The feeling that we are not “enough…” (successful, rich, pretty, educated, knowledgeable, popular, thin, or interesting) is not new to humans but these days it affects more and more young people and even children.
They dread anything that might be considered evidence of their worthlessness and invest their time in a futile attempt to be “enough” which never succeeds, because their standard of success requires them to become superhuman, someone who has no weaknesses and never makes mistakes.
Sometimes it’s easy to notice that a person feels not enough – they are withdrawn, avoid things, have difficulty handling failure, or declare they are afraid to make mistakes.
But other times, people may seem to us so assured of themselves from the side when it’s far from the truth.
Singles, for example, are often convinced that it’s much easier for those in a relationship because they supposedly have a shoulder to lean on and someone who loves them.
But those in a relationship don’t necessarily feel that way. From their perspective, they have plenty of reasons to feel “not enough” – lack of career progress, fear of betrayal, feelings of inferiority in front of their spouse or feeling unloved by them. The number of children they have (or don’t), their looks, weight, amount of money, and more.
In the workplace, some are convinced that those in senior positions necessarily enjoy high self-esteem, do not face difficulties, and dare nothing. But in fact, it’s not always the case. Difficulty, insecurity, and self-doubt can show at any career stage.
Where does the feeling of being “not enough” come from?
We are all born with no sense of self-worth; we are born with a sense of wholeness, like every living being. A baby won’t lie awake in bed agonizing about not being pretty or smart enough.
We derive our sense of self-worth from the way those around us treat us, and we are also influenced by our parents’ sense of self-worth and mental-emotional health.
Some other factors that may shape our sense of self-worth while growing up are:
- Absence of love, critical or abusive attitude toward us, or physical abuse.
- A parent who felt miserable, who believed something substantial was missing in his or her life, unconsciously made his or her children feel they were not enough to make him or her happy (as this was how he or she felt).
- Failures, rejections, or things that were said to us and left a mark may create limiting beliefs about ourselves and our abilities.
- Comparison to siblings or other kids.
- Ostracism or bullying at school.
- Growing up feeling less than others because of being average-looking or overweight.
Another factor that affects us all is that modern society is based on hierarchy and comparison, on the idea of being “more” or “less” than others. And these days, when everything is visible online and seems so shiny over the web, it’s even easier to believe that appearance, success, fame, and wealth determine our worth.
So what can we do to feel “enough”?
Creating a change in the following can help us connect with the wholeness that is already within us and not be affected (or be less affected) by external circumstances:
- Expecting ourselves to be perfect
Many expect themselves to be perfect. To think “correctly”, to feel “correctly”, to always express themselves meticulously and intelligently, and to always be energetic and full of motivation;
Not to be hurt by anything, never to get angry, and to fill their time only with useful things;
To be perfect spouses, perfect parents, to always look wonderful, and to maintain a spotless house.
When, naturally, they don’t live up to it, they get angry and condemn themselves.
Their rigid and unrealistic expectations of themselves perpetuate the belief that they are never good enough, that they are always “wrong”.
- Constantly pursuing the next goal
People who feel they are not good enough as they are, (among them many whom society looks up to, such as senior high-tech managers), live with the feeling that they are still “not there”.
They don’t even know exactly what “there” is, but they know it’s not where they are now.
They live in constant fear of “getting stuck” and remaining “mediocre”, without achievements that others will look at with admiration.
They are afraid to remain “ordinary”, without leaving a mark, and this is something their fragile sense of self has difficulty bearing.
While chasing their tail, they miss what they already have – the appreciation and love, and the ability to really enjoy their children and the little things.
“But it’s only natural to want to advance yourself, isn’t it?” you may ask. The answer is yes. It’s natural to want to have and experience more. But if the motive is the need to feel worthy or to be perceived as such in the eyes of others, the way toward your goals won’t be satisfying and the achievement won’t fill the sense of lack.
- Lack of self-respect
Lack of self-respect is a behavioral pattern that affects the vast majority of us in one or more areas of our lives – at work, in relationships, with children, parents, or friends.
I’m talking about the times when we say yes while we want to say no; when for a moment of peace, comfort, or pleasure we sell ourselves short; when we smile and try to convince ourselves that everything is fine while something inside us clenches in frustration and anger.
When we betray ourselves and give up what’s important to us, we declare to ourselves that we have no chance of getting what we really want, that we are not worth enough, not at the level of the person or job we want.
The motive for self-disrespect is the fear of losing something or being left with nothing. Losing love, appreciation, a job, or having no relationship other than the one that requires so many compromises.
But the compromises are what perpetuate the feeling of inferiority by drawing into our lives people and events that reflect our beliefs and thus strengthen our identification with them.
- Holding our parents accountable for our life circumstances
Although our sense of self-worth is determined in childhood and our parents have a profound impact on it, when we insist that our parents could have done differently and that all this could have been avoided, we keep ourselves tied to the pain of the past.
If, for example, we feel that our parents didn’t love us enough, as long as we hold them accountable for messing up our lives because of this, the need for someone to love us “enough” will haunt us. And no matter what we get, it won’t seem enough to us, or the giver of love will seem to us as someone whose love is not as valuable as that of the one who didn’t give us their love.
We don’t forgive our parents because we are noble, and nor to make our lives better (although this may be a strong motive); our accusations fade away when we truly understand that there is no one to blame because they simply did what their level of awareness at the time allowed.
- Avoidance coping
Avoidance is the tactic of quite a few of those who deal with the feeling that they are not enough. Avoidance protects against failure and thus protects the sense of self-worth.
Each of us has avoided things, but when it comes to doing that regularly and in the main areas of life, our lives get more and more narrow and we lose the ability to function independently.
The way to break free from this pattern is to question our thoughts and beliefs and to face our fears by starting to do, step by step, what we fear.
Often, those who can motivate the change in others, are those who do instead of the person the things he or she can do themselves (usually parents or spouses).
- Our attitude to others
A negative attitude toward others (reacting impatiently, mocking, dismissing, belittling, or denouncing others to their face or behind their back, as well as cultivating resentment and hatred) is one of the main factors that perpetuates and deepens our sense of worthlessness.
People who bear a deep sense of inferiority will often feel a strong need to hold these mental positions against others and express them frequently, as the momentary boost of superiority they derive from it relieves their feelings of inferiority, if only for a short while.
They will find themselves holding resentment and grudges, “unable” to forgive, because it feeds their false sense of self and strengthens their image as being better than those they consider to have wronged them.
It’s not only people with obvious feelings of inferiority who do that, others do that too. Their way of expression may seem more subtle, sophisticated, or justified, yet their purpose is the same – to enjoy a momentary boost of self-enhancement.
Getting out of our heads
The feeling that we are “not enough” is a perception that lives in our heads and makes us see reality in a distorted way. It makes us believe that everyone is watching and judging us and that everyone else is better off than us, and encourages us to overlook any virtue or accomplishment of ours by diminishing its value or treating it as incidental.
Through this false perception we stubbornly measure the happiness of others according to their external circumstances, and with the same stubbornness filter out everything that doesn’t fit our perception of them.
To get out of our heads, it’s not enough to practice mindfulness; we need to carefully examine reality, learn to see what our minds are doing, consider the impact of our words and behavior, and change our attitude toward ourselves and others.