“When ‘I’m not Good Enough’ Meets ‘I Have to Take Care of Everyone’”

These two core issues (or negative messages from childhood) often meet and interact with one another, sometimes in disastrous ways. Usually the carriers of these issues are more or less unaware of them.

“I’m not good enough” (often, but not always, a man) thinks “I can never get it right, I’ll never measure up, and therefore I simply don’t deserve love.”

“I have to take care of everyone” (often, but not always, a woman) thinks “My job in life is to make everyone else happy, there is no one who can or will take care of me, and therefore I similarly don’t deserve to be cared for and loved.”

Interestingly, many people carry some degree of both of these issues. That makes life extra interesting.

But let’s look at the interaction of these two coming from separate persons. Cory and Ella, the parents of three small children, came to see Joyce and me in counseling. Cory had the “I’m not good enough” thing going front and center. The message was clear from his family of origin: “Cory, why can’t you do anything right? You screwed up again!” So, even as a child, he thought, “If only I can do it right, then I’ll get the love and approval I need.” But no matter how hard he tried, and how many “right” things he did, he still didn’t get the approval of his parents. There was always something not right enough for them to criticize.

Ella had the “I have to take care of everyone” syndrome for as long as she could remember. The oldest child in her family, she was expected to take care of her younger siblings. Her parents were both alcoholics and were too busy with their addictions. Ella was the only “grown-up” in the house, even though she was a young child. Like Cory, she tried to earn her parents’ love by her good actions, in this case taking care of the other children, preparing food, and cleaning the house. Did it work? Of course not! It never does. No matter how much of a “good mother” she was, she didn’t get the love she needed. If children are not loved for who they are, then what they do makes little difference.

So how did Cory and Ella get in trouble in their relationship as adults? Here’s an example. Cory loads the dishwasher and starts it up. Ella finds a dirty dish on one of their counters and blurts out, “Cory, you forgot this dirty dish.” (Remember, she got obsessively good at cleaning as a child to try to win her parents’ love.) Because Cory still carries the message in his soul that he can never do it right, the slightest criticism (or even a critical tone of voice) from Ella causes him to then announce, “Fine. You can load the dishwasher from now on.” This threw Ella back to her own default mode from childhood, having to take care of everyone, which she strongly resented. Not a pretty picture!

And from the other side, Ella is at home taking care of the children all day. She loves doing this, but also looks forward to Cory coming home and helping with them in the evening. At 4pm, Cory calls to say he has to stay late at work because of a crisis. He states, albeit without enough compassion or understanding, that he won’t be home to help with the children. She’s exhausted and irritable, in addition to carrying that old message, “I have to take care of everyone.” She defaults to the feeling, “there’s no one to take care of me,” and blurts out in anger, “Why don’t you just stay at work!” And once again, Cory feels he can never do it right. Couple gridlock again.

Without awareness of these primary core issues, Ella and Cory are doomed to repeated fights. In the couple’s session, Joyce and I helped them clearly see these early life wounds. This alone will minimize their conflict. But it takes more than awareness. It takes being proactive with clear appreciations.

We asked Cory and Ella to face one another. Then we directed Cory, “Can you tell Ella that she is just as important as everyone else in her life?” Cory looked surprised, but quickly softened and spoke, “Of course you’re just as important as anyone else. To me you’re more important than anyone else. And there’s nothing you have to do to prove it. I’m committed to letting you know this every day.” Ella smiled and relaxed a bit. These were the words she most needed to hear.

Next we asked Ella, “Can you tell Cory what he does right and good enough?” Ella spoke, “Oh Cory, I’m so sorry I don’t tell you enough. You love our kids and me completely. You work hard for us. Even when you’re tired, you still play wonderful games with the kids, or find the time to fix everything that’s broken. I know how much you need to hear these things. I promise to let you know every day that you’re more than good enough.” We couldn’t help but notice the tear sliding down Cory’s cheek.

Are you more “I’m not good enough” or “I have to take care of everyone?” Or are you both equally? Remember there is a loving divine parent inside you who yearns to free you from this negative thinking. All you need to do is wrap your arms around yourself and speak words of loving affirmation to the child part of you. In this way, you heal and re-parent your hurt child.

If you have a partner, does she or he carry one or both of these issues? Have the courage to address your partner’s inner child with words of love and approval. And have the courage to vulnerably inform your partner about your own core issues. Healing and re-parenting comes from yourself, but it also comes from those you love. Ella and Cory know this truth … and practice it every day! So can you!

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