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  • Writer's pictureSonya Leeding

The “Not good enough” complex

As long as I can remember I have had the feeling of being not good enough, of feeling inferior. It was like no matter how much I had achieved; I was just not good enough.

The “Not good enough” complex

It’s something that I have unpacked during therapy sessions and still sometimes struggle with. I believe it was ingrained in me as a child, through no one’s fault, but maybe I set myself up to fail each time. Being an overachiever, people pleaser, first born, I took my role as eldest child very seriously. As the eldest of four children I felt it was my job to ensure that my other three siblings conformed and followed suit. I set up an amazing reputation for my family at our local high school so that each of my siblings could follow suit. Little did I know that I was setting myself up to fail. Firstly, because it wasn’t my job, I wasn’t their parent, and secondly, I created a standard for myself that was so high that it was almost impossible to maintain, perfection.

The “Not good enough” complex

All this became apparent to me when I was about fifteen years old. I had danced from the age of eight and loved it. However, my mid teen years as a dancer were competitive ones and my love of dancing waned. In this age group everyone was serious about being in the team. Everyone, bar me had had a growth spurt over the Christmas holidays, and after years of being the tallest I was now somewhere in the middle, average. My hips had also spread, and I was starting to look more like a curvaceous woman, rather than a lean, languid dancer, well at least what I thought a dancer should look like. I had grown so quickly that my skin had stretched over my hips and created stretch marks. At fifteen I thought my life was over, oh the teenage angst. Then came the time for the dance team to be selected that year. I wasn’t in it; I hadn’t made the team. I was merely a reserve. My heart sank. My joy unravelled and I was thrown into a pit of despair. I wasn’t good enough, my life was over, or so I thought. My feeling of not being good enough started back then and is something that has plagued me my whole life.

The “Not good enough” complex

My later years in High School, I attempted to divert this thinking and did everything over and above what was required of me, a classic over achiever. And even though I did all the right things, I never thought any good would come of it. My anxiety that nothing good would ever come of me began to take hold, the ‘not good enough complex’ was taking over. Although, I did have some small wins in High School. I was elected School Vice-Captain, and even though it wasn’t school captain I made sure my input in this role counted. I was a champion for the underdogs, the kids like me who didn’t quite fit in and who weren’t quite good enough to be part of the crew. In the end it didn’t matter, there were so many students at high school that I just ended up making my own crew, the odd bunch. The group of us kept to ourselves and eventually made it through the high school jungle unscathed.

After high school I did gain entry into university without too much worry but wasn’t able to be happy with my achievement as I thought I could have done better if I was good enough. I was disappointed with my OP (Overall Position) even though it was enough to allow me to study my preferred degree. I commenced a Bachelor of Arts (Justice Studies) and the year after added a Bachelor of Laws to this. I still felt like I had to prove myself and be better each time I achieved something. This took the joy out of almost everything I achieved. Even during my university degrees, I took no joy in the small achievements I made. Great results to most, to me were not good enough.

After university graduation I started applying for graduate positions as a junior solicitor, eventually acquiring one and then being let go, as I wasn’t good enough. Even though I had the formal qualifications I just had no idea what I was doing. Lucky for me I was still working for Woolworths on the weekends to help pay the bills and started to wonder if I was going to be stuck working there for the rest of my adult life, an overqualified retail assistant. I don’t say this to diminish the role of anyone who works for Woolies, but in my own head I was a failure. This plagued me for a long time.

Eventually I found work at the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) as a legal support officer, dealing with serious criminal cases that were being heard in the District and Supreme Courts. Although I had diverted my ideal to become a police officer during my study at university by practicing corporate commercial law for a short time, my passion to become a police officer was reignited working at DPP. It was something I had dreamed of doing from when I was a teenager, but I never thought I would be good enough to actually do it.

The testing to be selected as a police recruit started with psychological testing including aptitude, reasoning and memory retention. I was so overprepared that completing the test was a walk in the park. I had learned every single pattern and explanation for every sequence, I was able to move through the testing quickly and with ease. However, when it came time for the selection panel to announce who had succeeded through the psychological testing, I began telling myself I wasn’t good enough, that is, until my name was called. As it turns out I sailed through all the other requirements and was selected as a police recruit. So, there you have it, I was good enough, a little glimmer of hope.

My time at the academy started well and I was confident in my abilities but about halfway through I began to doubt myself. I was never a very physical person but had trained hard before I started with the police service to ensure I was able to meet all the standards required. I had a crisis of confidence when I didn’t get everything perfect. My self-doubt put me off my game and I wondered if I was good enough to actually become a police officer. I was and I did and have been a police officer for the past 20 years.

Not only did this self-doubt plague me professionally but it has been a permanent undercurrent in my personal life too. I’ve had relationships where I never thought I was good enough, only to sabotage them so that I had an excuse to leave before they found out I wasn’t good enough for them.

The “Not good enough” complex
The “Not good enough” complex

When I met Damian, it was the same. I never thought I was good enough for him. Lucky for me he disagreed. Even as a first-time mother, my thought that I was not good enough plagued me. When motherhood is something that is meant to be a natural progression for women, and I had always thought that I had the “Mummy” gene. For me, becoming a mother was at the time the biggest life changing thing that I had ever done. The sheer adjustment and resentment for how much my life had changed left me feeling like I wasn’t good enough and was going to let our newborn son down if I didn’t do everything just right to start his life off.

Then when Damian was killed my fear of not being good enough consumed me. Because I had a complete identity crisis and couldn’t quite work out where I fit, I didn’t think that anything I did was good enough. Damian was being hailed a hero and I felt everything I did was being scrutinised. I felt like a failure as a mother and his wife, the widow. I was simply just not good enough to uphold his legacy.

It was only through a series of therapy sessions where my psychologist unpacked where this doubt came from, way back in my childhood, that I was able to objectively view my life and see that I was good enough, I had achieved a lot, and given the circumstances, had been beating myself up over something out of my control. I eventually realised that my doubt was born from worrying about what others think and how I was perceived, all the while I was trying to navigate my own grief journey. Through this I have realised that I am enough, it is only me who needs to be happy with this and I can see how far I’ve come from that fifteen-year-old girl who didn’t make the dance team to a woman who has had to face one of the most horrific and tragic events of my life. No matter what life throws at me now, I look at it objectively and wonder why I don’t feel good enough in that moment. It has taken a long time to accept that life has its moments, some are good, and some are bad, and I say this again, life is what you make it, you are good enough, in fact you are probably better than good, you might even be great! You never know when there are people watching you deal with life’s ups and downs and wondering just how you do it, that it’s better than good, that you are their inspiration. Fuck not being good enough!

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