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When We Don't Feel Good Enough

The common experience of inadequacy and the benefit in using self-affirmations.

Key points

  • Feelings of inadequacy, inferiority, and worthlessness are something that many people experience.
  • Self-affirmations—positive statements about the self that reinforce one's skills or values—can be a useful tool in responding to feelings of inadequacy or worthlessness.
  • Research suggests that self-affirmations can positively affect mood, self-image, relationships, external behaviors, and more.
Inga Gezalian/Unsplash
Having feelings of inadequacy, inferiority, or worthlessness can be like looking into a clouded mirror.
Source: Inga Gezalian/Unsplash

Do you ever have times where you wonder, “Am I good enough?” If so, you are not alone.

Experiencing feelings of inferiority, inadequacy, worthlessness, and just not feeling “enough” can be immensely challenging and painful. Whether these feelings are elicited by periodic situations or involve more ongoing challenges that might accompany a history of trauma or mental health challenges like depression, these feelings are experiences that many people face (Horowitz, 2014; Jeon et al., 2014; Zahn et al., 2015). In addition to the already uncomfortable affective responses of experiencing the age-old question of “Am I good enough?” feelings of inferiority and worthlessness can lead to challenges in motivation, feeling competent, performance, connecting with oneself and others, depressed mood, feelings of powerlessness, and feelings of hopelessness. Yet there is hope.

As a counselor, I often hear clients share their experiences of not feeling good enough. Whether it is surrounding their work, their roles in their life, reaching their goals, their ability to connect with or make meaningful relationships with others, or a deeply seeded feeling of not being enough after experiences of suppression, oppression, and trauma, these feelings can lead to several challenges. The beautiful aspect of my job is also being able to see the breakthroughs in overcoming these feelings and recognizing one's worth.

The Benefit of Using Self-Affirmations

Not feeling good enough is like looking in a mirror that is clouded and does not give us a clear image of what we are seeing or who we are. So how can we uncloud this mirror? One method that psychological research offers is the use of self-affirmations: positive statements about the self that reinforce our positive characteristics, abilities, skills, or values.

Research suggests that utilizing self-affirmations can support us in several ways. Self-affirmations may help to decrease feelings of powerlessness in our lives , help us see past the challenge in front of us, increase our self-competence , promote a positive self-image, reconnect us to our core values, and foster positive emotions.

In addition to impacting the way that we view ourselves, or “unclouding the mirror,” as it were, research has found that self-affirmations can be valuable in improving motivation, performance, focus and concentration, health, relationship outcomes, and more. Self-affirmations can have a powerful way of helping us connect with ourselves, who we are, and what we care about, so that we can meaningfully and effectively connect to others and the world around us.

How to Utilize Self-Affirmations and Other Resources for Support

If you struggle with the question “Am I good enough?” here are some ways that you might be able to support yourself:

  • Remember this question doesn't define you: When this question surfaces, remember it is only a question. In other words, your worth does not depend on if you feel it or not. Meet yourself with compassion and kindness.
  • Participate in self-affirmation activities: A simple activity you can do might involve writing positive notes to yourself on sticky notes that can be placed somewhere that you will see often. This can include:

    - Quotes or spiritual passages that are meaningful to you.
    - Positive affirmations surrounding your strengths.
    - Affirmations like “You can do ______” to remind you of your potential.
    - Other encouraging notes. Whatever you write should be personally meaningful to you and help remind you of your positive characteristics, strengths, abilities, accomplishments, and values.
  • Reaching out to a therapist: If you notice that this is an ongoing struggle for you, remember that you are not alone. Know that there are therapists out there who care and can support you in your journey. To find someone near you, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.
  • Seeking support in crisis: If, alongside feelings of "not being good enough," you have thoughts of hurting yourself or taking your life, or if you have a loved one who is in distress, you do not have to go through the struggle alone. There are resources like the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 where someone is available 24/7 to offer free and confidential support and resources for you.

Above all else, remember that you are not alone, and you have immeasurably more value than your thoughts or life experiences might be telling you. When you don’t feel good enough, that mirror you are seeing is just clouded and not giving you the full picture—but it doesn’t have to stay clouded forever.

References

Cascio, C. N., O'Donnell, M. B., Tinney, F. J., Lieberman, M. D., Taylor, S. E., Strecher, V. J., & Falk, E. B. (2016). Self-affirmation activates brain systems associated with self-related processing and reward and is reinforced by future orientation. Social cognitive and affective neuroscience, 11(4), 621–629. https://doi.org/10.1093/scan/nsv136

Albalooshi, S., Moeini-Jazani, M., Fennis, B. M., & Warlop, L. (2020). Reinstating the Resourceful Self: When and How Self-Affirmations Improve Executive Performance of the Powerless. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 46(2), 189–203. https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167219853840

Cohen G.L., Sherman D.K. (2014). The psychology of change: self-affirmation and social psychological intervention. Annual Review of Psychology, 65, 333–71. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-psych-010213-115137

Horowitz, M. (2015). Effects of Trauma on Sense of Self. Journal of Loss & Trauma, 20(2), 189–193. https://doi-org.ezproxy.proxy.library.oregonstate.edu/10.1080/15325024.2014.897578

Jeon, Hong Jin, Park, Jong-Ik, Fava, Maurizio, Mischoulon, David, Sohn, Jee Hoon, Seong, Sujeong, Park, Jee Eun, Yoo, Ikki, & Cho, Maeng Je. (2014). Feelings of worthlessness, traumatic experience, and their comorbidity in relation to lifetime suicide attempt in community adults with major depressive disorder. Journal of Affective Disorders, 166, 206–212. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2014.05.010

Zahn, R., Lythe, K. E., Gethin, J. A., Green, S., Deakin, J. F., Young, A. H., & Moll, J. (2015). The role of self-blame and worthlessness in the psychopathology of major depressive disorder. Journal of affective disorders, 186, 337–341. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2015.08.001

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