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The Chronic Feeling of Never Being Enough

By Emma Hardwell

“This porridge is too hot… This is too cold... This one is just right.”

In an age where constant comparison is inescapable, is it a surprise that life sometimes resembles a fairy tale - having that unbearable urge to aspire to unattainably perfect standards, and to always choose the just right?

The difference being is, when we shift from comparing objects (such as porridge and beds) to comparing aspects of ourselves to others, we lend ourselves to the slippery slope of never feeling just right.

As someone with Borderline Personality Disorder, the feeling of never being enough is chronic. As included in the diagnostic criteria, someone with BPD may have a disturbance with markedly or persistently unstable self-image or sense of self. So often these feelings of low self-esteem and worthlessness are overwhelming and take control of our everyday lives. Through therapy we are taught how to build our confidence and self-worth, tackle the intrusive thoughts with facts, and accept ourselves for who we are.

This becomes increasingly difficult when we live in a society that is constantly reinforcing the aim of fitting between two ideals, and telling us that anything outside this polemic is just not right. Take our mental health system for example: As someone who has been within the system for many years, I’ve heard it all. You’re not old enough for this help; you’re not ill enough for this support; you’re not young enough to be here; you’re not well enough to be helped. It's heartbreaking to be encouraged to share your most vulnerable thoughts with strangers and professionals only to be told you are in fact not suitable for help in their eyes.

For anyone reading who hasn’t experienced the UK’s mental health system firsthand, this must sound absurd, but for so many this is the reality. It’s become a destructive cycle - the more we compare ourselves the more we struggle with our mental health, and the harder it becomes to get the help we need. We are simply never enough or just right to fit into the pre-prescribed moulds.

These ideas are pushed onto us even within school or the workplace - spaces where we are constantly comparing ourselves to our peers, trying to become smarter, better and more experienced than the next person. You can never escape it. Even during our free time, every advert, app and influencer is telling us we need to be pretty enough, slim enough, kind enough, and funny enough to be liked and loved. I spent years at school suffocating under these pressures, only to fail further by slipping down grades faster than you could say "enough". I was so preoccupied with comparing myself to those around me that I spiralled from being an A* student to finding myself sectioned just four months before my A level exams.

Individuals with BPD are so often stereotyped as being manipulative, attention seeking and toxic. We’re seen as “untreatable” by numerous medical professionals, but really we’re just constantly misunderstood. BPD commonly develops after some sort of trauma, often tracing back to our childhood; it’s our brain’s way of protecting us. Like most mental illnesses, it’s a complex diagnosis, and full of pain and harm, and we’re constantly looking for ways to make it stop. But with waiting lists for treatment being so long, we find ourselves leaning towards unhealthy coping mechanisms and toxic relationships and the battle of fitting between those “enough” ideals once again.

So, is it really a surprise that I no longer feel just right for anything? In a society that thrives on comparison and competition, we are so often striving for perfection, even when the perfection in question is unhealthy and impossible.

I’ve been a perfectionist for as long as I can remember. The idea of failing terrifies me and always has. So many times I’ve turned down opportunities because I would rather not try than risk failure - I've even turned down first dates in fear the relationship would fail, before the evening has even begun. No matter how hard I try, I find myself constantly falling short of the expectations I set for myself. The words of praise and encouragement I receive from others are simply white noise when the deep rooted internalised societal pressure is sat on my shoulders, ready with examples of how I've not done enough to reach unattainable standards.

Whilst researching for this piece, I came across The Goldilocks Enigma by Paul Davies. The book states a theory that everything within the universe is created to be just right, and because of this we have life and colour and music. When I looked deeper, I found many examples of the Goldilocks Principle embedded across rational disciplines including psychology, biology, economics and engineering – all with the same concept and aim of “just the right amount”.

Even if everything was perfect, a new standard of perfection would be created, one that still only a few could reach. If everyone received 100% on that exam, it would just be made harder. If everyone passed out of university with a first class degree, the job requirements would be made more complex. There will never be a final destination with perfection, and accepting that has helped me to realise that I was putting energy into the impossible.

I may not be enough for one thing or another but somewhere I am just right. So, when life feels like a game of constantly chasing after the impossible, please remember that you are the just rightamount needed to be you.

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