Something I come across a lot with the teenagers I predominantly work with, is their sense of not feeling good enough. I always end up helping them to work out what their own core values are in life and not the values they think they should be aspiring to. This led me to think about my own experiences of never seeming to feel good enough as a child and began to get curious about it.
When I was younger I used to wish I was a kind person. I remembered seeing gentle, kind people who were empathic and supportive of other people and wishing, more than anything that I could be just like them.
I remember feeling angry towards myself for being acutely aware of my own needs. I was riddled with shame at the realisation that I wanted people to like me and that I wanted to be noticed for something I’d done. The question I kept tormenting myself with was - how could I ever wish to be a kind person if I’m so self centred to think about myself so much?
What’s more, I felt angry at people who appeared to ‘have it all’ - popularity, money, status, intelligence, attractiveness.. those things didn’t impress me as such - they actually made me feel furious but I wasn’t sure why?
I finally concluded that my anger meant that I was jealous of the attention that they were getting and this knowledge only fuelled my own sense of internal shame. Shame for suffering from the dreaded green eyed monster! I couldn’t make sense of my experience. How could I ever manage to be a kind person but secretly feel hate towards other people?
As I grew older, I began to aspire to achieve those things. I thought I wanted to be popular so I began to imitate my peers at school but this didn’t seem to work. It was like everyone could see straight through the fake mask I tried to wear and it left me feeling vulnerable and awkward.
I thought I wanted to get a good job and earn lots of money to acquire some kind of social status so I tried to force myself to be more academic or to be more ambitious with my job prospects but the sad fact remained that I couldn’t think of anything worse than to work in a demanding and stressful job and the thought of being in charge of other people filled me with anxiety.
So, inevitably I failed at these things which I thought I needed to achieve to be happy and to finally get the recognition that I shamefully craved.
Now, at 35 years old, I realise that I was wrong! These things don’t bring me true happiness, they temporarily give me an ego boost and there is a huge difference between the two. In fact, I have come to realise that the more I feed my ego with money, status, popularity and things that I think make me more ‘attractive’ by society’s standards, the more it wants.. it’s never satisfied and it becomes dangerous and insidious, always wanting more until I find myself in a situation where I ‘should’ be happy but I’m not and I wonder why that is?
The biggest lie we are sold in our society is that happiness is an outside job, that the more you buy this or that or get this qualification or that job or have all these friends on social media the happier and more content you will feel. The truth is actually the opposite of this.
I have come to realise that actually, I feel happier when I have less and I feel more content with myself when I help others but I could only come to this realisation once I’d attended to the little girl who shamefully wanted more...
That little girl wasn’t being selfish for wanting attention, she was being human. We all need attention but not the kind we are being told that we need! The real, authentic kind of attention that brings closeness and safety and joy! That’s the kind of attention we should be aspiring to and we can have that if we firstly give it to ourselves and then give it to others..
The person I always wanted to be is still the person I want to be now. When I see a kind hearted person who is also kind to themselves, It impresses me more than any amount of fame, fortune or status. These are my values and it might have taken me most of my life to truly see them but I’m glad I finally have.
Claire Austin MBACP is a Secondary School Counsellor from Suffolk and also works in Private Practice. She enjoys spending quality time with her Friends and Family, Reading, Walking her Dalmatian Dodie and attending live Music for lots of Self-Care!