I find myself using the phrase “good enough” very often in my work. The concept of being “good enough” is a core underlying thread that runs throughout the work I do as a psychologist.
I work with the perinatal population — women who are trying to conceive, women who are pregnant and women who have recently delivered. Some of the women I see are coping with postpartum depression. Some are experiencing other perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, like postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder. Some are battling to cope with severe and persistent mental illness, such as bipolar disorder. Others are processing traumatic birth experiences or past traumas triggered by the transition of pregnancy or delivery. Some are grieving incredibly painful losses.
These women have varied backgrounds and experiences. They may have explicitly stated challenges or goals that separate them. But they are unified in a sense of feeling disappointed and unsatisfied with themselves. They feel inadequate. They believe they are not enough.
Mothers often have an incredibly tough time imagining the notion of “good enough,” as they frequently chase an unattainable image of perfection and all too often feel like they are never enough. As a therapist, I strive to help these mothers come to terms with the reality that their children don’t need perfect mothers — they need reasonably adequate mothers. They need mothers who are willing to admit to, learn from and then rise above mistakes and past challenges.
Psychotherapy for each of these women is about getting the chance to share her story — to put words to the varied and complex emotions and images she has been carrying around in her mind, all the while wondering what is wrong with her. I strive to help each of these mothers understand, see, and believe that she has a story. Her story is about what has happened to her and what she is doing with that experience. Therapy is about helping this mom to better understand what she is thinking, feeling and doing. It is about helping her figure out what to do with all that has happened so that she can bring herself to a place of feeling secure in her own unique form of adequacy.
Sometimes, that security comes from finally putting words to experiences that had previously been experienced solely through painful emotions and images. Other times, the security comes from concretely working through challenges and practicing techniques to help strengthen our capacity for responding to stress. Occasionally, the process will involve some much needed tough love. Quite often, the security and that sense of personal adequacy is attained by moving away from the myth of “balance” that too many mothers are constantly chasing, and instead embracing the notion of finding peace in the unbalanced ways of parenting and living.
In my personal life, I am frequently struck by the myriad of rationalizations a mother will offer for not considering psychotherapy for herself: “I don’t have the time.” “It’s too expensive.” “It’s too self-indulgent.” “Therapy is only for people with real problems. I wouldn’t know what to talk about when I got there.” The list is endless. The list is also meaningless.
Therapy is not about being perfect or doing things just right. Therapy is about self-care. Therapy is about taking time to explore what is going on in a woman’s life and finding ways to make sense of it.
I cannot promise that therapy will make a mother feel like she has more balance in her life. I’m still chasing that dream myself. I can’t promise that therapy will solve all her problems — it definitely won’t. I definitely cannot promise that therapy will always be easy or feel like a trip to the spa — sometimes therapy is really hard work!
But I can promise that there is never anything wrong with a woman taking time to try to explore the issues or challenges that are getting in the way of her feeling like she is good enough.