As a therapist, I see clients with all sorts of problems, and something that comes up time and again (even if it’s not the main reason they’re coming to therapy) is low self-esteem. Indeed, many people experience thoughts of not being good enough, but they don’t go further and ask themselves a very important question: “Why do I feel like I’m not good enough?” This question is important and although it leads to answers, it can also prompt questions, questions that can help us to explore what is ‘underneath’ feeling like you aren’t good enough. So let’s get started.
What Does “Feeling Good Enough” Even Mean?
Let’s first unpack what we mean by the feeling of not being good enough. Back in the day of tribal warfare, being good enough would have been extremely important for survival. We each would need to serve a function in the group to be accepted and protected. But, it’s more than that. We are social beings, we need to feel connected and so we have to be of value to others for them to want to connect with us. We seek out parents’ approval and love so we can feel worthwhile, and we try to impress our peers so we can feel included. All of this indicates a need for acceptance and belonging and a need to avoid rejection and loneliness. It also tells us that self-esteem is often dictated by external appraisal and when we feel a lack we should ask: “Why do I feel like I’m not good enough?”
Reasons For Feeling Not Good Enough
You Had Authoritarian Parents
When you ask the important question of why am I not good enough for anyone, you might have to cast your mind back to your earliest memories. Our ‘core beliefs’ are planted very early on in life and they guide our view of ourselves and therefore what we might project onto other people. There is more than one way to discipline children, but when children are exposed to parents who are highly principled and value rules above all else, they can enforce them in ways that make children feel inadequate, wrong, and unworthy of love. Of course, much of this embeds itself subconsciously and can plant the fear of not being good enough. When this happens, we see ourselves in this way and focus on it.
You Didn’t Get Enough Parental Love
The part about being unlovable is key here. Children need to feel loved and safe to feel valued and worthwhile. Not feeling good enough can easily happen when parents are detached disciplinarians, rather than warm and affectionate. Children may also perceive a lack of ‘unconditional’ love (subconsciously) when parents prioritise other people and things and are not present for them. Because children have yet to develop parts of the brain that can reason and rationalise, they are more emotionally sensitive and led. This means when they try to make sense of their parent’s actions toward them, they will be unequipped and therefore unable to see the whole picture, and will often conclude that they are at fault. This seed creates a core belief akin to “I’m unworthy of love” and not feeling good enough.
You Have A History of Abuse Or Trauma
Abuse and trauma are an extension of the last point but in a more overt way. When children are neglected and experience parents who are emotionally unavailable, they are unable to feel the warm loving parent that makes them feel safe. This is a form of emotional abuse that may be unintended but has the same impact; the feeling of not being good enough. Of course, other more overt forms of abuse can make children feel frightened and not feeling good enough because they are unable to realise they are not to blame. All forms of abuse can create trauma and often this is suppressed, leading to never feeling good enough but not understanding why.
Your Lack Of Self-Worth
But these suppressed and repressed judgments and feelings are the very thing that nurtures and feeds the feeling like you aren’t good enough, creating a lack of self-worth that people often try to hide and cover with things that are simply distractions – for them and others. Indeed, many people who are considered confident because they’re extroverted or ‘bubbly’ often hide their real selves behind a persona. When they’re alone with their thoughts however, with no distractions, they tend to notice that they’re never feeling good enough. People who purchase extravagant cars or fashion items, or are obsessive about the gym can also be trying to cover up feeling never good enough and use these as a misguided attempt to feel worthwhile because they provide ways to feel superior, but it’s superficial and fleeting and continues to distract from not feeling good enough.
You’re Part Of A Toxic Environment
Toxic environments are just that – poison. They harm and damage self-worth. If you’re in a work or home environment that makes you think to yourself: “I feel like I am not good enough” you have to notice what’s happening around you and question: “Why do I feel like I’m not good enough?”. What kinds of things are you hearing from those in your close circles and what are they doing? I have a saying: GUARD YOUR SELF-ESTEEM LIKE THE LAST DROP OF WATER IN THE DESERT, FOR IT DETERMINES YOUR LIFE. This is not an exaggeration. If you could see self-esteem like a bottle of water, that people around you are taking from rather than being considerate of, you might re-evaluate your relationships. Self-esteem is what we need to drive us forward in all kinds of ways – protect it.
Your Hidden Core Beliefs Are Running The Show
Yes, our core beliefs. Those things that took root when we were young and unable to make sense of things. If you experienced always feeling not good enough, you probably had some experiences that you were unable to understand fully. You mis-concluded that you were the problem. This created core beliefs – these are deeply rooted thoughts and beliefs that leave you not feeling good enough. This might stem from abandonment as a child, bullying, or other experiences that made you think that you were to blame for what happened to you, that somehow it was your fault, and because the fear of not being good enough takes hold, it impacts how we behave. This might mean you people please or don’t speak up for yourself even when you’re done wrong.
You Suffer From Imposter Syndrome
Feeling like you aren’t good enough as mentioned, impacts self-worth. This means that even when people achieve any kind of success they cannot attribute it to themselves. They may believe they are undeserving of their position, and this can make them feel incapable and anxious because there is a persistent feeling of expecting to be found out. Imposter syndrome means that individuals are unable to feel accomplished because they are unable to take credit for their achievements, often putting it down to luck, or some other external reason. Over time the feeling of not being good enough will impact one’s ability to do their work, they feel like a fraud and this can exacerbate never feeling good enough because it is a negative self-evaluation and confirms the fear.
Practices To Stop Feeling Like You Are Not Good Enough
Stop Comparing With Others
When clients ask me: “Why do I feel like I’m not good enough?” I almost always know they’re comparing themselves to others. In today’s societies, this is often via social media. But when we do this we completely lose all objectivity. This is because firstly, people are often their own worst critics, so they start with a negative bias toward themselves. Then, they compare this with a snapshot of another person, and when I say snapshot, I mean a glimpse of someone’s life. This glimpse is presented in Super HD, filtered, and staged to the nth degree. No one is going to show you their dirty laundry. So when you compare yourself to others, you feed the feeling of not being good enough. Instead, question what you are doing, and remind yourself of the points made here because then you’ll be rationalising and I am certain you will notice a change over time in not feeling good enough.
Recall Past Achievements
This is an important one because most people who are always feeling not good enough tend not to take credit for their achievements. As mentioned, they will put it down to something else because they do not believe in themselves. So, all those past achievements that were overlooked must now be recounted and judged from a compassionate, and fair lens. Write down a list of things you have achieved as if they were a list about someone else. What would you think about them then? Clients always seem to show more objectivity when asked to consider things in this way. So when the fear of not being good enough comes up, review your list and add to it, but also judge it fairly, the way you might for a loved one. This exercise aims to help you focus on the good which is often minimised, and not the self-perceived failings that are often maximised.
Confront Your Inner Critic
If the following statement is true for you: “I feel like I am not good enough” then your inner critic is getting too much air time. So the answer to the question of why am I not good enough for anyone is not because you’re useless or *insert other harsh judgment*, it’s because your inner critic has taken the place of your outer critics. This may have been parents, bullies, friends, an ex-partner, or a current one even. What must you do? At some point evaluate your unhealthy relationships, notice the red flags, and set boundaries. But first, you have to interrogate your inner critic. Ask it for its evidence to support its claims and be the best damn attorney for yourself that money could buy. Stick up for yourself as you never did before. Again, as if you were doing this for a friend if need be. At least then you’ll be fair! Confront that internal bully and get rid.
Use Positive Affirmations
Positive affirmations – you may roll your eyes at this one but hear me out. If you’re feeling like you’re never good enough then you’re talking to yourself in negative ways, that is in non-affirmative ways. So it might be worth trying something different if you can relate to the thought: “I feel like I am not good enough”. But, affirmative should be realistic and rational if it’s to be taken seriously and believed, only then can you hope to undo some of the damage that’s occurred. For example, you might notice negative thoughts like “I feel like I’m not good enough” which are usually based on cognitive distortions, so you have to then ask yourself “Why do I feel like I am not good enough” Then when you explore this, you may realise it’s because of things that have happened to you. This can lead to an affirmative and believable thought: “I never feel good enough because of X reason but I did not deserve that and I am refusing it now”.
Focus On the Process, Not Results
This one is true for anything, especially therapy and any kind of self-development. When you’re studying a course, it’s important to invest in the process, that is., the experience of the study and what you’re learning, the subject matter. But also, how this process affects and changes you. If you can do this, you’ll reap so much more from the process than someone who is simply focused on deadlines and ticking boxes. This is true for therapy and any kind of change, especially beliefs that are deeply rooted and leave you feeling never good enough. This is the idea of being, not doing. So when you’re trying to build up your self-esteem, whether that’s through steps like this or a deeper approach like therapy (recommended), then you have to do what’s needed, whether that be exploration, attempting to understand, and changing your mindset in an earnest and committed way, not simply taking the guidance of your therapist or this blog in a superficial token gesture kind of way.
Talk To Friends
The fear of not being good enough can grow and fester when it is kept from others. This is because you’re feeding it with a biased and unobjective view, one that is influenced by your experiences and whatever you’ve been made to believe. The reason why it’s recommended that you think of how you would speak to a friend when you’re feeling like you aren’t good enough is because you’re more likely to be compassionate and fair. This is what your friends will be for you if you speak to them when you’re not feeling good enough in some way or situation. Your friends can be the voice of reason, they can help you to see aspects of a situation that you’re too clouded to notice because of your lack of objectivity. I sometimes ask clients to ask friends for an evaluation of them, not anything long or formal, just a few genuine words. They often learn that their friends see them in much kinder ways.
Therapy is what’s needed if you want to dig out the weeds that have grown uncontrollably since the seeds of “I feel like I am not good enough” were sewn. This is a process of deep excavation. If we want to minimise the harm that poison ivy can cause we have to get to the roots. In therapy, you can explore important beliefs and questions like “Why am I not good enough for anyone?” and rather than accept them as truths, explore and interrogate them together with a mental health professional. Throughout the process you will learn where the origins of these damaging core beliefs stem from, this insight and understanding can help foster the antidote you need to affect your misperceptions about yourself and develop a healthier, more balanced, and therefore, fair, view of yourself.
Benefits Of Believing In Yourself
So why should one want to change the feeling of not being good enough? Because when you feel inadequate, inferior, or deficient, you’re in a position of disadvantage in all domains of life. You will not have the true confidence to go out in life and achieve your potential because your resilience or ability to withstand the natural setbacks that come with living will be heavily compromised. But, if you can change not feeling good enough to feeling more than good enough, and not in a superficial, inauthentic “fake it till you make it” way, but genuinely, you will be able to “fall down seven times stand up eight” – as the Japanese proverb goes – and feel great about that too.
Improved Mental Health
If you go from never feeling good enough to feeling worthy, capable, strong, and resilient, what do you think this could do for your mental health and overall well-being? Yes, if you think about how the fear of not being good enough and the feelings of inadequacy feed into all forms of anxiety, and depression, you can logically assume that when one feels not just adequate, but worthwhile and good about oneself, it feeds into action because you will go out and do things, things you can feel proud of. All of which will bolster good mood-regulating hormones, and therefore, mental health.
If you asked someone what they feel about themselves and they said: “I feel like I am not good enough” would you ask them to help you to make an important decision? Probably not, and why? Because people who are always feeling not good enough do not trust their judgment so why would you? Instead, they seek validation from others and will often need approval and defer important decisions to others so they don’t have to take responsibility, and therefore fail as they expect they will. If however, they begin to notice that they are capable and good enough, they can make decisions and often good ones, or ones that they can learn from, because they have resilience.
When we are not feeling good enough in ways, this is like a mirror. It reflects our relationship with ourselves. Sometimes it might be an acute situation in which we can see it’s because we need to take some self-time. But if it’s a chronic feeling, one that is enduring and longstanding, we have to look a bit closer. This reflection tells us that we are relating to ourselves harshly and unjustly. Usually influenced by some of our relationships. We can only foster good relationships with others when we improve the one with ourselves. This is because only when we value ourselves, can we teach others to do the same, and experience better relationships.
Reasons Why You Are Good Enough
You Decide How Good You Are
When we ask questions like “Why am I not good enough for anyone ?” it’s because we’re seeking external validation when the only one who should decide how good you are, is you. This is not in a new-age hippy, narcissistic, or flagrant kind of way, it’s about holding ourselves accountable and knowing what we need to work on to be what we want for ourselves. So if there are things you aren’t happy about in your life, think about what you need to do to address them, therapy may help you do this if you need help.
You Have Skills No One Else Has
All of us are unique and this is true of our qualities and also our skills and abilities. Your life has shaped you to be who you are today, along the way you will have acquired skills and learnings. You may not notice them because you have focused on feeling like you aren’t good enough and so minimised what you have to offer. This does not mean you have nothing, you just cannot acknowledge or see. Again, I urge you to ask loved ones what skills and abilities they notice you have and be ready to be surprised. And importantly, don’t dismiss them.
You Might Be On a Different Path
This one is important to consider when you experience that feeling of not being good enough, especially when you compare yourself to others and predictably fall short, because of the reasons mentioned before. Even if you’re comparing yourself to someone in your life, for example, a sibling or friend, you still must not lose sight of context. You are on a different trajectory because your starting point was different. This is based on your start in life, as well as the decisions that were made for and by you, that were likely impacted by others around you. So take control of your path, now.
Some People Depend On You
You likely have people in your life who in some way, shape, or form, depend on you for something. This is important to recognise when you ask yourself “Why am I never enough for anyone?” Indeed, it’s very likely that from their point of view, you are good enough and if you asked them, you would learn this. If however, you’re around someone who leaves you feeling like you aren’t enough, then it’s your circle that needs to change, not you! The ones who can see your worth, and care for you, want and need you in their lives – because you matter.
You Are Trying Your Best
Never feeling good enough is a heavy cross to bear so even if it doesn’t feel like it, you should try to recognise that you are doing your best. If you’re asking yourself “Why do I feel like I am not good enough?” it’s probably because you want to be better. This demonstrates that you’re trying your best but are thwarted by your negative self-talk (inner critic) and core beliefs. Despite these, you’re still here, reading this. Because you’re trying. Stop beating yourself up, give yourself a break and do the work that you need to do. So that the next time you ask yourself “Why Do I Feel Like I Am Not Good Enough?” Your answer won’t be biased, subjective, and unfair. It will be a completely different answer, one that takes account of context and of your uniqueness and potential to be the best version of you.
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