Maybe It's Just Me, But...

Musings of a mildly mad multi-disciplinarian

When You Feel You're Not Good Enough for Somebody...

Have you ever been in a relationship with a wonderful person and asked yourself, "how dare I think that I'm good enough for this amazing person, who deserves somebody much better than I am?" If so, this post may be for you. (You'll also find out what Rita Hayworth is doing in my teaser picture—as if I need a reason!) Read More

Thanks for another

Thanks for another interesting post! I identified with this one. In my experience the feeling of not being "good enough" can be awfully painful, and gives one a pretty pessimistic view of the future. Felt like living on borrowed time, to me! The hardest thing is figuring out, as you say, if it's a realistic assessment of the situation or not. I'm lucky to have a spouse who wouldn't let me be noble enough to leave or push her out.

By the way, good movie reference. I thought of MadMen myself. Not exactly the same, I know.

do you think this is generally a male phenomenon? Seems to me there are some men who over estimate themselves and others who underestimate...two different problems, of course.

Thanks, Samuel...

As a typical guy with absolutely no capacity for sympathy or understanding when it comes to the opposite sex, I'm afraid I can't answer your last question - hopefully some female commenters will chime in on that...

I do know a lot of other guys who have felt the same at one time or another in their life, and I certainly know other guys (not as well) who would never entertain the thought that they weren't good enough for anyone else (even if it were true!).

(And I was actually inspired to write this when I was watching Cover Girl with my kids. Love the classic movies...)

Interesting post! For some

Interesting post!

For some reason, I find it really fascinating that people would so consciously push their partners away because of feeling inadequate. For some reason, I just assumed that there would be other factors as well playing a part in the decision to end a relationship, no matter how great the feeling of inferiority. After all, how did the relationship get started in the first place? Surely on some level, at the beginning at least, there was a sense self-confidence and feeling equal to the other in some way.

There have been a couple times in my relationships when I've worried that perhaps I was not actually good for my partners, but there were certainly times I was frustrated with them, so it balanced out I guess. Those relationships deteriorated.

I suspected that one of my exs may have broken up with me for the reason you describe, and when I thought of this, I was furious and insulted. I doubt that was the reason he ended the relationship, but every now and then I wonder about it.

I think if anyone is feeling like he isn't good enough for his partner, or that he is responsible for beating her to the punch (punch being finding him out), then he needs to evaluate what he actually wants. If you think she is amazing (but I guarantee she's got faults) and you want to be with her, then don't break up with her and get some help. She probably thinks you're great and so you need to show that you like her. If you're using the "I'm inadequate in comparison" card in your mind, maybe you actually feel like there are other problems in the relationship (or for you, or her as individuals) that you don't want to deal with.

These are just some thoughts I've been mulling over myself...

Excellent points, Tina!

I had intended to discuss some of those things in the post, but I felt they would have either steered the post offtrack, or made it overly long (or both!). But you've given me the chance to address them here, and I thank you.

1) Why get into the relationship in the first place? I assume many relationsships start with dating or hanging out, which can be understood as ways to get to know the other person, and it takes a while to realize how great this other person is. Or a person can get carried away by the rush of a new relationship and how wonderful it makes you feel, and only when he gets a chance to reflect on it does he realize (or imagine) that he's not good enough. (It always happened to me early in the relationship, but this may not be the case for all.)

2) Certainly, in some cases there may be something else going on; in the worst case scenario it can be a cynical, dishonest exit strategy ("it's not you, it's me. I... I'm just not good enough for you!"). That's why I tried to emphasize that I was talking about sincerely felt inadequacy.

3) You say that if you really want to be with somebody for whom you don't feel good enough, "don't break up with her and get some help." But I don't think feelings of inadequacy imply the need for help (going to my comment in the post about negative thoughts being appropriate in some cases). (Of course, the need for help doesn't imply inadequacy either.) And if some feelings of inadequacy do in fact signal the need for help (in the case of improper negative feelings), that may have the effect of reinforcing the feelings of inadequacy, and he wouldn't want to saddle the other person with that.

If I may ask: can you explain why you felt furious and insulted when you thought your ex broke up with you for such a reason? I'm very interested in why you felt that way.

Re: furious and insulted

Those reactions make sense to me.

Spitballin' here . . . Example: I choose my partners very carefully. I have criteria in mind that I find attractive. I meet someone and after a few months, I find that there's nothing in that someone that I can't love. I express my feelings to that special someone and they reject me because they feel they're not good enough. Are you saying I make poor choices? Are you saying that my criteria are wrong? Have you misrepresented yourself? What is it that you think I don't know? Oh, you think you know more or better than I do?

How dare you, sir!?!

BTW, congrats on the Templeton, Mark!


First of all - thanks!

Second... is this who I think it is, Puffs?

Finally, you've hit the nail on the head. How dooes a person like this respect your choices while at the time expressing care for you by staying out of your life? Obviously he thinks there's something incriminating about him that you don't recognize, and if you only saw it you would reject him. But assuming you are aware of this, and still choose to be with him... It's a vicious circle, isn't it?

On second thought, show me sumthin' else

First of all, so happy for you!

Second of all, how many Puffs, Cocoa or otherwise, do you have in your world?!? I truly believed I was the one and only :( You know how I feel about sharing.

And finally, you know how I am re: denotations . . .

>> How dooes a person like this respect your choices while at the time expressing care for you by staying out of your life?

Here's what Webster's lists under "care":
1 : suffering of mind : grief
2 a : a disquieted state of mixed uncertainty, apprehension, and responsibility b : a cause for such anxiety
3 a : painstaking or watchful attention b : maintenance
4 : regard coming from desire or esteem
5 : charge, supervision
6 : a person or thing that is an object of attention, anxiety, or solicitude

I'm no longer a fan of caring. I want somethin' else. Most of that sounds overwhelming and brutal! Changes my opinion of Care Bears ;)

Will you consider the possibility that what one might label "care," i.e., staying away, is showing the opposite of the intention and does harm with little to no good for all involved and others? What if the one left behind spends the rest of their days hurt and never able to get over the loss of the one they held so dear? Potentially miserable company for all the people they encounter. And what if the one who left spends the rest of their days spreading rejection to all that cross their path?

(Have I let too much of my utilitarianism show?)

>> Obviously he thinks there's something incriminating about him that you don't recognize, and if you only saw it you would reject him.
What keeps the rejectee from recognizing? Lack of experience alone? If the rejector cannot verbalize or exhibit in action the incriminating attribute, does it truly exist?

>> But assuming you are aware of this, and still choose to be with him... It's a vicious circle, isn't it?
Maybe it's not vicious if the rejectee is aware and still chooses the rejector. Could be that they're made for eachother. Could be that their union forms a perfect circle!

Oooh boy, here we go...

>First of all, so happy for you!


>Second of all, how many Puffs, Cocoa or otherwise, do you have in your world?!?

Well, you know how fame is - brings out all types. ;) We did have a discussion of cereal adultery in a previous post - might that apply here?

(Never mind us, ladies and gentlemen - just old friends getting reacquainted here. Was a time, I seem to remember, when folks would do this by email, but what the hey...)

>Will you consider the possibility that what one might label "care," i.e., staying away, is showing the opposite of the intention and does harm with little to no good for all involved and others? What if the one left behind spends the rest of their days hurt and never able to get over the loss of the one they held so dear? Potentially miserable company for all the people they encounter. And what if the one who left spends the rest of their days spreading rejection to all that cross their path?

Sure, that could happen. But when you try to do the best thing for everyone, you can only choose the action with the best *expected* consequences (subjective utilitarianism). And people who feel inadequate or worthless are very unlikely to imagine that their absence will hurt anyone--in fact, they usually think that withdrawing from relationships will benefit all involved (including, perhaps, the person himself if his feelings of guilt are reduced).

I grant you, the ideal is for the person to feel less inadequate with the help of someone who cares about him, so the vicious circle can be broken (or made less vicious, as you say). Nonetheless, some feelings of inadequacy are harder to get rid of.

Listen to "them"

>> Well, you know how fame is - brings out all types. ;)
I do not know how this fame is that you speak of, but I do know pain. I'm gonna bring it if I find other Puffs in your midst! Jk :) I wish you well, always.

>> Nonetheless, some feelings of inadequacy are harder to get rid of.
True. Harder, but never say never? They say keep hope alive, right?

Sure, knock yourself out...

...but some nuts are harder to crack than others.

I still believe

. . . that someday the nut will be ready to be cracked and there will be a nutcracker closeby that's ready, willing, and able!

When You Feel You're Not Good Enough For Somebody

In my case, he had E.D. which he tried valiantly to hide. I allowed him to take his time developing this aspect of the relationship. However, he was always encouraging me. Once I figured it out for sure, I would wait until he definitely decided it was time as I figured he knew his body best. He never fully became himself and I did all I could think of to diversify and graciously accept what I was given. With several statements from him that we "would talk" he never followed through. After 6 months, I initiated the conversation. Didn't go well. In fact, he told me I "turned him off," was "unnatural," and like the woman before him (several years without physical intimacy), had "an agenda." I'm past the age of being able to make babies, been married and divorced twice. Not going there again. I was devastated as I grew to care about him very deeply. We shared so many wonderful times together. He told me that I "should date other men." His departure was cruel, cold, and heartless to say the least.

Probably he may have been using me to prove his masculinity to himself or his former woman. He told a relative to tell this former woman that I "was sleeping in her bed."

I've also considered that perhaps he does believe that he cannot provide intimacy for me in a way that reinforces his masculinity. He cannot be the man he wants to be. He definitely over-compensates in every aspect of his life. He can fix and do anything and is the quintessential Mr. Handyman.

So rather than suffer any needless embarrassment and humiliation, he'd rather let me go and give up everything we shared.

He is truly an amazing man.

I am a quintessential woman. Although 51, I still am quite youthful, and attractive, and have absolutely no problem attracting men.

Sometimes a man will disqualify himself for very personal reasons that involve personal challenges that only he can resolve.

Unfortunately, it can break a woman's heart.

Can the loved one change the person who feels inadequate?

Another thought-provoking post. One thing that caught my attention is the possibility of the partner's affection and affirmation helping the inadequate-feeling one overcome those feelings.

As a woman in a relationship with a man who struggles with this to (in my opinion) an inexplicable degree and who has needed great reassurance and coaxing and patience to be able to open himself and start to trust (it's been a year and a half and progress is snail-paced), I really do hope that the feelings will one day be a thing of the past.

For now, he states fairly often that he's "selfish" to "keep me" and that if he were stronger, he would let me go, because he's doing wrong by being with me. (Presumably because I would find someone "better" if he weren't holding me back.)

I love him and I think he is an exceptional person. He's been through some things in his life, though, that have left him wary and wounded. So I shower him with my very real love and esteem and hope for the best: that he's not irreparably broken and that one day he will accept that he is in fact worthy.

Have we met?

I kid with that comment title, but the man you're describing sounds awfully familiar - that feeling and behavior is exactly what I was discussing in my post (and that I have experienced and exhibited myself many times).

I think he's very fortunate to have a woman like you - though I wouldn't hope to change "him" so much as help change his perception of himself. As you say, he is exceptional, but he would disagree. The women I went through this with would inevitably say "do you believe me when I say you're wonderful?" And I would respond, "I believe you think I'm wonderful." And that would mean the world to me, but rarely got so far as to affect how I saw myself.

In other words, he has to believe it himself - you can help get him there, but you can't change his mind. ("You can lead a horse to water" and all that.)

Thanks so much for your comment - please feel free to respond to other commenters as well, since you have that valuable "other person" perspective.

Is "Mark D. White, Ph.D." a pseudonym?

You could be speaking for the man I love when you write:

'The women I went through this with would inevitably say "do you believe me when I say you're wonderful?" And I would respond, "I believe you think I'm wonderful." And that would mean the world to me, but rarely got so far as to affect how I saw myself.'

That is precisely his reaction, or was, in the early days. There seem to have been progressive layers of his trust (I call it trust, I don't know what other word to use). I often tell him, if he says something self-denigrating or deflects a deserved compliment, that his judgement is terrible. He laughs, but I think it gets through.

He's been a curious sort of "project" for me; I've never been involved with someone like him who's needed such painstaking care. But I simply think the world of him. I love and adore him and think he's brilliant. But it has taken a lot to get him to feel comfortable with that.

Again, if it hits a dead end (because our relationship is not as "far" at this point as I hope it can go; yes, I do want to live with him, marry him, etc., things that for now I think would make him too skittish), I'll be very sad. But I will have given my love and attentions honestly, because they're very honestly felt. And I do hope it will have done him some good, taken away some of the self-doubt.

Interesting point about care...

I'm interested in your comment that you've "never been involved with someone like him who's needed such painstaking care." I'm not sure that men like us (including your man and me--I'm pretty sure we're two different people!) necessarily need more care, but I am fairly certain that we're uncomfortable with the concept of needing more care (which may end up compounding feelings of inadequacy).

Feeling inadequate often involves feeling guilty for imposing on others; if a man doesn't feel he's good enough to deserve your love, he may feel he would be "taking" more from you than he's "giving" to you. So I would be careful about mentioning to him how much care he needs (or that you see him as a "project"), as those brush too close to pity (see the next paragraph). Instead--if you don't do these things already--mention how much he does for you, how good his love makes you feel, how happy and proud you are to be with him.

Also, most men that I know, no matter how self-assured (or not), don't want to be taken care of--we want to take care of others, especially those we love. So in addition to giving him love and affection (which are great, but are also consistent with pity), it is important to let your man know how well he takes care of you and how much you need him.


A completely unexpected response, yet one whose thoughts seem, post facto, plainly true — which is of course, why your blog is so sharp.

I'll admit to my own sleight-of-hand. I don't tell my man that he has needed a lot of care. I just have taken care, because he is worth it, to me, and because there is no other way to him than doing it that way.

Unfortunately, for me, I am wary of being taken care of. I'm not very "typical" as far as women go, which is why it gave me a funny buzz to state above that I want to live with and marry him. An admission that makes me feel like someone else, but which is true, here, in this relationship, for me.

In any case, that's the strange paradox. As he's opened up and felt more trusting, he's moved to take care of me, more. But I feel taken off guard with that.

It's surprising, but I see your point. No, he doesn't want to feel infantilized. But can I let him care for me? That's a new can of worms.

What a wonderful thing to say...

"A completely unexpected response, yet one whose thoughts seem, post facto, plainly true — which is of course, why your blog is so sharp." Is that too much to put on my tombstone! :)

Thanks so much - and it sounds like you're "handling" your man just right, though the irony of your own feelings is fascinating. I'm confident you two will help each other through it, though.

Thanks for your post

Thanks for your post Anonymous and for the reply, Mark. My first impression was: wow, my spouse Reads PT?!? I'm probably too old to say LOL, but I did!

It really warmed my heart that you said those great things about your boyfriend/husband. This post could have been about me and my wonderful, patient wife. Instead of exaplining all THAT, could I offer a suggestion that I've found helpful?

Does you guy have these feelings in all areas of his life, or just some? For example, my feelings centered on how I compared to other guys, especially ones my wife spends time with at work - they seem so funny, wear suits, and have all their hair, damn them. This triggered old feelings, including one that....I don't know how to explain....they made me feel "small". (Does that make any sense?) But I am pretty confident when it comes to other things, like my job - I enjoy speaking to large groups and do somewhat dangerous fieldwork in remote places. If this is the case for your guy try to notice those areas where he has success and feels in his element and make sure he does those things as often as possible. Make the arrangements. And go with him if you can. So much of my problem was not being in my element very often, consequences of a relocation and a growing, busy family. I agree with Mark that you can't change someone else, but you might remind him what he does well and in what circumstances he feels comfortable. I could tell that it was a great relief for my wife to get a glimpse of the more-confident, happy guy she married once upon a time.

I am a lucky man. (And so is your boyfriend/husband!) Good luck!

You're welcome, Samuel! And

You're welcome, Samuel! And I'm glad you have a wonderful wife who shows you all the good she thinks of you.

Interestingly enough, you're right, his sense of unworthiness doesn't apply to all parts of his life. He's very confident, professionally. He is very well-liked by many friends. Etc.

Your suggestions sound good. I have been talking about his work with him more and more. We didn't used to, in the beginning; he's in a completely different field than I am, and I don't know anything about what he does, really. We have important outside interests that we share, which is what we used to spend most of our time talking about in the early days. Now, I see part of his trust in the fact that he is increasingly sharing his work life with me, teaching me about that. And when he does that, maybe it does make him see himself in a "stronger" light. And also that I will love someone who does what he does, even though it's not supposedly up my alley. (Hm, actually, come to think of it, I think he did worry about not being in a field that was as X, Y, Z as I would have wanted; now, he shows how he masters what he does, and that does make him feel good about himself, even if he doesn't do such-and-such that people I know or have been with in the past do.)

Thanks for your kind words.


I'm curious, what do you think are the causes? Maybe there are going to be relationships where one person has more perceived "value" at a given time? Or are some predisposed to feel this way no matter who they are with? Genes? Life experience? And does the dynamic exist from the start or arise later? Thanks!

Wow, where to start...

Thanks for the questions, but I think a complete answer to any of them would merit an entire blog post. But very briefly, I think feelings of inadequacy can come from many sources, such as the ones you mentioned: upbringing, early experiences, predisposition, philosophy, etc.

The nature of the dynamic is interesting, too--maybe some of the other commenters can pitch in here too, since I can only speak from my experiences, in which it set in early (sometimes before the relationship was even initiated), and usually never went away, so it ended up affecting the relationship throughout.

yes, same here

Yes, pretty much the same experience here. Though interestingly it really kicked up a notch when the demands of raising the kids kicked in. I figure everyone has their challenges - this is one of mine. And fortunately it just requires some extra courage and faith to get through!

Interesting, all the examples and responses are from or about guys....


In the first comment, Samuel wondered if this was mainly a problem with men, and I said I hoped some women would comment, not only ones with experiences with men who feel inadequate, but also ones with similar feelings of inadequacy. (Please don't take that the wrong way--I don't "hope" that there are a lot of such women out there--but if there are, I hope to hear from some.)


I can't comment from a women's perspective, of course. But for me it was about the switch from being a husband most of the time to being a father most of the time. I remember being a fun and (I think!) interesting partner, and making my wife smile. But at some point along the way, as we were raising three kids, I had to become dad full-time, 100% of the day. (And she the 100% mom) At some point I was too tired to switch back and forth. And there was just no way to get away from the kids long enough to get that feeling back. So when I compared myself as "her guy" to other guys in her life they were either (a) single, (b) without kids, or (c) whithout kids at that particular moment. And that was pretty intimidating sometimes. In essencce I was comparing the "former me" (husband) with the "current me" (dad) and realizing that, yeah, she probaly had more fun with the former me too. Not that I regret having kids, but there's this phase along the way....and then I felt there was just no way I could meet her needs as an exciting, single-type guy.

I've heard women express similar concerns about being a wife and mother....but I don't know if it's quite the same or not.

Good point...

One often hears new mothers say that they feel like their husbands see them more as the mothers of their children than the attractive, exciting women they married--and also that they feel they don't match up to the single, younger women their husbands may meet at the office, gym, etc.

I think those issues are common to both men and women. But I wonder how common it is for women to feel inadequate at the beginning of the relationship (which would be closer to my experience, as well as some of the others mentioned here).

When I read this post, I

When I read this post, I thought Hmmm ... it would be easier to comment on a specific instance of feeling inadequate/bad for the partner. Ex: if you're a serial killer who feels a sporadic compulsion to snuff whoever you're seeing & you've been on the wagon for a while but you know you're likely to fall off at some point in the future ... then I'd say, Yeah. Your girlfriend's physical safety is more important than anything else.

But in the normal case? You (I mean "one" but you know) just think you're not wonderful enough for her? I think you owe her honesty and from then on it's just monitoring your own condition. If you get to the point where you feel you are a Bad Partner and her desire to stay with you is actively pathological, then dump her & be honest about why you're doing it. Not because you're paternalistic but just because some relationships aren't healthy for anyone. We all know enough to move out of the house on Three Mile Island.

Note I did have a friend who married a guy who felt this way. She was a bit of a superstar and he was a very cool deep thinker type who was 12 yrs older than she was. (She was 24 or so when they married.) Whenever he read a newspaper article about some very quirky & idiosyncratically successful guy he would say, "That's the kind of man you should be with." It really put a damper on their relationship, although the marriage is still successful 16 yrs later. I think it would have been better for him to tell her once how he felt, then get counseling and deal with it with his therapist.

I also wonder how much of this attitude is really about the woman. When I get nervous about something I've learned to say, "People with anxiety problems are people who have difficulty accepting the fact that we CANNOT know the future." When I think that thought I immediately calm down. I think most self-sabotage boils down to people trying to control the situation by destroying it--because ending something is the ONE SURE WAY of knowing the future.

A final thought--some people feed other people's insecurity, so that's something to watch for too. I've got a language teacher who does this weird passive-aggressive thing with the two best students in class. She likes us & is glad we're hard workers, but she also feels threatened by us, and does these extremely weird & subtle things in the classroom to try and make us uncertain. I like her a great deal & I know she's not aware of what she's doing; it actually took the arrival of another good student for me to see what was going on. But if she was a man and I was in a relationship with her, I would end it immediately. I am convinced that that kind of subtle interpersonal ill-wishing just can't be ironed out. It's too deeply rooted in insecurity. (Okay, I've gone full circle--but the point is that some of these women who appear "too good" might be selecting exactly the guy they can make feel that way.)

Best wishes.

Thanks, Kari... make some excellent observations here. Certainly, not all cases of feelings of inadequacy are the same, and I'm sure many fit the patterns you describe so well above.

One way I've dealt with it in the past resembles what you recommend in your second paragraph: I tell the woman that I don't think I'm good enough for her, and if she disagrees, fine. But I ask her to promise that, if she ever changes her mind, she would never stay just to spre my feelings. If I trusted her to leave if I ever became inadequate in her eyes, then I could stop dwelling on my own feelings of inadequacy. (Seems to have worked!)

It's funny I had a female

It's funny I had a female friend saying that some men are like this. But for me, I came to this topic, because I was thinking of this guy I used to like, and for many reasons it broke up. Now he is married, bought a house, completed his MBA, has a good looking wife, does weekend trips. I realized that he was probably better off without me, based on his current success and it makes me sad.

Don't be sad...

...because there are too many unknowns here. For instance, you don't know how happy he would have been had you stayed together, nor do you know how happy he really is now. (Sometimes the people who seem the most successful are the least satisfied with their lives.)

And even if you assume that he is happier now than he would have been with you (which you can never know), that doesn't mean you weren't "good enough" for him; maybe you just weren't the right people for each other (you for him, and him for you).

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Mark D. White is the chair of the Department of Philosophy at the College of Staten Island/CUNY.


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