There’s that feeling again.
The one that pops up like a Whac-A-Mole when you least expect it. Only it’s much uglier and won’t go away easily.
The feeling of being just not good enough.
Desperately, you try to shove it down, afraid of the Pandora’s box it might open if you delve any deeper into it. But a brush with those feelings of worthlessness and inadequacy leaves a residue — like a bad aftertaste.
‘Perhaps there’s something wrong with me. What if I’m just unworthy of love?’
You ponder while trying to ignore the gnawing in the pit of your stomach. Opening up to anyone else is out of the question.
‘What’s the point? Everyone else has their life together.’
They are getting promoted, falling in love, having kids, buying a car, buying a house, starting their own business, taking lavish vacations in Maldives (how can Meera look so flawless in her vacation snaps?), buying another car…
And here you are, in your pajamas, trying to nurse your wounded soul with a tub of ice-cream, amidst another weekend Netflix binge.
‘Why can’t I shrug off this laziness and try harder? Why am I so broken?’
Your friends and colleagues know first hand that you give life your best and work really hard. But still, you can’t give yourself credit. You think that somehow you should be more, do more, and just be better. You don’t measure up in your own mind.
‘Perhaps I will never be happy.’
In reality, nothing can be further from the truth.
You are good enough. You just need to take a step back, understand the source of those feelings, and then take steps to make peace with them.
“Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness, will we discover the infinite power of our light.” — Brené Brown
Are You the Only One Never Good Enough?
Let me guess – you think you are the only one with the fear of not being good enough. But that’s not true at all. Atelophobia (greek atelo means imperfection), the fear of being imperfect or not good enough, hounds almost everyone out there to a certain degree (raging narcissists and sociopaths are an exception).
The wisest, most popular, and most well-rounded people you have ever known struggle with this feeling as well. To add to their woes, even popular culture, at one time, found them not good enough:
- Young Ludwig van Beethoven’s teachers felt that he was hopeless at composing and would never succeed. He went on to compose some of the best-loved symphonies of all time – five of them while he was completely deaf.
- Oprah Winfrey was fired from her first evening news reporter job. A producer found her “unfit for television news.” Oprah, worth an estimated $3 billion today, became the host of The Oprah Winfrey Show, which aired for 25 seasons.
- Madonna, new to New York City and strapped for cash, took a job at Dunkin’ Donuts in Times Square. Her managers gave her the boot after she squirted jelly filling all over a customer. She didn’t even last a day.
- Marilyn Monroe, in search of a career in modeling, was told by the agencies that she was not good enough and should consider becoming a secretary.
- Michael Jordan wasn’t good enough even for his varsity team in high school. Today, he is considered to be the greatest professional basketball player of all time, a title he continues to hold for 30 years.
- Kevin Hart, in his ‘Lil Kev’ days, was booed off-stage several times – someone even threw a raw piece of chicken at him once. Worth $40 million today, he is one of the most accomplished comedians and actors in Hollywood today and sells out arenas like clockwork.
The list goes on…
These marvelous people weren’t born successful. They experienced many ups and downs, conquered their demons, made peace with the outer as well as inner critics and have gained an appreciation for life. They developed themselves slowly over time. So take heart when you’re down and feeling not good enough.
What Causes This Feeling of Not Good Enough Anyway?
Now that you know you are not alone in feeling this, you might need to do some soul-searching to find the reason for this feeling. The roots are often embedded in the past:
The Ghosts of the Past
According to Karyl McBride, the author of ‘Will I Ever Be Good Enough?: Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers‘, flaws in parental upbringing play a major role in developing this feeling of being not good enough in children.
The most important thing for a kid who tries to learn, understand the world around him, and soak up everything from life, is to gain love and affection from their parents and caregivers. But what happens when that love and affection are withheld from them?
Alcoholic or Substance Abusing Parents
Kids don’t understand why their alcoholic or substance abuser parents are there for them sometimes and sometimes not. The kid cannot rely upon them for love and affection. Even worse, they are sometimes left to fend for themselves and even have to take care of their parents. The kid, starved of love and attention, begins to think of himself or herself as someone unworthy of love.
Narcissistic parents are not capable of empathy or real love. They project their self-loathing onto their kids and force them to try and find ways to win their approval and attention – but to no avail. The kid feels unlovable and assumes that it is somehow their own fault.
Since narcissistic parents can not emotionally tune in to their kid, they leave their kid with unmet emotional needs. They don’t acknowledge and validate their kid’s feelings. The kid thinks that their feelings are not important and learns to repress or deny them.
Kids of narcissists, who have been force-fed the feelings of “not good enough”, grow up to be sensitive to being judged and criticized by others and struggle with crippling self-doubt.
Parents In a Toxic Relationship or Suffering from Depression
Kids with parents who are in a toxic relationship or suffer from depression, don’t understand why their parents act in such horrible ways towards each other. The parents remain oblivious of how their behavior affects the young minds, and the kids learn to blame themselves for everything that’s going wrong.
Overly Critical Parents
If parents constantly place their kids under scrutiny, want their kids to be smarter, or quieter, or sportier, or if they favor a sibling, they send the message that the kid is not good enough as is. The kid, in search of love and approval, learns to suffocate their real personality and becomes the ‘good’ kid. No wonder he grows up to be an adult who never feels a sense of worth.
Strong Trauma in the Past
Kids, who have experienced physical or sexual abuse, often hold themselves responsible for the trauma. In their quest to make sense of the horrible things that were done to them, they grow a conviction that they must be bad and worthless – that they deserved it.
The Lingering Effect
Kids need peace, love, and harmony in their lives to thrive emotionally. They realize very early that if Mommy and Daddy are happy, then they will get that love they need. When that love and care are denied to them, they try to “fix” the adult problems to get what they are starved of.
They are kids of course, and this is not their problem to fix, but they don’t know that yet; they keep trying. When they don’t succeed, guess what they do?
They change their tactics; they try to be a better kid or they act out to get their parents to focus on them. Sometimes they succeed, sometimes they don’t. This confuses them further. They can only draw one conclusion from this whole fiasco:
“I couldn’t fix it, so I am not good enough.”
“It would all have worked out if only I could do more.”
I know that’s a lot to take in, but bear with me here and think – did your childhood resemble any of the above? If yes, then is it any wonder that the lingering effect still remains within the adult you?
The Demons in the Present
Apart from your ghosts from the past, the reasons for your feeling not good enough can also be more present and direct, like:
- You have a naturally sensitive personality, and you tend to over-identify with criticisms and suffer more.
- A recent traumatic event, like getting cheated on or getting betrayed, has dented your self-esteem.
- You are in a physically or emotionally abusive relationship, and your partner is intentionally making you feel small and insignificant.
- You are suffering from anxiety and/or depression.
Does any of the above ring a bell? Do you see a pattern?
The Hurdles You have Placed Before You
Once you’ve identified the root cause of your feeling not good enough, you are all set for the recovery journey – there is no turning back now.
But here’s where you might hit a snag. Because the way ahead is fraught with obstacles – hurdles that you have placed before yourself.
Toni Bernhard, author of ‘Turning Straw Into Gold‘ blog, challenges some myths that you believe about yourself. You need to put these beliefs under scrutiny to ease your recovery journey:
You Believe You’re Flawed
As per Bernhard, you make your life worse when you look upon yourself as broken or as a problem to be solved. You’re not flawed or broken. It’s just that sometimes despite your best efforts, things won’t turn out the way you hoped.
You Believe You Can Analyze Your Way to Perfection
Your mind is powerful, but not omnipotent. Even with the right attitude, the right thoughts, or the right spiritual orientation, you cannot heal everything that you find wrong about yourself. And hey, who knows, maybe that flaw or imperfection is actually one of your features, not a bug!
You Have Absurd Expectations
You think you should be good at everything like Wonder Woman – organized, healthy, spiritually grounded, financially set, and aligned with your values. But in reality, obstacles will arise. Your responsibilities to others will sidetrack you. You will lag behind your goals, even take some steps backward.
But you know what? It’s perfectly fine. You are only human.
You Blame Only Yourself for Your Failure
You blame yourself and feel like a failure when you come up against something that you can’t change:
“I’m just not trying hard enough. What’s wrong with me?”
You can and you will change a lot of things about yourself, but still, there will be tons of things that you can’t. You can’t really do much against uphill battles like a debilitating physical condition, a psychological ailment, a family situation, or a life circumstance like aging, or grief.
Don’t make your life harder than it has to be by trying to fix the unfixable.
You Assume You’re Supposed to Feel Positive — Always
You feel ashamed about your negative emotions – your jealousy, your anger, your sadness, your fear – and think that they should have no place in your life. But although you can control how you express your emotions, it’s impossible to be positive, peaceful or in control all the time. Even Dalai Lama can’t do so.
So don’t think of yourself any lesser because of your negative emotions.
These taxing beliefs place extra burdens on you and impede your journey towards being enough. You’d do well to put them under close scrutiny and decide if you really need them in your life.
But we still haven’t talked about the biggest obstacle that holds you back.
Can you guess what that might be?
Your Inner Critic — Wise Friend or Embittered Foe?
Your inner critic. The well-intentioned but misguided voice that wants to keep you safe and alive. The primal part, that wants you to not stand out and take risks. It made sense once – when anything more or less than average meant you got kicked out of the tribe and faced hunger and isolation – a certain death sentence.
Although the world has evolved, that primal part has not. It’s now confused about what it means to make mistakes; that mistakes are an integral part of learning. It tries to protect you by disguising as an angry voice and telling you that you are not good enough. Then, it thinks, that you won’t go out into the world, make mistakes, be rejected or risk failure.
Those once well-intentioned and helpful messages…now paralyze you with doubts.
“I think ultimately the inner critic is trying to look out for us,” Ali Miller, the Berkeley based therapist and communication specialist says “and is afraid about our survival. So when it is telling us we are not good enough, it is often trying to motivate us so that we survive”. But this backfires. Because bombarded with relentless and cruel judgment and criticism – we feel exhausted instead of feeling motivated.
You have to remember that and retrain your inner critic so that it transforms into a coach that can challenge you, without putting you down. Convince your inner critic that it’s not being helpful; it has to understand, that if you think you are not worthy, you will deprive yourself of opportunities.
Let’s Take the Fight to This Feeling of Not Good Enough
Now that we have talked about the hurdles and challenges that are in front of you, let’s talk about how you can take the fight to this feeling of not good enough. Imagine your psyche as an earthlike sphere whose layers have been permeated and infested by this feeling. You have to inspect every layer and take appropriate actions:
The Outermost Crust
While attending to the outer layer, you can take some on-the-spot measures – the ones that don’t take much inner work. Let me walk you through those:
Get a Physical
Are you exercising and sleeping enough? A good work-out enhances your mood and a good night’s sleep can do wonders for your mental state throughout the day. When you don’t take care of your health, you feel like crap and you underperform.
What got You Triggered?
Think back and understand what triggered you. Was it when your mate shared his success story with you? Or maybe when you saw that beautiful girl at the bar? If you can isolate the trigger, then the next time you won’t be caught off-guard by the feeling of unworthiness.
Bring Those Mental Earmuffs Out
We talked about the inner critic before. For a long time, I didn’t know that I don’t have to listen to everything it says – that I can disagree with it and even disregard it for a while.
So when you think the inner critic is being extra nasty to you and making you feel worthless, it’s time to bring out your mental earmuffs. Tell your inner critic that it’s causing you a lot of discomfort and pain, and you will disregard it for now. If it’s being belligerent, banish it to solitary confinement for a while. Did you know you can do that?
Do not Attach a Tag Yourself
Understand that you are more than your temporary states like how you screwed up, how much you earn, or how your body looks. Failing a test doesn’t make you a failure. Having a hard time finding a job doesn’t make you a loser.
Don’t attach a negative tag to yourself – often you truly begin to believe that tag.
Set out a Bubble Bath of Warm Memories
Make a list of positive things that you had in your life and deeds that you’re proud of – however small it might be. Or occasions when you felt unsure at first but still took action and did well or even better than you had expected.
And then when you feel not good enough, pull that list out and soak in those memories – like soaking in a warm bath after a hard day of work. Bask in your own glory. Sometimes the smallest bit of inspiration can help you turn things around when you feel you are not good enough.
It’s Fun to be Magnificent
Try out a bold affirmation. Stand firm and breathe deeply with knees slightly bent – feet planted to the ground. Look into the mirror and make firm eye contact with yourself and say aloud: “I am good enough”. Look fierce and firm as you say it; do not smile to diminish the importance of what you have just said. Speak the words from deep in your belly so that your whole body knows it is true.
Your mind takes cues from how your body feels. So tell it how magnificent you are.
Let it All Out
Spill these thoughts out in a journal, or vent them to a close friend or confidante – someone with whom you feel safe. Even though this will feel terrifying at first, you’ll find that once you’ve let these thoughts out to the world, their hold over you lessens. Chances are that your close friend will give you a perspective of how much wrong you are about yourself.
And far too often, sharing these deeper parts of you with another human being brings out growth opportunities that you would otherwise miss out.
Pass on the Light
Send out your light to the world. When you come to know that someone else is troubled by the same demons, talk to them with empathy and compassion. This will make you feel good about yourself and rejuvenate you.
As you begin to lift others up as well, you might discover another side of you which was hitherto unknown – even to you.
The Intermediate Mantle
Now that you’ve fumigated the outer layer, it’s time to dig a bit deeper. These actions are not as off-the-cuff and take a little more soul-searching. Let me break them down for you:
Check if the Time is Now
Check if you are really in the present. When you lose track of “what is”, and instead ruminate on “what might happen”, you suffer; the feeling of not good enough entrenches in you.
Train yourself to come back to the moment, and place your full attention on yourself and the task at hand. Become aware of your tendency to wander away, and you can stop yourself from getting trapped in the downward spiral of self-doubt and feeling worthless.
Who Needs that Mirror on the Wall?
Social media brings out other’s highlight-reel to you. And when you are at a low-point, it’s easy to compare and feel despondent. But does it really make any sense to compare? There will always be someone who’s better than you or who has more or has achieved more – out there in your neighborhood, or your state, or your country, or the world. So why compare and bring that hurt on yourself?
So why not turn this around? Supplant envy with appreciation, make new friends and connect rather than compare. Respond with love and acceptance to the successes and failures of your family, friends, and colleagues. What was once a source of despair, will now bring you happiness and joy.
Be a Good Samaritan — to Yourself
Stop fulfilling the undue expectations of other people. Treat yourself with love and respect, kindness and compassion. Understand that you don’t have to prove your worth and earn love from yourself – or anyone else as a matter of fact.
If failure happens, don’t beat yourself up. Just because plenty of people beat themselves up all the time or because you’ve done it many times in the past doesn’t mean that it’s the healthiest or best way to move forward again.
There are much better ways to motivate yourself. You can develop your own praise-singer – a voice filled with love and care, free from ego and judgment – who overpowers your self-doubt.
After all, you can’t hate your way into loving yourself. You’ve criticized yourself for years and it hasn’t worked out – else you wouldn’t be here reading this article. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.
Do You Need to Change the Decor?
Sometimes it’s not you but your surroundings that drown you in the feeling of not good enough.
Find out the top three sources of negativity in your life. It could be someone close to you, or someone at work or a social media account or a website or forum you visit every week or even a TV-show.
Try to eliminate these sources completely from your life. If that’s not possible then reduce the time you spend exposed to these sources.
Accept What You Can’t Change
Identify the things for which you are beating yourself up, but over which you have no control. Can you really control things like your feelings, or your life circumstances, or other people’s attitudes and behaviors – how they think and act? Then why allow them to make you feel powerless? Why even bother about them?
When you recognize those factors and understand that you won’t be able to change or control them, you can finally stop worrying about them. Can you imagine what a big relief that will be?
Choose Platinum over Cesium
Once you’ve accepted what you can’t change, you can choose to be like the noble and non-reacting platinum rather than the volatile and reacting cesium, when facing the negative situations that life throws at you. You can respond with compassion, calmness, and optimism.
Don’t fret over how you want things to be, or how things are not going well. Instead, identify what you still can control and tackle them with skill and grace. You will feel more in control; your trust in your abilities and your self-esteem will increase.
How Far You’ve Come Matters
While comparison with others is useless and will only bring you more stress, comparison with yourself is really useful. Focussing on how far you’ve come, rather than how far you have left to go – gives you a great perspective.
A daily journal can help you in this mission ( bullet journaling is one of the better ways out there to capture your thoughts). If you feel stuck and hopeless, if you feel you cannot go any further, your journal can help you reflect back on some of the tough situations that you have tackled before. It might also point you to something small that you can still change and get back in control.
Yay for the Small Win
Celebrate all your wins in some way – however small they might be. Give yourself a pat on the back or a high-five, treat yourself to a delicious snack or take a quiet break out in nature. Even one small step forward matters as you need to take such steps no matter what lofty goal you want to reach.
Reflecting and finding scopes of improvements in your actions is fine, but don’t forget to give yourself credit when credit is due. Often, the smallest victory can be hard, and celebrating them in some way will motivate you and keep your self-confidence up.
The Innermost Core
These basic and intermediate measures seem straightforward enough to understand, but it takes serious work to pull yourself up and actually do these when the feeling of not good enough hits you. You’ll need time and deliberate practice for your head and gut to get in sync, and really internalize the message.
But the journey to get rid of old negative messages embedded in the core of your psyche is even more challenging. Do you want to go deeper, face this feeling of not good enough at its very origin and banish it once and for all? Then, my dear friend, it’s time for the advanced stuff – the ones which are not for the faint-hearted (just kidding). Let me unveil them for you:
Uncover the Depths Where the Message Lurks
According to Ali Miller, the thought “I’m not good enough” can be a signal of our unmet needs. Don’t beat yourself up on not being good enough; instead, focus on meeting those needs. Do you really feel you are broken inside or is it just that a part of you feels scared, anxious, insecure or just plain jealous?
Ask that part about what it’s afraid of and what it longs for. Does it want to be more accepted or more independent? Does it feel under-appreciated or insecure? Is it looking for a worthy purpose? If you can get curious to identify that, your focus will shift to getting those needs met. The feeling of not good enough will lose its punch.
Karyl McBride, on the other hand, suggests that trauma resolution is needed for the old negative messages of being not good enough to be undone. The deep trauma embedded in the brain needs to be uncovered and released.
It is easier said than done though. You may find this difficult to do since it’s easier to deny, rationalize and believe that it is all just in our heads; that we all came from loving and nurturing families.
You may find it easier to take it all on yourself, blame yourself and think it’s you who is not good enough than to accept the truth of your experience.
Is the Baggage even Yours?
When you have shed light on these deep, unexplored and even dark corners within yourself, you’ll often find that the emotional baggage you are carrying around, isn’t yours to begin with. Maybe, you were lugging your mother’s insecurities or your father’s hurt around.
Then, you’ll come to realize that the message that has been bombarding you, was wrong. You have convinced yourself that you were not good enough; you have distorted your reality as a defense against your dysfunctional environment.
And when this message begins to unravel, it brings hope, healing, and comprehension. You will realize, much to your relief, that you don’t have to be defined by your childhood anymore. You can hold yourself accountable – and change. You are free to craft the life you have always deserved.
Maybe Drop by the Master Baggage Remover?
This kind of self-exploration is hard, and can even be downright scary. But you don’t have to take this journey alone. If you feel overwhelmed by fossils you dig up when you delve deeper, you should think about getting in touch with a therapist who can guide you through this journey.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), which focuses on your present issues and changes the way you respond to your thoughts, can help raise your self-esteem. It also teaches you useful and practical strategies that can be used in everyday life, even after the treatment has finished.
Humanistic therapies like Person-centred Therapy can also help your confidence. It shows you the personal resources you already have, helps you grow these inner resources and teaches you how you can use them to make better choices. Compassion-Focused Therapy (CFT), which teaches you how to be gentler with yourself and others, can also help you overcome shame and self-criticism.
The Truth that Awaits You
Now here’s something interesting that’s going to happen once you start putting in the works and trudge through these labors. You will get glimpses of surprising truths; truths that will make you realize that:
It’s a Thought, Not a Feeling
That the feeling of “not good enough” isn’t a feeling at all – it’s just a thought. When you realize that something which you believed to be a truth about you is, in fact, a judgment, you’ll find it easier to deal with it.
You are Right Where You Need to Be
That everything is coming together – eventually. You had to start somewhere, and you are here now. What was impossible for you yesterday, is probable today, and will be possible tomorrow.
It’s OK to Try and Fail
That failures are really just lessons that need to be learned. You are not your mistakes – they are what you did, not who you are.
“An expert”, as Niels Bohr says, “is a man who has made all the mistakes which can be made, in a narrow field.”
So when you fall short, figure out what happened, forgive yourself, and give it another go. Don’t procrastinate and obsess over perfection. You are always good enough to try, and that’s what’s important in the end.
You are Enough Just as You Are
That there is no crucial ingredient that is missing in you; you are, by yourself, the complete package. Even if you have scars – they are the symbols of your strength. Even if you have lost so much – you have gained something else. Even if you think there is something wrong with you – there is even more right with you. Your worth comes from what’s already inside of you, never from something outside of you.
Are you being told that you are not good enough? Then take that feedback and prove them wrong.
You were “good enough” to begin with.
Have You Even Earned this Feeling, Bro?
But wait, I have some more food for your thought. According to James Clear, the author of the NYT bestseller Atomic Habits, when you are starting out, you are supposed to feel awkward and clumsy; in other words, just not good enough. But that doesn’t mean you have a right to that feeling – yet. “You’re not allowed to be disappointed by your amateur performance,” James says, “because you haven’t developed the skills of a professional yet.”
Now the professionals, they are allowed to be disappointed in themselves, because they have put in the work to be better. But for us – you and me? No sir. We’re not good enough to be disappointed yet. We’re bad enough to get to work.
So maybe the next time when you feel not good enough, just hit the pause button and ask yourself: “Have I even earned this feeling yet?” If the honest answer is still a “No”, then get back to work on it.
Conquer the Feeling of Not Good Enough
The feeling of being not good enough is unsavory. It can make you feel inadequate, broken and not worthy of love.
But that is a figment of your imagination; the reality, most certainly, is not that bleak.
Know that you’re not alone in feeling like this. Even some of the best that the world has seen, suffered from the same malady.
Try to trace back to the root of the feeling. Are you sure if the chiding voice in your head is even yours?
The way forward, although tough, is not impossible — not even close. Identify the hurdles that you’ve placed in your way and formulate a plan to overcome them.
Slowly, you will get better at this and the voice that derides you will lose its potency. You’ll come to appreciate the completeness that is you. Unrealistic expectations, that you had set upon yourself, will slowly chip away.
Now imagine the day when you’ll feel complete and will be able to appreciate yourself unabashedly— even the imperfect edges, and the nooks and crannies.
Wouldn’t that be just awesome?
So explore yourself and make headway to conquer that feeling of being not good enough. You owe that to yourself.