A Headshrinker's Guide to the Galaxy

Psychoanalytic wisdom for everyday life

Can You Let "Good Enough" Be Good Enough?

How to work with yourself, just as you are

Here's an excerpt from the book I've been writing, from the chapter called "On Balance"...

Earlier this month, I saw a New Year’s resolution posted on Facebook that captures a basic approach to life that I think is a key to psychological health and well-being. The post read: “This year, I will do all that I can, with whatever I have, wherever I am…  And I’ll let good enough be good enough.” Can you imagine what such a change of perspective could do in your life?

With effort, I try to approach my life and my clinical practice with a basic assumption. It is an assumption that I cannot prove scientifically, even though it proves itself over and over again to me through experience. I believe that the sum total of what we have and who we are is enough to work with. The good, the bad, and the ugly within each of us are the raw materials from which we can build a satisfying life. Nothing more is needed, nor can we do with less. We simply must find balance with all of who we are—finding a place for all of the conflicting impulses, attitudes, thoughts, feelings, and character strengths and flaws that we naturally have as the divided selves that we naturally are. 

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There is something profoundly reassuring about this idea. It means that you already have what you need in order to develop a more satisfying life. You don’t need to go out and buy it; you don’t need to steal it from someone else. You are the raw material. The work of personal growth is not new construction; it is a remodeling project. Weaker parts can be reinforced, repaired, and spruced up. More dominant, problematic parts can be softened, disciplined, and refined, placed more in the background rather than taking up center stage. Psychological growth is about reorganizing the inner world, not changing it entirely. We don’t create something altogether new; we work with what is already there.

I like this model because it rests on a foundation of appreciation, respect, and love for all aspects of who you are. It relieves perfectionism with acceptance. It tempers self-hatred with tolerance. It softens judgmentalism with grace. It views change as fundamentally constructive rather than destructive. It takes as a starting point the belief that you are enough.

For those who wish to make positive changes in their lives, this model is liberating for an additional reason. Many people have a built-in distrust of psychotherapists—and psychoanalysts, in particular—because they think that we’re going to try to change them. At first blush, this is kind of a funny idea since one goes to see a psychotherapist in order to change! But there is a deeper fear that is reflected in this idea and one that we should take seriously.

I think we all have a kind of healthy protective attitude toward our identities. We don’t want someone making us into someone we are not. So you may take it as good news when I tell you that, in the most fundamental ways, you will always be who you are.

A good therapist will honor your identity and recognize that all we can do—all we need to do—is make some adjustments. Adjustments that could change your life in dramatic ways, yes. But still, just adjustments.

In addition to feeling some relief at this idea, it’s also easy to feel disappointed. As much as we don’t want someone to make us into someone else, many of us actually wish we could become someone else. We don’t want to accept ourselves as enough. Sometimes we're so tired of ourselves that we just want to trade ourselves in for a new model! But it doesn’t work that way. All we have is who we are.

So this notion is both bitter and sweet. By accepting ourselves as enough, we must accept our limitations and the limitations of life itself. But in doing so, we also gain access to life’s real possibilities. By forsaking the false path of seeking something bigger and better, we choose a real path that may be smaller but leads to a different kind of better. By choosing to accept ourselves as enough, we choose a better way of being who we already are. 

 

Copyright 2013 by Jennifer Kunst, Ph.D.

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Jennifer Kunst, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst, working with adults and couples in her private practice in Pasadena, CA.

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