that I was still under the spell of trying to be good enough but was still chasing an affirmation of some kind in order to feel worthy. I’ve come to realize that, in some ways, my giving might be tied into wanting some acknowledgement and verbal appreciation. Ironically, that doesn’t hold so true in the ways I share financially as much as it does with the little things I give – and more often, do – for others that, if anything, might get a standard “thanks” but nothing else. Trying to draw a clear line between what I do simply because I want to and what I do that has reasonings that include the desire for validation is difficult right now. I mean, at the core, I will always be a giver, but I do believe that I need to stop doing for someone else’s validation (which I should already know from experience is not going to be forthcoming) and make a conscious choice as to whether I can translate those acts into something that is done without that glimmer of hope that this time, maybe this time, I’ll receive the validation of being worthy…. of being good enough.

Readers, I’m scared. I’m very afraid that if I stop doing those things for others, their need for me in their lives will dwindle. My true circle of friends isn’t huge by any means, but each person in it is important and the relationship matters to me. Do I dare risk the loss of that relationship? Is the cost worth it?

If I move forward despite my reservations, I think my first step needs to be to look at these relationships and ask if I am giving my best to each one. Along with that will be trying to solicit if the person is getting what they need in the relationship, in case there is something I can give but don’t know they want/need. With luck, that may open the door to each of us sharing what things the other needs from us and deciding if it’s something we can willingly and genuinely offer.

Beyond that? I guess stay tuned and find out!

It’s true, but it hurts nonetheless!

9 thoughts on “When is enough enough?

  1. I grew up in a home where the mantra was: “A job worth doing is worth doing well.” I measured everything I did against the mantra and still do. It’s never enough and I’ve set very high standards for myself. While time and distance has separated us, your light shines continually in my life.

    Many many years ago, a friend told me she thought that people perceive: “Kindness is weakness.” Think about that for a moment. Neither you nor I can stop being kind despite how are actions are received or perceived. ❤️

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  2. Prin, thank you for sharing your own sense of being ‘enough’. I find strength in knowing that someone I admire so much faces a similar struggle! The gift of your friendship to me is not only “enough”, it is very much MORE than enough! I no more believe that kindness is “weakness” than that kindness is “strength”. It can’t be defined as such because it isn’t something that is measured! Again, thank you for your response! I love you!

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  3. This is always a hard realization. And it’s good to look at changing ‘how’ you give. Don’t beat yourself up too much. It’s not all about what you might ‘lose’ but what you will gain about yourself. This book changed my life- Nancy Levin/ Setting Boundaries Will Set You Free—- still reading it…but it will shift your gears about all of this soooooo much! Thanks for sharing your vulnerabilities! 💛

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  4. In giving, we will always want, if nothing else, the personal joy that comes with giving. No matter how altruistic our intentions, there is always a little self-want in giving. And that is not a bad thing. A gift, truly given without any expectations, always contains that joy. The hurt comes when we give, not with an eye on how we feel from giving, but on what we anticipate or hope for in return. If anything more than a common gesture or phrase of thanks is expected, than disappointment may surely follow. I cannot help you discern for yourself what is fueled by validation, but I can tell you that often the things we need from a relationship must be spoken or conveyed. When any behavior or response to us on a personal level falls short of our hopes or desires, we must ask if the person we are dealing with is clearly aware of our needs in the equation. If so, and they cannot return in kind the effort to meet your needs from the relationship, then those relationships may be well worth shedding. If not, we must give our friends the benefit of the doubt, in that if we have not been clear about our needs, it is hard to require them to predict our needs.

    Your description of our childhood rings clear. I could not have described it better. I, like you, have and still do, in some ways, seek validation from others. But I am not sure anyone in today’s society isn’t on the spectrum somewhere with that.

    Love you! Great post!

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  5. Thank you for your reply and for the book suggestion. I know intellectually what I need to do, but I get stuck in the myriad between what my brain tells me and what my hear tells me. I will check the book out for insight!

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  6. Everything you say is true and on-point. I know all of that intellectually. but struggle with the thought that perhaps I want too much, and even that thought adds to the cycle of it! There are two reasons I love to cook for you. Of course, I like feeding you! But you ALWAYS verbalize your appreciation of it. I can see this being the topic of hours of future conversation over coffee! Thank you for being who you are!

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  7. I can really relate to this. I wonder if lots of our generation can? Perhaps it’s partly about the way our parent were raised too? I’m just putting some thoughts out there. I don’t know. I do know that I struggle with people pleasing. I rarely feel like I am enough. Even now there are few people in my life who I feel actually get me and even fewer who are able to express their appreciation of who I am as a person. It feels lonely to me – don’t know about you?

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  8. Thank you for your reply! The response from readers who are struggling with the same thing has really helped me feel validated that this issue is something that affects many of us. You bring up a good point in recognizing that your parents were probably just passing on what they knew and I want to hold on tightly to that – yet, I see people close to my age who are affectionate with their grown kids (and photos of the same when their kids were growing up) and who tell their children that they are remarkable human beings just as they are. I did get the validation from my dad on my last visit with him before he passed away, and I treasure that dearly over 5 years later. I honestly haven’t considered whether it feels lonely, since my natural routine would be to tell myself that, if I were lonely in that way, it would be my fault for wanting too much. I don’t know if or how long it will take me to find the loose chain in the cycle!

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