I have a folder in my computer that is littered with unfinished creations. Songs, blogs, book chapters, PowerPoint presentations, marketing plans, and lifeplans. It is not that I don’t have enough to say or that I run out of ideas, it’s that the combination of my ideas and expectations grow so large that my excitement at expressing my voice becomes a burden. Something about that burden eventually destroys my impulse to create and I walk away from myself frustrated and disappointed that I failed at accomplishing my task.
Over the years this frustration has grown increasingly concerning especially as I’ve noticed places where the use of my voice could bring something good and healing in the world. It has also caused me to panic when I set aside time to “create” and I am left with yet another unfinished work. These themes have been intensely highlighted recently as I made decisions to more deeply pursue the my unique voice as a therapist. I found myself thinking “if I don’t start writing and publishing things I’ll lose my opportunity!” In response to this pressure I tried forcing myself to finish what I had started but only found that I lost my momentum and focus…this only increased the pressure and accusations. It’s a vicious cycle full of shame, regret, and doubt that breeds only more of the same.
I’ve had the great privilege of sharing meals with and getting to know a guy by the name of Garth Lien who practices Feldenkrais, a method of body awareness, acceptance, and healing. Our conversations are always really impactful and creative. These encounters together inevitably ignite our imaginations and passion for life, our work, and the world. More profoundly though, they serve us both as reminders of who we really are.
As we sat together recently he asked me how my transition was going and I named some of the difficulties I had been experiencing in trying to do what I was hoping to do in life. I told him about my unfinished creations and my struggle to actually push through those blockages and finish what I started. As I rambled on and on about my deficiencies and the ways I’d come to understand them he asked if he could interrupt. I gave him permission (even though I had more evidence to present about myself).
“Maybe those blogs are all done, maybe they are good enough.” He said. “Maybe you should stop pushing and just put them out there. They are good enough.”
This sentiment was one of the things that drew me to the Feldenkrais method and Garth in particular. It was a reminder of a truth that I had begun to encounter several years prior in the writings of Henri Nouwen. I could feel that it was genuine and that he wasn’t just giving me some line to encourage me. There was something of rest in his words, yet, another part of me had built up quite a case against myself.
In the briefest of spaces after this invitation my mind cascaded through a landslide of thoughts.
“Nobody is going to listen to me if it isn’t amazing…I might only have one shot to get their attention!…I don’t want to just be another voice lost in a sea of voices…They might not find me worth listening to if I don’t say something profound!… I’m scared that my voice won’t be good enough if I don’t get this right!!!”
I could feel the panic growing even as I just wondered about this possibility. This was very familiar territory that I realized was impacting me in the same way I could see it impacting the voices of so many of my clients. I began to think about the amount of pressure and expectation I felt as I created and how this pressure was functioning as a theif. Shame and judgement kill our voices. Our bodies and minds are made to fight, flee, or shutdown in the presence of these qualities, not thrive. The more we feel like there is some expectation that we need to fill to be worthy or accepted the more our whole being rebels against the idea.
I could suddenly see how my “writers block” was actually communicating to me about the overwhelming expectations and perfectionism that I was placing on myself. The energy and excitement that precipitated each creative act was being destroyed by the amount of judgement that I felt to create something “worthy”. This environment was so intense that my body wouldn’t allow me to finish without addressing the fears of my heart. Deep down my heart has always wondered if my real unedited voice would be good enough or if inevitably I had to take the offerings of my heart and make them more acceptable.
Isn’t the heart of perfectionism just a bargaining with these questions? Our striving to be perfect just a commentary on what we have thought about the worthiness and value of our real true self? Isn’t the demand for perfectionism in our lives just a mirror that reflects the environment that our true self has lived through?
The freedom once inherent in our vulnerable/creative/unashamed voices has often felt the pain of judgement and criticism and learned to protect itself. This memory of the past reminds us so often in the present that we need to find some way to somehow appease the figures that our hearts long to be blessed by. We experientially and tragically come to know that our best is not good enough in these relationships…and we begin to salve this pain with a new possibilty. “If I’m perfect…will you finally accept me?”
The illusion of perfection offers a false hope in the midst of the pain and confusion of anothers judgement. It fools us into thinking that acceptance is a response that we can, or could have, controlled if we were just more of something we were not. It also offers absolution to those who don’t deserve it at the expense of our heart and energy.
As I write this I inevitably find myself afraid of the judgement that might arise in reaction to my voice. However, I am slowly learning to soothe that fear with my own growing self-acceptance and compassion. Not surprisingly, I feel like for the first time in nearly a year I am all done with this creation
You are good enough, you are good enough.