How to Stop Feeling Inadequate

Feeling insecure is part of being human. Whether the whispers of “You’re not good enough” come from someone in your life or from inside your own head, here are six tips to quiet the voices and feel more self-assured.

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD
Episode #186

image of a woman feeling inadequate and small

Each of us has someone in our life who makes us feel as invalid as an expired coupon. All too often, that person is our very own self, but sometimes it’s a parent, a partner, or a friend.

Listener Serina in Australia emailed and asked what to do about a person in her life who makes her feel inadequate. Specifically, she described a co-worker who one-ups her at every turn. For example, when Serina wished aloud that she were brave enough to go bungee jumping, her colleague immediately reminisced about skydiving. When Serina celebrated attaining her psychology degree, her colleague rubbed in that she’s working on her PhD. The examples go on and on and leave Serina feeling hopelessly inadequate.

Every one of us can identify with Serina on some level. Snuggly couples pop out from every corner whenever we feel lonely. Ridiculously attractive people seem to follow us whenever we have a bad hair day. We rejoice at passing the exam, but feel deflated as the girl next to us is handed a big ‘A+.’ We sigh as we park our years-old Corolla between a Porsche and a Land Rover. What to do when life leaves you feeling as invalid as a forgotten username? Here are six ways to check your connection and try again.

Tip #1: Trust that everyone has their stuff.

For Serina, I’ll bet you my last box of Thin Mints that her co-worker feels deeply inadequate herself. True adequacy doesn’t feel the need to advertise.

While we can’t know if Serina’s co-worker is searching for affirmation, trying to build herself up by tearing Serina down, or is simply a knee-jerk show-off, we can know that her life isn’t perfect. How do I know for sure? Because she’s human.

Insecurity is part of the human condition. In fact, it’s necessary: a healthy dose of self-doubt helps us monitor ourselves and our behavior, is necessary to spark introspection, and motivates us to grow and change. We doubt ourselves so we can check ourselves, which allows us to get along better with our fellow humans and ultimately keeps the species going. Not only is insecurity part of the human condition, but a total lack of insecurity is actually a sign of things gone wrong. (I’m looking at you, psychopaths and narcissists.)

Tip #2: Add “yet.”

Dr. Carol Dweck of Stanford University is known the world over for her research on mindset. She delivered a TedX talk in which she describes a high school in Chicago that gives students who don’t manage to pass a class the grade “Not Yet.” What does this do? Most importantly, it shifts the focus from a fixed mindset—the idea that your basic qualities are static and unchangeable—to that of a growth mindset, which proposes that your talents can be developed. This shift from outcome to process implies eventual success, and in the meantime, focuses on effort, strategy, resilience, and perseverance.

For your own endeavors, rather than labeling a project or a process a failure: I haven’t lost those last ten pounds, I can’t manage to sustain a meditation practice, I don’t have my dream job—tack on the word “yet.” I haven’t lost those last ten pounds yet, I can’t manage to sustain a meditation practice yet, I don’t have my dream job yet. Believing you can improve, rather than being stuck with cards you were dealt, makes all the difference.

Tip #3: Broaden your scope.

Pop culture would have us believe that adequacy comes from one of only a few areas: financial success, fame, career achievement, relationship bliss, or physical appearance. We narrow our own vision accordingly and feel hopelessly inadequate if we’re not rich, famous, powerful, in love, or hot.


About the Author

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD
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