“I’M NOT PRETTY ENOUGH”
I’m not pretty enough. I’m not successful enough. I don’t have enough money. I’m not awakened enough. And so on, and so on. We can all get stuck in limited and limiting beliefs.
I was working with a woman who had felt “not pretty enough” for her entire life. It had been drummed into her by her mother, and had become the lens through which she saw life. She couldn’t seem to shake this belief off, no matter how many therapists she saw, no matter how many spiritual retreats she attended, no matter how many techniques and methods she used, no matter how much spiritual work she did on herself. I knew there was something there at the core, something in her that was not really being “met”. You cannot disable a belief on the level of belief. It’s not possible to just “stop believing” something. Was it really about being pretty or not being pretty? Or was it about something more profound?
She was insightful enough to see that all the makeup, all the plastic surgery, all the beautiful clothes, all the positive thinking in the world wouldn’t remove this basic sense that she wasn’t pretty enough. She knew full well that even if the entire world thought she was the most beautiful woman who had ever lived, she would still feel this longing. It went deep.
Because she’d always felt “not pretty enough” she had hidden away from life, not doing what she really longed to do, withdrawing from others, not really stepping into her own ‘power’ as she put it.
I asked her to close her eyes and let her present experience become the most fascinating thing in all the universe. I asked her to really feel into that belief “I’m not pretty enough”. What effect did that belief have on her body, in the moment (since mind and body are one)? Where did she feel it? What was activated, in the moment, by that belief? What images popped up? What sounds and colours? She spoke of a kind of anger in the pit of her stomach, red and glowing, a burning frustration, a kind of battle cry. “I SHOULD BE PRETTY! I SHOULD BE PRETTY!”. It had a real charge to it. She felt the violence in it, the contraction, the intolerance. It was like a child screaming for attention. She had never really acknowledged how violent this belief was. It felt like it could destroy the world if it had to, all to reach some elusive goal of ‘pretty’. How ugly this violence was! How unattractive!
I invited her to stay with that feeling, to give it space, to deeply allow it to be there, to stay fascinated, to stay close and not run off into stories. As she sank into that feeling of anger, after a while she said, “strange, it actually has a kind of power to it, a beauty. It’s kind of… pretty at its core….”. In paying attention, the anger’s intelligence could move and shine. Then, with loving attention, as the anger dissipated, expanding into the vastness, she started to speak of a kind of sadness underneath the anger. Where? She checked. It felt as if it was all over her body, a old sadness, that had always been with her. It had ruled her life, she said. It had informed all of her decisions. I invited her to drop the word ‘sadness’ for a moment (even that is a judgement and a belief) and really contact the raw life energy that was there in the moment, prior to words and labels. This was breaking apart her image of her pretty/unpretty body, and really contacting the living, breathing real-time body that was there, beyond all labels. Sinking into the sadness, she spoke of a kind of powerless feeling underneath it, moving into her chest, tingling. Powerless – yes, this was how she’d felt throughout her childhood. Misunderstood. Never ‘at home’. Feeling as though she could never live up to what others wanted of her. She’d spent her life trying to avoid this powerless feeling, never really allowing herself to touch it. It had become her taboo. It had come to represent death. Death and decay. Nobody had ever shown her how to be with this feeling. Nobody had ever held her hand in this place. People had been too busy trying to “cure” her, trying to play the expert or the teacher or the knowledgeable therapist, fuelling her sense that she wasn’t good enough, pretty enough, powerful enough. It was time to allow her to truly meet her powerlessness. And to be with her fully as she did so. To mirror her own capacity to hold all experience as it came and went.
Dropping the word ‘powerlessness’, and contacting the raw life energy directly, she started to tell me that at the core of that powerless feeling, there was a kind of beauty, something strong and unshakeable. She spoke of a “burning candle”. She stayed with the candle for a while. I asked “is the candle… powerless?”. “No,” she said. “It’s just energy, not powerful or powerless… It’s… kind of…. beautiful, magnetic…”
This was the beauty, the attraction, she’d always longed for. Beauty not as the opposite of ugliness, but the beauty of raw life. Her longing to be ‘pretty’ wasn’t really a longing to be “the pretty girl” at all – it was a disguised longing to be in touch with this unlived life that was trying to express inside her. She had always longed to be fully alive, and had gotten sidetracked with some second-hand longing to be “pretty”. This the last place she’d ever thought to look for life – at the heart of everything she’d been running away from. The candle had always been burning brightly. It was the candle of consciousness itself. This was a resurrection, a discovery of life where death had been assumed.
“It’s just a small candle,” she said. I invited her to drop even the word ‘small’ – that was another judgement, a comparison. “Ahhhh”, she said, “it’s just life, isn’t it. Just life.” Yes, it was just life. Not “against life”, but life. In staying with the powerless feeling, in dropping all her assumptions and seeing freshly, she had seen the life – the true power – that was there. This feeling was not something to be feared. She had called it “powerlessness” and run away from it, but had missed its deeper secrets and its intelligence. She said she no longer felt powerless, even though nothing in her life circumstances had changed.
“I’m not pretty enough” – that thought had been life’s ingenious way of calling her back to her own power – she’d just never understood the intelligence of it all. It wasn’t a “negative” thought that needed to be erased at all – that’s what she’d always thought, and that’s why nothing – no process, no method, no positive thinking – had ever worked for her. That’s why the thought had never gone away. “I’m not pretty enough” had been an invocation, a clarion call, asking her to sink deeply into her present experience, to shine light in the darkness, to expose the emptiness of that darkness once again. Nobody had ever been able to truly meet her in her ‘powerlessness’ – not her mother, not her teachers, not the world. This was an invitation for her to become the mother she’d always longed for – the mother who could hold her in the midst of her powerlessness, and shine the light of herself. This was a call to remember who she really was, beyond all stories of beauty and ugliness. This was an invitation home.
In profoundly contacting a sacred moment, in staying with all those energies that we previously rejected, the intelligence of life can work its magic. Anger, sadness, feelings of powerlessness are not “negative energies” at all, for they contain within them all the intelligence of life itself, just as every wave in the ocean actually contains, in essence, the entire ocean.
It’s a real privilege to meet people where they are, and stay profoundly close to them as they travel into the darkness, and discover there the light of themselves.
Darkness does not become light, for there is only light. And you couldn’t care less about being “pretty enough”, when you are life itself, undivided from the power that moves planets.
– Jeff Foster