The core of any anxious parent.
I have never thought of myself as an anxious person let alone an anxious father, but here I sit with my stomach in knots. I feel this way because of my inability to process my anxiety around not being good enough. That is the cold hard truth of it, short and sweet!
If that was hard to read, it’s because it was hard to write.
Men aren’t supposed to feel this way, and if they do, they certainly aren’t supposed to talk about it. I was raised by an intelligent, loving mother, a woman who taught me it was okay to feel my feelings and it was okay to talk about my feelings.
So how did I end up with such a lack of self-worth? Well…My mother had fallen in love with an arsehole. My father was an abusive, borderline homicidal drug addict. And really that’s all that needs to be said.
After they finally split up, I became an angry child. I would yell, scream and basically have tantrums. I would constantly tell my mother that people were “making me angry”, and she would reply without fail “no one can make you feel anything”. At the time I didn’t understand what she meant, but now I do.
For me anger is how my fear manifests itself, both in my thoughts and actions. When I am able to take a breath and look inwards at my feelings, when I track all the way back to the root of my angry thought, it inevitably stems from fear. (See https://sixonpurpose.com/2020/02/17/take-a-deep-breath/ )
What am I so afraid of? I can categorically say that asking myself this question was the turning point in my life. The lessons learned while trying to discover the answer are immeasurable and yet funnily enough the answer was always within easy reach.
I feel like I am not good enough.
Good enough for what?
Sit with that for just a moment. For my entire life I have lived with the knowledge (however distorted) that I am not good enough for anything or anyone. Not a good enough son for my father to love, not a good enough friend, not a good enough father myself to not fuck up my kids. I have owned a successful business, represented my country on the sports field, and have many wonderful relationships including my wife and children and yet I constantly feel as though I do not measure up.
Combatting this feeling is not easy, it is a long process that I still work at everyday.
How do I do that? By accepting the person that I am is already good enough.
I make mistakes all the time, but a mistake is only a failure if you fail to learn from it. It is okay to make a thousand mistakes as long as you learn a thousand lessons.
Here is a real life example of how my self-defeating thought process works;
My three year old son knocks over his water at the dinner table for the 5th time tonight. He doesn’t listen to me when I tell him to stop putting the cup on the edge of the table so inevitably he knocks it over.
I feel angry. I yell, I feel like shit.
Why did you get angry?
He didn’t listen.
Why doesn’t he listen to me?
I don’t know.
But why did the cup tipping over lead me to yelling?
He wasn’t listening.
Why am I unable to talk to him rationally?
Because he doesn’t listen if you don’t yell.
Why is it so important to me that he listens to me?
If he doesn’t listen, I have failed as a father.
Why are you so scared of failing?
Because I’m scared of not being a good enough father.
Ah ha! There you are, fear my old friend! And this is what I have to do to stay out of the self propagating cycle;
Take a deep breath, I know he isn’t listening right now but yelling at him won’t help, it will only make him scared, you remember what it’s like to be scared of your father don’t you? Find a way to get through to him without scaring him. You are a good father, you are a good person, and it is his job to push these boundaries so he can learn!
This internal dialogue happens all the time now. I have to maintain this level of strict self-assessment to stay, if not one step ahead of, at least just one step behind, my fear. I do this to sometimes prevent, oftentimes mitigate, the effects of my fear inducing anger. It’s not fun, it hurts, and it leaves me emotionally drained. But without work there is no growth and without growth there is no life.
I made a decision and a commitment, 18 months ago, that I would not continue to live my life driven by my fear. I no longer wanted to be wondering through life out any true direction. Through a process of self-assessment and goal setting I have begun to cultivate a life for myself and my family that has purpose, joy, compassion and love at its core. Every decision I make is now run through the prism of ‘does this decision lead me towards, or away from, my true north.”
What is a true north?
Simply put it is your purpose.
At this stage of our lives as parents and people my wife and I won’t live a life without purpose anymore, because why would we?