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9 Ways to Cope with Feelings of Inadequacy (and Low Self-Esteem)

by Hugo

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“I’m a loser, I’m not quick enough, I’m never able to do that, I don’t deserve to be happy.” These feelings of inadequacy occur much more frequently than you might think. As much as 85% of people suffer from low self-esteem and imposter syndrome, and feeling inadequate is a sign that you’re in the same boat.

Even though this problem is widespread, there are luckily things you can do about it. You can’t change your body, internal genes or *snap your fingers* and turn into the person you dream of becoming. Instead, you must focus on the things that you can control. This mostly comes down to your mindset.

In this article, I’ll discuss the detrimental side effects of feeling inadequate and show you 9 ways to help you conquer these negative feelings.

The dangers of feeling inadequate

Feelings of inadequacy are detrimental to your happiness, but you probably already knew that. In general, feelings of inadequacy are caused by a lack of self-esteem.

This has been researched a lot over the years and the negative effects of feeling inadequate are serious.

This in-depth review of existing research shows that people who lack self-esteem and have feelings of inadequacy are:

  • More likely to show symptoms of depression.
  • Suffering more from eating disorders.
  • More likely to use or abuse illegal drugs.
  • Having more difficulties responding to social influences.
  • More likely to become pregnant as teenagers.
  • Less likely to succeed academically.
  • More likely to have suicidal thoughts.
  • Finding it more difficult to form successful close relationships.
  • More likely to excessively drink or smoke.

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How many people suffer from low self-esteem?

It may be comforting to know that you’re not the only one dealing with feelings of inadequacy. In fact, some say as much as 85% of Americans struggle with low self-esteem, although that number is probably a bit sensationalized.

The fact remains that you are not alone. Even though it may seem that no one else is struggling with feelings of inadequacy, you must know that everyone experiences self-doubt on a regular basis. It’s just that most people try to mask it by faking their happiness and trying to keep up appearances.

But how can you actually cope with your feelings of inadequacy?

9 ways to deal with feeling inadequate

Like Rome, you can’t expect to rebuild your self-esteem in a day. But that doesn’t mean you can’t start today.

Since you can’t change who you are, you need to focus on the things you can control. Dealing with feelings of inadequacy requires a slow change in mindset. You need to embrace positive thinking and find ways to feel more positive about yourself.

Here are 9 tips to help you feel less inadequate.

1. Know that you are good enough

Imagine stepping into your own mind, asking it what you should do next, only to find negativity and self-doubt such as:

  • I am not good enough.
  • I don’t matter to the people I love.
  • I’ve failed before and I might fail again.
  • I won’t be able to face it when something goes wrong.
  • I’d rather play it safe.

Surely, it won’t help you maximize your true value and become the best version of yourself, right?

Self-talk can drastically impact our attitudes, behaviors, and how we relate to other people. In a study conducted on secondary school-aged adolescents, it has been found that negative self-talk predicted loneliness, especially if it involves a socially threatening mentality.

That’s why it’s so important to be your own biggest fan. Even though your mind may trick you into thinking otherwise, you should know that you are good enough.

If you need convincing, we’ve recently published an entire article that will help you see that you are good enough as you are!

2. Know that most people suffer from imposter syndrome

Feelings of inadequacy are often associated with feeling like a fraud. This is especially true when you constantly see your colleagues solving problems that you’d “never be able to solve”. This is most commonly known as imposter syndrome, and it’s the little voice inside your head telling you that you don’t know what you’re doing or talking about.

Here’s another realization: It’s not just you.

Imposter syndrome is real, and it’s hurting not just your own self-esteem but that of pretty much everyone around you. This review of 62 existing studies found that as much as 82% of all people suffer from imposter syndrome.

Dealing with imposter syndrome is similar to dealing with feelings of inadequacy because they are mostly the same thing.

You’ll notice that any one of the tips in this article applies to dealing with imposter syndrome as well.

Just knowing that you’re never alone in feeling inadequate may help you lift some of the self-imposed pressure.

3. Comparison is the thief of joy

You know how they say “The grass is always greener on the other side”.

The truth about feeling inadequate is that we’re not born with it. Feelings of inadequacy are not programmed into our genes. Instead, they are often caused by external influences, such as how you were raised, or how you are treated by your peers.

The thing is, when you’re already insecure, you tend to compare yourself to others more as it helps you to understand yourself and your place in the social world. However, comparing yourself to others is often detrimental to your self-esteem, especially when you compare yourself to someone that is objectively better than you (for example, in math or in giving a presentation).

Therefore, you should try to limit comparing yourself to others whenever you’re experiencing feelings of inadequacy.

This one is definitely easier said than done, but at the end of the day, the only person you should be comparing yourself to is yourself. Comparing yourself to others is a recipe for disaster because you don’t know someone else’s full story, and the comparison is skewed from the start.

When you find yourself trying to make another unfair comparison, I want you to try to compare yourself to yourself from a year ago. Have you grown since then? Yes? Now that’s a good comparison. When you’re comparing yourself to your past self, then you’re actually comparing apples to apples.

Here’s an entire article about how not to compare yourself with others, that contains more tips that will help you deal with feeling inadequate.

4. Try to be optimistic about the future

Try to change your thinking into something more positive. Whenever you experience feelings of inadequacy, try to add the word “yet” to your thoughts:

  • I’m not clever enough yet.
  • There’s no way I can do that yet.
  • I’m not strong enough yet.

This type of thinking may sound silly and inconsequential, but there’s some actual power behind this strategy. By thinking positively about yourself, you’re actually more likely to trigger a chain of thoughts that leads to positivity.

This last point was confirmed in a fun study by Barbara Frederickson. The study found that a positive mindset can be triggered, and more importantly, that a positive mindset initiates more creativity and an urge to “play ball”. Basically, when you have a positive mindset, you’re better able to deal with the challenges that life throws at you.

Therefore, whenever you experience feelings of inadequacy, try to actively change these thoughts into something hopeful and positive.

5. Lower your unrealistic expectations

Expectations are completely natural. When something has happened in the past, you can expect that you’ll have a similar experience when it happens again in the future. As a simple example, if I receive a bonus for one year, I expect the same amount next year.

These kinds of experience-based expectations can be realistic, but it’s important to realize that even though you may have been in a situation like this before, all situations are different. Just because something has worked a certain way before, doesn’t mean that it will work the same way the next time.

This is especially important to realize when you have expectations that are not actually based on past experience. For example, you may expect to run a 5k in under 30 minutes in the next month, but if you never actually ran more than 10 minutes in your life, you are probably setting yourself up for disappointment.

This is something you can prevent, and it will help you prevent feelings of inadequacy.

How can you stop unrealistic expectations from hurting your current happiness? The most important tip here is to focus on the process, not the product.

Stop trying to look into the future and think about how much better things will be if this or that will be completed. Instead, focus on the journey – enjoy the progress and small successes, and take time to reflect on and learn from your mistakes.

More generally, this can also mean being in the present. Pay attention to what’s here and now, not what will be. Be kind to yourself and others, and don’t spend your time worrying over things that you can’t control.

A good way to get started with this mindset is to try mindfulness.

6. Practice mindfulness

While it has certainly exploded in popularity in the past couple of years, mindfulness is not a fad. It’s not a cure-all, either, but it does have quite a few benefits.

According to a 2012 paper, practicing mindfulness is related to greater emotion differentiation and fewer emotional difficulties in young adults. In another study, a short mindfulness intervention was shown to benefit emotion regulation on a neurobiological level – meaning that mindfulness can change how certain areas of the brain work.

How can you incorporate mindfulness as one of your mental health habits? By simply taking conscious breaks more frequently. Mindfulness is all about being in the present and not letting your thoughts run amok. Practicing mindfulness will help you deal with feelings of inadequacy in a natural way, by letting go of hatred, negativity, and anger. It allows you to focus on what matters, on the here and now.

We published an article specifically about mindfulness and how to get started with it if you’re interested!

7. Realize that nobody cares about the things you worry about

As Franklin Roosevelt once said:

Remember you are just an extra in everyone else’s play, choose to be yourself.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

This is even more true in your work field, where feelings of inadequacy can feel the most extreme. In the end, you are only the main actor in your own movie. In other words, everybody else is mostly busy running their own lives, not focusing on yours.

This is explained in more detail in our article on the Spotlight Effect, which you’ll find really interesting!

Another way to put it is that 85% of the things you worry about don’t end up materializing. Here’s another quote that helps prove this point:

My life has been filled with terrible misfortune; most of which never happened.

Michel de Montaigne

Sure, you may believe that you’re an imposter, a fraud, and completely inadequate. But you must realize that the people around you are probably too busy noticing.

8. Talk about it with a friend

I know what it sounds like and I get it. To most people, the only thing worse than feeling inadequate is admitting that they feel that way. But trust me, chances are that the supervisor you admire or the wonderboy from the office knows exactly what you’re going through.

As Elizabeth Cox puts it in her brilliant TED Talk about imposter syndrome:

…hearing that an advisor or mentor has experienced feelings of impostorism can help relieve those feelings. The same goes for peers.

Elizabeth Cox

Talking about your experiences and hearing about how others feel the same helps to normalize these feelings. And knowing that you’re not alone in this situation is a tremendous relief.

Talking to a friend may also help you understand the true issue of what you’re dealing with. This is because although it may seem like we think in sentences, our thoughts are usually more like a messy word cloud.

Add emotions into the mix and you’ve got a perfect mess. By putting these thoughts into words and saying them out loud, you are creating some order in the mess, and voilà – clarity!

9. Find support from a therapist

A therapist or counselor can help you look at your feelings of inadequacy from a new perspective.

When you’ve thought about something for a long time, it may seem that you have thought about every aspect of it. In reality, however, there can be parts of the problem that you are unconsciously ignoring and a professional can help you shed light on those areas.

More often than not, these problems are easy to spot for a person that is looking from the “outside-in”, instead of your personal “inside-out” point of view.

Talking to a therapist comes with many more benefits, and it’s not as drastic as it sounds. Often, there are some mental blocks that stop us from achieving happiness, and therapy can help to break those down.

We’ve discussed this in an article specifically dedicated to how therapy can make you a happier person.

💡 By the way: If you want to start feeling better and more productive, I’ve condensed the information of 100’s of our articles into a 10-step mental health cheat sheet here. 👇

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Wrapping up

Do you struggle with feelings of inadequacy? If so, I hope that you know that you’re far from alone and that there are actual things you can do to help you be more positive about yourself. You are good enough, and you deserve to be happy and confident.

Do you have anything you want to share? Have you struggled with low self-esteem and feeling inadequate in the past? I’d love for you to share your story in the comments below!

Hugo Huijer AuthorLinkedIn Logo

Founder of Tracking Happiness, with over 100 interviews and a focus on practical advice, our content extends beyond happiness tracking. Hailing from the Netherlands, I’m a skateboarding enthusiast, marathon runner, and a dedicated data junkie, tracking my happiness for over a decade.

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