Do you constantly wonder if you are good enough? Or if you are competent enough? Or if you can achieve it with every step you take? If so, it is possible that you experience a feeling of inadequacy, that you feel not good enough.
Obviously, we can all doubt ourselves at some point. We have all felt inadequate, we have thought that a project was beyond us or we have doubted our abilities, but when this feeling does not disappear it becomes a problem because it not only limits our potential considerably, but also prevents us from growing as persons.
What is the Feeling of Inadequacy and where does it come from?
The feeling of inadequacy is a feeling that arises from the depths of the “self”. It occurs when we feel that we are not capable or good enough. However, it usually has nothing to do with our actual performance or abilities, it is more of a feeling than a confirmation.
In fact, the feeling of inadequacy is more linked to low self-esteem, low self-confidence and inferiority complex than to any objective measure of ability or competence. Therefore, it usually comes from old insecurities or shortcomings that we have mentally hyperbolized.
No one is born feeling inadequate. The experiences throughout life and the way we process them are what create that feeling within us.
According to attachment theory, feelings of inadequacy can form very early in life. The bond with our parents can affect our level of self-confidence and shape our self-esteem, so if we had a distant relationship or feel rejected, we could blame ourselves and develop the idea that we are not good enough.
However, toxic relationships in adulthood, as well as excessive social pressure, can also change our psychological makeup, making us doubt ourselves, leading us to believe that we are not capable, intelligent, athletic enough…
Obviously, all those negative experiences are configuring our mental filters, giving voice to our inner dialogue. As a result, we can develop a pessimistic outlook that leads us to exaggerate our mistakes or focus solely on failures. Thus we feed a negative image of our capabilities and potential.
In the long run, this feeling of inadequacy ends up generating a deep inner dissatisfaction and affects our mental health. A study conducted at the University of Valparaíso, for example, found that this sensation is at the heart of eating disorders. It is also at the base of depression and, in many cases, anxiety.
How to overcome the feeling of inadequacy once and for all?
1. Modify your expectations. If you never live up to your expectations and ideals, the problem may be that you have unrealistic expectations of yourself and what you can achieve. In that case, you need to reflect on your goals, dreams and ideals. If you continually set unattainable goals for yourself, it’s not surprising that you end up frustrated and with a sore ego. Therefore, try to develop a more objective vision that also takes into account your limitations and adjust your goals to those capabilities.
2. Build emotional confidence. Have you ever felt bad for feeling bad? If you feel like you’re not up to it, the feelings that that feeling generates are likely to make you feel even worse, leading you into a toxic spiral. Instead, emotional confidence is the ability to sit down and manage unpleasant emotions instead of trying to avoid or “fix” them right away. Therefore, the next time you feel bad, do not try to escape from it, just take note of that state and try to understand what message is behind it.
3. Stop comparing yourself. Theodore Roosevelt said that “comparisons steal our joy.” He was not wrong. Many times the feeling of inadequacy comes from comparisons with others, particularly in the age of social networks, where it is easy to access illusory profiles of people who follow a lifestyle very different from yours. Those comparisons can make you feel like you don’t measure up, which leads you to doubt your abilities. However, each person is unique and special in their own way, so there is no point in comparing yourself to others.
4. Remember that you are not your past. There is nothing wrong with thinking about your past, including the mistakes you made. In fact, one of the main ways to avoid tripping over the same stone twice is to analyze what we did wrong. That is a healthy reflection. But ruminating over problems is unhealthy because it leads to guilt, shame, regret, and of course, feelings of inadequacy. You don’t need to remind yourself at every step what you did wrong because you are no longer the same person. Remember that experiences and time change you, so the next time you start to dwell on a past mistake, ask yourself: does keeping thinking about this really help anyone?
5. Replace the “but” with “and”. It is a short word, but very powerful, especially when used to replace “buts”. This simple psychological exercise gives you the opportunity to appreciate a more complete and balanced picture of what is happening, going beyond the phrase “I am not enough”. When you say “but”, you instantly erase all the good from before, replacing it with the negative that comes after. When you use “and” you balance the sentence because you recognize both the mistakes and the successes.
6. Expand your vision. Society wants us to believe that adequacy and sufficiency comes from success in a few areas of life: finances, fame, professional achievements, physical appearance, or happiness in a relationship. That narrows your vision, and as a result, it’s not uncommon to feel uncomfortable and inadequate if you’re not rich, famous, powerful, attractive, or in love enough. However, the good life, happiness and satisfaction come from other values, such as curiosity, the ability to appreciate beauty or serenity. Expanding your vision will help you value other things beyond the social commandments.
7. Give your better “self” a rest. Although everyone tells you that you have to show your best face and you must strive to be better every day, that permanent pressure ends up being exhausting. Give yourself permission not to be enough, to not have everything under control, to have a bad day, or even to lose your cool. By trying so hard to be our best, we subtly tell ourselves that being who we are is not enough. So try to be more authentic and enjoy experiences as they come, including awkward conversations, relationship mishaps, and project failures. They are things that happen and do not have to determine your worth as a person.
Lindqvist, H. et. Al. (2017) Resolving feelings of professional inadequacy: Student teachers’ coping with distressful situations. Teaching and Teacher Education; 64: 270-279.
Behar, R. & Arancibia, M. (2014) El sentimiento de insuficiencia personal como rasgo nuclear en los trastornos de la conducta alimentaria. Trastornos del Ánimo; 10(2): 122-133.
Guindon, M. H. (2002) Toward Accountability in the Use of the Self‐Esteem Construct. Journal of Counseling & Development; 80(2): 204-214.