Good Enough: Build Yourself Up by Tearing the World Down

criticTherapist: “From what you tell me about your mother, I get the impression that she thought the world wasn’t good enough for her.”

Client: “That’s true. She didn’t like anything. She never had anything good to say. But why is that so serious?”

Therapist: “It becomes very serious when an individual appoints herself to stand in judgment on the world and find it disappointing. Not only does the world fail to live up to her high standards and expectations, but it is her responsibility to point out the world’s deficiencies at every opportunity.”

Client: “That was her full-time job.”
Therapist: “It’s a very heavy, unfulfilling responsibility, but one that she could not help but pursue.”

Client: “Why couldn’t she?”
Therapist: “Because nobody ever told her that she could stop. And because she used this phony, self-appointed, super-responsibility to exempt herself from the more mundane tasks of life at which there was a chance that she might fail.”

Client: “Such as.”
Therapist: “Such as being an adequate mother.”

Client: “Amen.”
Therapist: “Another reason was that she did not know what would replace this supercritical lifestyle if she were to give it up. It was the only role she had, and it was better than nothing. In addition, she used this behavior to overcompensate for her own feelings of worthlessness and inadequacy to cope with the real responsibilities of the adult world.”

Client: “How so?”
Therapist: “She appointed herself to the role of judging the world and people. Then condemning them for their failure to live up to her high expectations. She was setting herself above her fellow human beings. This phony superiority was her way of relieving the pain of her underlying convictions of inferiority and worthlessness.”

Client: “That’s right. Who was she to criticize everybody else? She was no better than the neighbors that she ran down all the time. I can see that I have been behaving the same way, and for the same reasons. How can I stop it?”
Therapist: “You can catch yourself behaving as if the world weren’t good enough for you. Instead, I want you stop focusing on the potential and to decide that the world is good enough, which in reality it is.”

Client: “I can see how absurd it is for me not to accept the world as it is. Who am I to decide how the things should be? I have enough problems trying to figure out what is good for me, it’s absurd to think I know what’s best for the entire world.”
Therapist: “If we have contempt for the world we live in, it rubs off on us. We are no better, no matter how badly we try to elevate ourselves above others. The world is good enough as it is. It can always be better; it will never be perfect, but it is good enough for us in the meantime.”

Client: “I can see complaining and criticizing isn’t the way to make the world a better place anyway. It only turns people off and makes things worse.”
Therapist: “Your mother’s ambition to teach the world the error of its way comes under the heading of ‘good intentions.’ She deceived herself into thinking that she knew what would make things better when the truth was that she was trying to make herself feel superior with her self-appointed role as judge and jury. She only made things worse with her continual complaints.”

Client: “I guess there’s no such thing as constructive bitching.”
Therapist: “It’s a contradiction. Can you catch yourself about to say something that you imagine will improve someone and decide not to?”

Client: “It’s so tempting.”
Therapist: “Can you resist the temptation? You do not have to build yourself up by tearing the world down. The world is good enough as it is, and so are you.”

My client did his homework. He caught himself about to criticize his mother for being so critical! This would have been absurd. Instead he chose to do the unexpected. He did not fight and he did not give in to his mother’s absurdity. He took a third path, to live on his own valid terms. He said, “It must be awful for you, Ma.” It was not said sarcastically, it was the truth.

Life is awful for people who cannot even have the hope of happiness because of their inappropriate attitudes. His mother’s tone of voice changed, it softened, she came down from her fictitious perch and began to talk like an equal member of the human race. They had a civil conversation for the first time.

Critical woman image available from Shutterstock.

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Shared by: Aaron Karmin, LCPC, Contributing Blogger

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