Combatting Feelings of Not Good Enough
By Brittney Barth
We’ve all experienced the deep shame and sadness associated with feeling not good enough. When applying for a job we really want, but not getting a call back. When someone ends a relationship with us, and we obsess over everything we did wrong and what we could’ve done better to make that person stay. When there are so many demands on our time and attention—our children, work, friends, partners—and it feels impossible to meet everyone’s needs, that we are lacking in one, two, maybe even all areas, that this isn’t ok. When we are learning something new and making mistakes, not doing it right, comparing our performance with others. When writing a blog post about feeling not good enough.
These experiences seem to permeate our lives in such a way that some of us, myself included, walk around with an internal dialogue of not good enough streaming through our consciousness or with a perception of not good enough hiding just underneath our awareness, coloring the way we experience life. “If I were a better mother, my child wouldn’t have so many tantrums. I must being doing something wrong.” “I’m not working hard enough. If I had put in more hours, maybe I would’ve gotten that promotion.” “I just need to work out more. Then maybe I’ll be thin enough, and can finally find my soul mate.” “I’m not meditating enough, if I were I wouldn’t feel so anxious.”
The thing is, it’s not actually any of these experiences that make us feel not good enough. There’s nothing inherently wrong with us that makes it so we are continually struggling, that causes bad things to happen, that makes it so we don’t get what we want or don’t have this perfect life we think is available to us if only we could just get our act together and be good enough to deserve it. So if it’s not our inadequacy that’s causing our suffering, what is it? I believe it’s all about our perception.
If we are operating from the core belief that we are not good enough, we will be continually invested in both proving and disproving this story. We will scan our environment for evidence that proves this story true: comparing ourselves to others, interpreting any mistakes or failures as proof of our inadequacy, telling ourselves that if we had only just been funnier, prettier, cooler then our love interest wouldn’t have stopped texting back, and on and on. Simultaneously, in our natural human desire to feel worthy, we will search for ways to prove ourselves. This looks like productivity past the point where it feels sustainable or authentic to who we are, perfectionism, people-pleasing, incessant achieving and obsession with success, an intense desire to do things “right.” We stray away from our authentic wants and desires in order to chase a vision of life that we are told we want, that we are told will lead to happiness.
Additionally, we may feel frozen around areas that hold more charge, where we are more likely to feel not good enough. As a result, we procrastinate, have a hard time taking risks, tell ourselves we can’t do something, refuse to try anything that we don’t already know we will be good at, and numb out to avoid considering our flaws, failures or mistakes.
All of this is highly desirable to our capitalistic, consumer driven society. The messaging we are constantly bombarded with tells us to compare, tells us that we aren’t good enough, tells us that if only we just bought this product, then we would finally attain that worthiness we are so desperately seeking. We are immersed in a culture of comparison, competition, and external validation, where worthiness is measured in the number of “likes” or followers. Then, when we inevitably feel not good enough, our consumerist culture has an answer for that too: numb all those uncomfortable feelings with alcohol, shopping, entertainment, food, travel. Don’t stay still for too long, because then you may have to feel.
And, of course, our children are witnesses to all of this. They are born into this culture of not good enough. They see the ways that we beat ourselves up, our striving for perfection, our obsession with having the “right” type of body, our inability to accept our own flaws and mistakes. This core belief of not good enough gets passed on from culture to child and from parent to child and on and on when we remain unhealed from these shaming storylines. When we can’t accept our own mistakes, failures, and flaws, we will inevitably—albeit perhaps subtly—reject these things when we see them in others, including our children. When we are wrapped up in the constant striving to prove ourselves good enough, we will model this to our children.
The issue with all of this is that it conditions us to seek external “enoughness” rather than teaching us how to cultivate internal “enoughness.” Thus, all of these methods we employ to both confirm our story that we aren’t good enough and attempt to prove that we are have this in common. They are all externally focused. The experience of needing external validation in order to feel worthy is inherently disempowering as we are placing our worth in the hands of others. Our worth does not reside within and consequently, we can’t locate it on our own. We are reliant on others to show us our worth. We expect our lives to reflect our worth to us through ease and happiness and when discomfort and hardship arises, as it always does, we take that as proof that we aren’t doing any of it right.
I’m not saying this to offer yet another way in which you aren’t doing it right and aren’t good enough. What I do want to do, however, is invite some awareness around your own childhood experience of not good enough. What ways did you receive the message that you weren’t good enough? Were your parents constantly comparing you to your sibling? Was there a strict implicit or explicit expectation regarding academic success? Athletic success? Was there a strong emphasis placed on monetary achievement as proof of worthiness? Regardless of how this looked in your family, I want to pause for a moment to acknowledge how painful it is to grow up with this belief. It is utterly sad to think about ourselves as little ones growing up believing that they had to earn their worth. I’m here to say that it’s not true. You are worthy. You always were.
So what’s underneath this fear of not being good enough? Ultimately, the fear that we aren’t good enough is the fear that we are unworthy of love, connection, or the life we desire. The fear of being alone, rejected, abandoned. The fear of being unhappy, unsuccessful, disappointed by life. The fear of the deep sense of sadness that might follow. This is an unfathomable grief that we are so deeply afraid of letting ourselves feel. We strive to keep it at bay at all costs afraid it might consume us if we let it too close. The thing is, by refusing to face the sadness of feeling not good enough, we let it slowly eat away at us and control our lives. Our ability to feel joy is dulled. We are willing to be inauthentic and unfulfilled as long as we don’t have to face our sadness. This, in my opinion, is no way to live.
What if feeling this grief was the key to unleashing the hold that the desire to feel good enough has on our lives? This is the key to taking charge of our own self worth. When we learn how to validate ourselves, loving and allowing all parts—both those that are confident and proud along with those that feel worthless and sad—we stop looking outside of ourselves for proof that we are or aren’t worthy. We do this by allowing and feeling the sadness that we are afraid to feel, the sadness that we are trying to keep at bay with all of our strategies to feel good enough. We do this by sitting with that little child within that always felt they weren’t good enough, that they weren’t worthy as they are. We get to be the ones to tell our inner children that they are worthy, that they always were. When we stop resisting this inner sadness, there is no longer a need to prove, to numb. We can look at and allow all of our imperfections. There is no longer anything to avoid.