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6 Truths to Remember When You Feel Like You're Not Good Enough

Truth No. 5: Banishing negative thoughts doesn’t help you.

Key points

  • Feeling jealous or inadequate is normal and expected. Chances are someone is feeling the exact same way.
  • The "good enough mother" concept suggests being a good enough parent is better for your child than being a perfect one.
  • Social comparison theory is the belief that people evaluate themselves by comparing themselves to other.
Ranta Images/Shutterstock
Source: Ranta Images/Shutterstock

I always thought my jealousy would fade away with age—that as I got older, that thick layer of envy and inadequacy would just naturally outgrow me, molting like snakeskin.

But jealousy never left the building. It’s become a permanent resident in my brain, banging loudly on the walls every time I witness someone getting something that I want (and probably can’t have). The feelings become even more heightened when said person is someone who clearly doesn’t deserve or hasn’t earned their rewards.

I’ve tried many things to temper my inadequacy, including educating myself about social comparison theory, embracing being a satisficer, deleting Instagram, and curtailing social media for personal use (i.e., spying on people). I no longer weigh myself. I practice gratitude for the gifts and incredible people in my life. I try not to complain (too often), although to be fair, this is very difficult for me. I volunteer and mentor and donate. I follow both the Dalai Lama and the Pope on Twitter.

Some of this helps. For example, deleting Instagram six years ago is still one of the smartest things I’ve ever done. But on a day-to-day basis, my resentment regularly ebbs and flows. I imagine much of my reaction has to do with the pandemic and how some came out of it thriving with book deals, new screenplays, lucrative career opportunities, and achieving fluency in additional languages.

Now, as a working mother balancing both childcare and a full-time job, I find myself perpetually exhausted—yet I end every day feeling woefully inadequate, that I have squandered the time and opportunities that others have seized, that I should be doing so much more during these precious 24 hours. Is this enough? Because it doesn’t feel like it.

But here’s the truth: For now, it’s enough and it’s OK.

In fact, Becky White, a marriage and family therapist, tells me “everyone feels this way at times and that someone else is probably feeling the exact same way as you, right now, in this moment.” In these moments of inadequacy, she recommends showing yourself compassion, “reminding yourself that you are doing your best, that’s all anyone is doing.”

And if that realization isn’t enough, here are five additional truths that may help fill in the gaps.

Truth No. 2: You can and should be a better friend to yourself.

Imagine your close friend is going through what you’re going through. “Would you tell them they are right and they aren’t good enough or would you tell them something more realistic and kind?” asks Boston-based psychotherapist Angela Ficken. “I am guessing you’d be more realistic and kind.”

She guesses right. It’s unthinkable to offer anything but support and empathy to good friends who are going through rough times. If you can’t turn off your inner self-critic, she says, it helps to channel your inner best friend.

Truth No. 3: To be good enough, you need to be imperfect.

Psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott introduced the concept of a “good enough mother” in 1953 after observing thousands of mothers and their babies, eventually finding that being a good enough mother was better than being a perfect one:

“The good enough mother… starts off with an almost complete adaptation to her infant’s needs, and as time proceeds she adapts less and less completely, gradually, according to the infant’s growing ability to deal with her failure.”

Winnicott argues that being good enough parents (as opposed to perfect parents) sets the child up to better cope and deal with failure in the future. Here’s another framing: Not being perfect makes you a better human.

Truth No. 4: You are more than your accomplishments and your possessions.

It can be challenging to be satisfied with what you’ve achieved in your life, when others seem to have done so much more. But when it comes down to it, “how do you want people to remember you?” asks therapist and author Lauren Cook. Do you want them to go through your resume and list your possessions or do you want them to remember your character? Chances are it’s the latter, she says. “This is a reminder that who you are as a person, rather than what you do, is what really counts.”

Truth No. 5: Banishing negative thoughts doesn’t help you.

There’s a tendency in self-help to come up with ways to squash negative thoughts from your psyche. As if there’s such a thing as a bad-though repellent. From personal experience and much Google searching, I can confidently tell you that you can’t simply wish negative thoughts away. (Or rather, I can’t wish them away.) Which is why Illinois-based counselor Dana Hall suggests you try “welcoming in those difficult feelings.” Instead of battling challenging thoughts, she suggests a different approach: showing curiosity.

“We learn a lot about ourselves when we listen to the wisdom that comes with staying curious when experiencing challenging emotions. When we stay curious, we stay open to the possibilities and it can prevent harsh or all or none thinking.”

How do you interject curiosity into hardship? Hall recommends shifting the focus from what we don’t have (or want) to what we can provide ourselves, “such as balance, compassion and reaching out for greater support.”

Truth No. 6: You’re not actually in competition with anyone else.

Author Shon Mehta sums it up best: “Your life is your own unique journey—it is unlike a journey any other person, before you or after you, will ever take.” I know this sounds like one of those cheesy motivational posters you see in a guidance counselor’s office, but it’s also true. The basis for social comparison theory is that we self-evaluate by comparing ourselves to others. It’s why people pit themselves against each other or try to outdo one another. The desire to “be better” is human, but so is recognizing that we all have different starts, advantages, and disadvantages. Winning this round doesn’t mean we’ll win the next. And the same goes with failure.

The truth is, these "competitions" live primarily in our minds. It's why I'm no longer jealous of the cool girls from high school. We evolve. Our minds change. Which is why our competitions eventually change, too.

LinkedIn image: G-Stock Studio/Shutterstock. Facebook image: Ranta Images/Shutterstock

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