Why would you not know that you are good enough? Feeling “not good enough” is more common than you would think. As a new mental health professional, I was surprised to find out that more than 90% of my clients expressed “I don’t feel good enough,” “Why am I not good enough, “Am I good enough?,” “Why don’t I feel good enough?” or “I’m not good enough.” Fast forward 12 years, it is still true. I still hear, “I never feel good enough.” Honestly, it was depressing to realize this finding at first. The good news is that you can overcome it and enjoy a happy, healthy life. Feeling “not good enough” is like an iceberg – much more profound than it appears. Still, this article will cover the ten most common causes of feeling not good enough from my personal and professional experience. Let’s get started.
1. Low Self-esteem
Low self-esteem is what you think and feel about yourself. It is your subjective opinion of your abilities and limitations. The way you conclude your self-concept is by comparing yourself with others. Low self-esteem is an enormous problem in our society, fueling depression and self-destructive ideas and behaviors. It stems from the messages and influences in your childhood and ultimately how you feel about your capabilities.
Low self-esteem can have a variety of roots: perfectionism, critical parents, traumas, abuse, lack of opportunities, racial or cultural oppression, etc. The message often is that you do not measure up to other people’s standards or some external yardstick source.
Standardization is the basis of our education and employment system. Replace “good enough” with any other phrase like beautiful, intelligent, talented, rich, kind, etc., and you can see how it has the power to make people feel bad about themselves by putting something outside of them – an ideal – on a pedestal. But, of course, the problem is that the ideal doesn’t exist (except perhaps in the mind of whoever created it), and our culture feeds us these unrealistic standards for judging ourselves against others.
So, if you measure yourself against an ideal, any gap between you and this perfect picture will lower your self-esteem. This is how it gets started from a young age, whether at home, in society, and/or in school.
2. Low Self-Worth
Low self-worth is different than low self-esteem. It is more about how you feel about yourself as a person, whereas low self-esteem is more about your efforts’ outcomes and results.
Not feeling “good enough” is rooted in how you think of yourself as a person. With low self-worth, you often need external validation because you don’t find your approval very satisfying, which is one of the reasons you may put yourself in unhealthy and unfulfilling relationships.
As discussed above, you can see how comparison and standardization lead to self-esteem issues that further deepen their roots in low self-worth. It is hard to be satisfied just being your person when you don’t think positively about yourself. The funny thing is that you may do things – often without being aware of it – to get other people’s approval and acceptance, like try to please them or look perfect.
You do not value yourself as a person because you don’t see your own worth. It is about constantly putting yourself down, constantly worrying that you will make a mistake, and constantly feeling like you don’t deserve good things in your life.
You not only constantly compare yourself to others (especially those you perceive as having it all together) but measure your worth through what you do instead of who you are. Low self-worth can even sabotage your success or try to achieve things so that other people will find you worthwhile, which is when you may get into a co-dependent relationship. You start to fix or save others to see your worth in others’ eyes.
3. Fragmented Parts of the Self
When you deny certain parts of yourself, you suffer from feeling “not good enough.” You only want to accept the parts of yourself that are good. Maybe only the parts that others approve of. This is how you start to fragment yourself at a young age. Any parts of yourself that others don’t like or approve of are either suppressed or repressed. You begin to deny, disapprove, and criticize your limitations or weaknesses. Then you strive to hold up your strengths by achieving more and more. This certainly may provide you with high self-esteem falling short of self-worth. As long as you measure your worth with your achievements, you will suffer from low self-worth because you deny “not-so-good” parts of yourself. Trust me, I work with pretty successful individuals with high self-esteem, but they struggle with self-worth.
One of the main reasons for feeling “not good enough” is that we live in a society where we constantly compare and compete with one another. We want to be better than someone else, and we don’t want to be worse than somebody. As a result, your inner voice becomes highly critical. You show less and less self-compassion. Going on your own path is difficult. Your whole life becomes a rat race.
An excellent way to get rid of feeling not good enough is by achieving more and doing better things in your life because you will see yourself worthy then. However, achieving more to feel more worthy is a never-ending trap. Once you get started on it, you can’t just quit because you must maintain the image you have created for others’ approval, or you will fall short in the eyes of your friends, family, and most people. Achieving to feel worthy becomes a vicious cycle. The effective way to break this cycle is by slowly integrating parts of yourself that you deny, criticize, hate, ridicule, feel ashamed of, or hide from others. Your self-worth depends on your acceptance of all parts of yourself, not just the ones you think are good. It calls for practicing self-love and self-compassion frequently. That’s how you realize your full potential.
4. Perfectionistic Tendencies
Perfectionism is also an enormous problem in our society because it fuels anxiety and depression and can make people feel not good enough.
Perfectionism isn’t only about having high standards. It’s about the need for things to be perfect – perfect grades, perfect looks, always being on time. It is an emotional state that deals with meeting unrealistic expectations of yourself or others that are not possible.
Perfectionists are often hard workers who set extremely high standards for themselves and others. Still, their unwillingness to accept less than perfect results causes them to miss out on opportunities more likely to fail. Repeated failures lead to lowered self-worth, limiting decisions, and missed opportunities.
Because perfectionism is an internal problem, if you grew up in a family that never allowed mistakes or imperfections, perhaps your standards for yourself are unreasonably high. In this case, it’s important to remember that as a human being, you aren’t perfect and that there is no such thing as perfect. For example, perfectionism is often expressed as an obsessive desire to “get things right” or “do it perfectly” all the time.
It’s also possible that even though your upbringing didn’t allow mistakes and imperfections, you may feel like you’re not good enough because your standards for yourself are unreasonably high. Perhaps your parents were perfectionists and modeled this behavior – if they really cared about something or wanted to do something well, they would always need it to be perfect. You’ve likely taken this to heart and now apply it to yourself.
It’s okay not to be perfect, but it doesn’t mean you aren’t good enough. You are the only you there is, so it’s essential to love yourself just as you are!
5. Past Traumas or abuse
Past traumas or abuse are directly related to your self-worth—especially past traumas since they are not easy to overcome.
A natural reaction to abuse is to believe that you are somehow “powerless” or “bad.” You may feel worthless because of everything you didn’t do or had no say in. It makes sense. If someone abuses you – physically, verbally – it’s natural to feel like a victim. Believing that you were powerless and had no control over what happened to you is a psychological way of coping with the painful experience of being abused. However, it isn’t necessary because you give more power to your abusers than they deserve if you believe that. Coping with trauma takes time and most often requires professional help to work through the complex emotions. Working with a professional makes a huge difference and makes it a bit easier.
However, if you don’t work through your past traumas, even those caused by things like bullying and rejection, they will continue to impact you as an adult. That is because it’s easier for the brain to file traumatic experiences under the category of “threat” rather than “danger past.” It will take a conscious effort to change your negative thought patterns to develop a healthier way of looking at yourself and the world.
Did you grow up in an environment where the adults around you constantly met your needs, nurtured, supported, and loved unconditionally? If yes, there’s a good chance you feel good enough as an adult.
Or did it feel like there were specific standards that needed to be reached or rules that had to be followed to receive love and nurturance from your parents? If so, there’s a higher chance that you’ll have trouble feeling good enough as an adult. So why do parents set these standards? Typically it’s to help children learn how to function in society.
For instance, a child may be given a certain amount of time on the computer daily. The parents start this rule with good intentions since too much time spent on social media can lead to problems such as depression and anxiety. However, if the child feels like they aren’t allowed to spend time on the computer past the allotted time, and they feel ashamed and rejected when they want to use the computer more than their parents allow them, this could quickly lead to feelings of not being enough.
These kinds of rules typically stem from a child’s wanting something that the parent isn’t comfortable with or doesn’t approve of. As a result, the child feels unloved and rejected, and the parent doesn’t really understand what’s going on with their child. The standard is set in an attempt to help guide the child through his or her choices, but instead, it backfires and often leads to feelings of not being good enough.
7. Imposter Syndrome
Imposter Syndrome is a feeling of inadequacy that can result from perfectionism. Perfectionists typically set very high standards and quickly become self-critical whenever they “fail” to meet these extremely high expectations. Because their focus is primarily internal (on themselves), many people with Imposter Syndrome don’t ever think they’re good enough or smart enough. As a result, they may believe that they aren’t worthy of love, appreciation, or success.
They feel that they just got lucky or got successful by chance. They fear that people will soon find out that they are fraud and not as bright as people think. As a result, they spend much time worrying about getting exposed and being what people think they are instead of being who they really are. Understanding imposter syndrome and how you are affected can be very helpful in coping with feeling “not good enough.”
8. Chronic Stress
You might think what stress has to do with feeling “not good enough.” Oh, it does, my dear. When your body is under chronic stress, it’s simply not a happy place to be. Chronic stress can affect your health, relationships, and how you work/study/live your life.
Stress effects on your body are enormous. The adrenal glands produce cortisol, which is the primary culprit of what happens during chronic stress. In stressful situations, cortisol gives our body an extra energy boost by releasing glucose into the bloodstream and increasing our heart and breathing rates. Cortisol also suppresses non-emergency bodily processes, such as those that help us digest food and maintain sexual interest, so that we can quickly spring into fighting or running mode.
However, cortisol is your friend only when it’s working in short bursts as needed. When you’re under chronic stress for an extended period, the explosion of energy it provides is no longer a friend. That’s because cortisol not only suppresses bodily processes but also elevates your blood sugar and blood pressure. It essentially sets you up for physical problems such as cardiovascular disease (elevated bloodstream pressure), anxiety disorders (increased fear response), depression (lessened sex drive), and digestion issues (e.g., IBS). Know the warning signs of chronic stress to avoid further medication complications.
So, what does this have to do with feeling “not good enough?” When you’re chronically stressed out, it’s no surprise that your self-esteem isn’t so healthy. Stress takes a not-so-subtle toll on our self-worth, and we can quickly start doubting ourselves.
You’re feeling not good enough because you undervalue yourself and assume that your best isn’t good enough because you’re measuring it up to what you could be doing. You do this because deep down inside, every time we feel like we’ve failed or aren’t good enough, it hurts and can be very unsettling. It makes us feel insecure about ourselves, our capabilities, and who we are.
9. Depression or Anxiety
Over a decade of professional experience in the mental health field, I can certainly say that any mental illness can make you feel “not good enough.” Depression and anxiety are two very prevalent mental health problems, and people with either will always be at higher risk of feeling “not good enough.”
Negative self-talk is very common in depression, which often results in feelings of inadequacy. When you feel depressed, it can seem impossible ever to feel better or even believe that change is possible.
Feeling anxious often results in negative self-talk, as well. You may sit around worrying about all sorts of things – your health, relationships, work, the economy. When you’re in this state, your mind can be just as busy with negative thoughts and feelings about yourself as it is with thoughts about everything else that’s happening in your life.
Chemical imbalance in your brain is another reason you may feel not good enough. For example, serotonin and dopamine are two chemicals in the brain that affect mood, affecting our feelings of success, productivity, and achievement. When these chemicals are low or unbalanced, negative emotions become more common, and we can become too critical of ourselves, causing us to believe that we aren’t good enough. So again, seeking support from a mental health professional is beneficial for depression and anxiety.
10. Inner Critic – you can’t criticize yourself into a better person.
You can’t criticize yourself into a better person. But that’s exactly what you do when you make a mistake or mess up. For example, you may say, “I am such an idiot,” “why would they talk to me?” “I am so ugly,” I can’t even do the math.” You think that being your own worst critic will motivate you to do better. Don’t you? No, my friend. If that were the case, we would have a lot of motivated people around us. You will decrease your chances of success when you criticize yourself. Why? Because your mind is working against you! If you keep repeating this type of negative self-talk, it’s easy to accept these things as truth and feel like you don’t deserve to eat healthy or exercise.
So, when you find yourself saying things like, “I’m not good enough,” or “I could never do that,” it’s important to remind yourself that this type of negative self-talk is not helpful, and in many cases, it’s not even true.
If you doubt yourself a lot, try to notice when it happens and be aware that this type of thinking is coming from your old beliefs about what you aren’t good enough for or who you aren’t good enough as a person. Start to catch yourself thinking negative thoughts, and replace them with something positive!
All in all, it’s important to remember that these beliefs might have started because of your past experiences or the influences you had growing up, but they are not valid in the present moment. You are allowed to hold on to your old fears or beliefs, but at the same time, you also have a choice to release them.
There you have it! Ten reasons why you feel “not good enough.” Now what? It is important to know why you might not feel good enough, but it is even more important to look forward rather than back into the past. Practices like self-love, self-compassion, empathy, positive self-talk, and expressing your emotions in a healthy manner are all ways that can help you feel enough at times. In the long run, I recommend that you dedicate some time to embrace and accept all parts of yourself into a whole Self.