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How to Overcome Feeling Inadequate

Modify expectations, practice self-compassion, and more.

Nathan Dumlao / Unsplash
Source: Nathan Dumlao / Unsplash

Have you ever struggled to feel good about yourself? Do you wonder if you’re good enough? Do you question whether you're competent enough? You may be dealing with feelings of inadequacy.

Feelings of inadequacy arise when we feel we’re not enough or not good enough. These feelings generally have nothing to do with our actual performance or abilities. In fact, these feelings may have a lot more to do with low self-esteem or low self-confidence than any objective measure of ability or competence.

The American Psychological Association defines an inadequacy complex (more commonly known as an inferiority complex) as a feeling of inadequacy or insecurity coming from actual or imagined physical or psychological deficiencies. This feeling of being “less than” or “inferior to” others can often cause us to shut down (withdraw) or act aggressively depending on our coping styles.

People who feel inadequate may also experience the following things:

  • Withdrawn/shy/quiet
  • Insecurity
  • Negativity
  • Unhappiness
  • Anger/hostility
  • Low motivation (Guindon, 2002)

Keep in mind that we all feel these emotions to some extent. Some of us just feel more inadequate than others (Heidbreder, 1927).

How to Overcome Feelings of Inadequacy

If you’re feeling inadequate in general—or about something in particular—research shows that a number of strategies can help you feel better:

  • Modify your expectations and ideals. If we’re constantly falling short of our expectations and ideals, it may be that we have unrealistic expectations of ourselves and what we can reasonably accomplish.
  • Seek help from others. Get help with the things you struggle with. If you don’t feel capable and you know someone who could teach you what you need to know, reaching out to them can be helpful.
  • Build skills and expertise. If you’re feeling inadequate on a particular task, take the time to build your skills. Over time, you’ll feel more competent and capable. No one is good at everything right away, so try not to get down on yourself for being a beginner at something (Lindqvist, Weurlander, Wernerson, & Thornberg, 2017).
  • Cultivate emotion regulation skills. We often feel most inadequate in difficult situations (Lindqvist, Weurlander, Wernerson, & Thornberg, 2017). But, if we learn effective ways to regulate our emotions in these situations, they can be easier to manage and we’ll reduce negative emotions. (Negative emotions can actually impair our ability to make decisions and think clearly, which can fuel inadequacy.)
  • Practice self-compassion. Regardless of how competent we are at a given task, we have value and are worthy of self-kindness. Practice showing yourself self-compassion and using loving-kindness meditation to grow your love for yourself and others.
  • Build a growth mindset. A growth mindset is when we believe we have the ability to grow and improve. This mindset helps us more easily overcome skill deficits. We know we can improve so we put more effort into improving ourselves. As a result, we can end up more skilled than we ever imagined.
  • Focus on your strengths. We all have strengths. By finding your strengths and capitalizing on them, you focus your attention more on what you’re good at than what you’re not good at. Plus, you can put your strengths to work and succeed in areas that rely on these strengths.

In Sum

It’s totally normal to feel inadequate from time to time. If we work at it, we can reduce the amount of time we spend feeling this way and we can leave more room for self-confidence. Implementing any of these strategies can help you feel more competent and comfortable in situations that might produce inadequacy.

Adapted from an article published by The Berkeley Well-Being Institute.

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Guindon, M. H. (2002). Toward Accountability in the Use of the Self‐Esteem Construct. Journal of Counseling & Development, 80(2), 204-214.

Heidbreder, E. F. (1927). The normal inferiority complex. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 22(3), 243.

Lindqvist, H., Weurlander, M., Wernerson, A., & Thornberg, R. (2017). Resolving feelings of professional inadequacy: Student teachers’ coping with distressful situations. Teaching and Teacher Education, 64, 270-279.

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