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You Can Beat the Feeling of Never Good Enough

Our Culture

We’re living in a culture that goes after image; it’s more important than substance. Every television commercial we see reminds us we’re not good enough. Our computer isn’t fast enough. Our iPhone isn’t new enough. I don’t have six-pack abs.

And when you’re bombarded with messages constantly telling you, from different angles, that you’re not okay, it’s hard not to absorb it. This leaves a person feeling less than, not good enough.

The truth is we never outgrow the need for validation and to be seen and accepted in our vulnerable places—in all our places—by someone we love. If we don’t have that, we only have so many other ways to cope.

Feeling Inadequate

There are times of course when we all feel inadequate about something. But for many, this feeling goes much deeper. It gets woven into their personal fabric. From their view, worthlessness defines who they are and how they think others in the world see them. And without help, they become trapped in a painful cycle of doubt and self-judgment that blocks them from experiencing joy and peace.

Some Pretty Old Wounds

Often, the pain around a person’s self-worth can be traced back to some pretty old wounds. One way I help clients step off the not good enough treadmill is to find the origin of the injury; and reprocess the pain.

As you’re reading, I’d like you to imagine this:

If I held up my hand and started lowering it and said, “Stop me when I’ve reached the height you were when you first had the thought: I’m different – with a negative connotation.” Maybe this thought could be: “I'm not smart enough. I'm not pretty enough. I'm not strong enough. I'm not good enough.”

And as I move my hand down, down and down, I asked you, “Now, give me a little nod when I hit your height.” I’ll bet for most of you reading you’d begin nodding your head in the three, four or 5 year old territory.

My question is: "How old is that? How young were you when you first remember that thought?"

We Notice Differences

In our early stages of life, we begin symbolically relating things and putting things into networks. It starts out just with the names of things, but then it goes into differences and contrasting features. We learn the concepts of same and different. Then around the time of kindergarten we begin to learn comparatives, firstly the physical attributes are noticed. For example a 3-year-old wants a nickel more than a dime, because it’s bigger but by the time a child is 5 or 6, they want the dime more than the nickel.

As soon as you begin to make comparisons, your mind says, “You should have been like this." If a five- or six-year-old can say a nickel is smaller than a dime, you're old enough to say, "I'm not good enough." So, the point is we are not going to escape judgment being applied to ourselves because we are created with the ability to judge things and problem solve. It’s by design and we need to do it but that's a wild horse, and it's coming back at you. So, all of us are dealing with, "I'm not good enough." This is not a problem per se; it’s just natural human cognition.

I’ve found when people really speak honestly, the “I'm not good enough” story is almost universal.

Dig Into the Thoughts

Recently a client shared with me her deep seated feeling of not being good enough. The first thing we did was explore and compile a list of some of the thoughts that were linked to and supported the feeling.

Then we went back to how young she was when she first felt different; when she first felt the norm didn't apply to her; that she wasn’t good, that she didn't belong etc. To process the origin of the feeling of inadequacy we talked about the things she remembered thinking about why she wasn’t good enough.

This exercise helped identify where she first felt the pain of that judgment, when she internalized it. What surfaced in the session is the little girl wanted a hug rather than advice as to how to be good enough to no longer be less than.

Next I asked her to imagine herself at that young age and ask the little girl, “What does she need from you now?" As what normally happens, she realized in this moment the “I’m not good enough” thoughts were not going to go away. So, my client concluded what she needed to do for herself is bring a sense of compassionate care.

The practical application for my client is now when she is faced with a challenging situation, she brings compassion in and tells herself, "I'm going to hug myself all the way. I'm not driving achievement out of this situation. I'm going to do this in a kinder way."

Ask Yourself “Do My Feelings Fit the Facts?”

In my practice, I am an advocate for taking time each day to identify your feelings. It’s important for several reasons but for those who suffer from never feeling good enough it’s helpful to take one more step forward in the processing. I help my clients see that their feelings fit the facts, but the facts are wrong. In other words, they're problematic. They're unfair. They're mean.

When I hear my clients speak negatively about themselves, I ask, "What's your evidence?"

When people have initial feeling of disgust or unfairness, often it's not based on anything except perhaps some biases or maybe culture. But because the brain strives to make sense of information, they start constructing elaborate intellectual explanations for why they're right when they really don’t have evidence to support the feeling.

The Solution: I encourage my clients to use their values to orient their behavior, not their feelings.

But…What’s My Part in This?

I am also an advocate for evaluating from another angle, the circumstances that lead my clients to feeling not good enough. Together we look at whether there are some behaviors for which they are responsible that are contributing to or causing the problem within their relationships.

It’s critical to accept sometimes we need to change our own behavior because true and authentic healing can’t begin until we see our own role in the problem.

Use Your Voice…Talk to Yourself!

Self-talk is another extremely useful tool. There is abundant research to support the use of self-talk to improve performance, motivation, emotion, and mood. There are multiple types including:

informational self-talk: where you talk yourself through completing a task by reminding yourself of the steps motivational self-talk: where you encourage and support yourself

interrogative self-talk: where you ask yourself questions that help guide you. For example, “Karen, do you really want to do this, and why do you want this?"

Self-talk can lead to a better version of you! Self-talk. Embrace it!

And here’s a tip: Research shows when you talk to yourself in the second person, it has a

bigger boost on your mood a more positive affect it strengthens your motivation leads to better follow through with whatever the behavior or the intention is so instead of saying, "I can do this. I'm going to do this," I might say, “Karen, you can do this. Karen, you are doing this."

By speaking in the second person, you’re harnessing the social brain. We know that we're incredibly social creatures and receiving the support or guidance of others is extremely effective and powerful. So when you use self-talk in the second person, you're exploiting how social our brains are, and you're relating to yourself. Then you're the recipient of that inner mentor or that inner coach.

Would you like some help implementing some of these strategies? Click here and leave your name and number. I'll be happy to give you a call.

Social Comparison

Often because of the world we’re in and our sensitivity, the people we interact with and even the jobs we do on a daily basis – including parenting and being a spouse; we feel there’s always a criticism or something we could have done better. As a result, our physiological states are usually in a state of defense.

It’s easy to see how society can trap a person in this cycle of vulnerability and worthlessness.

Our complex culture does not empower an individual to be safe, to be bold and creative; instead, it shifts the person into states of vulnerability in which they are always trying to prove their worth and their value to the system.

Desire to Win and the Need to Succeed

The desire to win and be on top is hardwired in us. It shows up as our concern with self-esteem and constant comparative judgments about how I’m doing compared to others.

And unless we live in a fantasy land, we’re going to lose at least half the time, which can lead to a lot of feelings of not being good enough, particularly if we’ve grown up thinking we should win all the time. And in fact, there’s a good deal of evidence showing in Western cultures – and in America, in particular – the belief that “I should always be the winner” is increasing year by year in the population.

Solution #1: Make a Connection – Not an Impression

In my own experience it’s impossible to maintain the winning position. So, in my practice, I encourage my clients to let go of finding a way to win, and instead look for ways to connect with others. Very often my suggestion to them is: make a connection – not an impression.

Solution #2 – Self-Esteem Autobiography

Another technique is to write a self-esteem autobiography. This involves starting very early in your life and trying to remember the very first time that you can remember a sense of self-esteem inflation or feeling like, “Oh! I’m special; I’m good; I’m wanted; I’m loved,” and the very first memory we might have of self-esteem deflation, the feeling of disappointment or, “I’m no good; I’m not good enough; I didn’t make it; I’m not loved; I’m not wanted.”

First, notice that feeling in the body and really get to know it so that you can identify these ups and downs. Then, we go through the life cycle and their personal history to see just how early this started, and what the different qualities or criteria were that helped the client feel good about herself or made her collapse at each stage – because it changes at different developmental stages.

For example, at one developmental stage, it’s,

“Did the teacher seem to like me or not?” or, “How did I do competitively with my sibling?”

At another developmental stage, it’s,

“Did the attractive person of the gender I’m interested in show me favor or did they not?”

At a later stage, its professional success or money – and we start to see how these different things lift our sense of wellbeing and being good enough or detract from them. This helps us to see the entire drama of it and not take it so seriously.

Get Out of The Game!

Unfortunately, there’s so much cultural belief that the answer comes from winning and staying on top but I believe a healthier approach to life is “How can I disengage slightly from the game?”

Hopefully you have gained a little more understanding of how these feelings of never being good enough begin and some strategies that can work to address them in your life.

Would you like to share how this topic resonates with you? I’d love to listen.


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