At the core of most, if not all, intrusive thoughts and obsessions is the question of enough.

It can show up as:

• Do I love my partner enough?

or

• Did I wash my hands enough?

But what you’re really trying to answer is:

Am I enough?

I love what Jon Hershfield said in Episode 6 of The OCD Stories on this topic:

“Some people wash their hands. Other people wash their minds.”

What are you trying to cleanse? The contaminant that you’re not enough.

Shame is the false savior that swoops in like a superhero to try to protect us against the belief of not being enough. It says, “If I can prove enoughness, I will be loved. And if I am loved, I won’t be abandoned/rejected/shunned. The way to prove enoughness is to be perfect.” For the anxious mind, the pursuit of perfection is actually a life-or-death matter protecting you from the final fear of being alone.

But there is a better way: we can set out to heal shame at the root, which means learning how to receive the truth about our goodness:

  • You are enough.
  • You are worthy.
  • You are lovable.
  • You are loved.

And the problem was never you.

And also learning how to sit with the pain and groundlessness that live underneath the shame. What is this pain and groundlessness? For some people, the primary pain is not being seen, valued, heard, and attuned to by early caregivers, which can range from overt sexual, emotional, or physical abuse to attachment/developmental trauma (and please do not place “abuse” as “real trauma” at the top of a hierarchy of pain; it’s all pain). For others, where there was “good enough” parenting, the primary core fear is of groundlessness: the fact that loss, change, separation, growing up, and death exist and there’s nothing we can do about it. And for many, it’s a combination of both.

By sending you the magic power of striving for perfection, shame arrives as a first scaffold: an attempt to control the uncontrollable. It says: If I subscribe to the motto If I am perfect, I will be loved, how other people view me is now in my control. Hence, shame takes the fundamental powerlessness and shifts it into an illusion of control. And on top of that arrives the mechanism that the anxious or OCD brain utilizes to arrive at perfection: “If I arrange this perfectly or remember this perfectly or wash my hands perfectly or find uncertainty that I’m with the right partner, I will prevent something bad from happening.”

Alongside being able to receive the truth of who we are (our basic goodness and worthiness) and learning how to sit with the pain and groundlessness of being human, there is still another way that we heal shame at the root: having a deep, embodied, felt-sense of belonging counteracts shame and the fear of abandonment.

This is where turning to the Tree of Life roadmap that I’ve mentioned in other posts comes in: when we’re connected in all spheres – when we belong to ourselves, to others, and to the invisible realm (nature, ancestors, creativity, etc) – we feel securely attached, and from this solid base several things follow: a fullness of being emerges, anxiety is edged out, and we trust in the goodness of life and our place in the order of things. Life no longer feels quite so fragmented and tenuous, and we’re able to move forward in each moment with more presence, purpose, and joy.

Here is the Tree of Life roadmap, shared with gratitude to my son, Asher, who created it in graphic form:

 

As you look at the map, I invite you to notice – without overthinking – which spheres stand out for you. Which ones feel full and pulsing with life? Which ones feel a bit empty or deflated and might need attention?

Remember that there’s no perfect connection, but when we’re connected enough in all spheres, we’re tapped into a flow of love and aliveness that allows us not only to feel more sturdy and grounded but also to tolerate the unsteadiness and uncertainties of this life with more equanimity.

Which spheres stand out for you, either as pulsing with fullness or needing attention? I’d love to hear in the comments.

Note: I also explored the root cause of shame in depth in this post. 

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