Now, let’s all be honest and admit that the thought of being “not good enough” has crossed our minds at least once. Let’s also not ignore our inadvertent tendency to compare ourselves to others. We compare ourselves to the person next to us, someone we believe is more attractive than us or smarter than us. We compare our romantic relationships to our friend’s romantic relationships and the couple that appears to be “perfect” on social media. We compare our bodies to the tall, tanned and toned model world of Instagram, to the lives of those who we believe are “far more successful and happier” than we will ever be! Comparison might not be the most helpful thing to do, but we’re all guilty of it.
So if it’s unhelpful, why do we do it?
I like to think of our minds as the critical friend we love to hate. In a day full of positive experiences, our mind always finds that one negative thing that happened which leads us into a cycle of overanalysing the situation and dwelling on it. We are good at focusing on the negatives and finding “evidence” to support the unhelpful story of ourselves that plays in our minds. For some, the “I’m not good enough” story has played in their minds for most of their lives.
Maybe you notice it playing while you overanalyse everything you say in a social conversation… when you’re constantly checking assignments until they’re “perfect” … each morning as you look in the mirror. It’s a theme that some may not even realise but they carry with them every day. We buy into the “not good enough” story and inadvertently let it control or limit us.
There are different variations of this story – it might be “I’m incompetent”, “I’m not thin enough”, “not smart enough”, “I’m a bad parent”… Whatever your variation is, it all has the same impact – it gets you hooked and tries to prevent you from living the life you truly want; it tries to stop you from being the person you truly want to be.
Where did this story come from? How did it start?
You might wonder how this story develops… Firstly, our minds have been programmed to keep us safe, problem solve and evaluate stimulus around us to make sense of our world and to keep us from harm. This mind of ours can be very helpful on this part, but unfortunately it has developed to be a little negative, particularly in relation to ourselves. Our mind is meant to problem solve so when we try and make sense of sometimes senseless situations or try and solve problems outside of our control, we hit a wall and this is where the vicious cycle of overthinking begins.
Early experiences in life shape us. Our neural pathways are wired in response to the situations we experience growing up and are heavily influenced by the world around us. Unfortunately for some, childhood might have been neglectful or traumatic. The “not good enough” story might have developed as a result of feeling unloved, scared, rejected and helpless. Some people grow up with others telling them they aren’t good enough. Some children feel not good enough in response to a disability or learning difficulty they face.
For others, the story might have developed in response to seeing parents and caregivers react to and try and cope with difficulty – maybe the adults in your life bought into their own “not good enough story”. Situations in adolescents might fuel or reinforce the story even more – getting your heart broken for the first time, failing an exam. No matter where the story came from, the fact is we buy into it and often let it influence or limit us.
So what can we do?
Truth is, we are going to experience hardships, pain and loss which will encompass uncomfortable and distressing emotions and thoughts. We can’t delete these thoughts and feelings, but we can choose how much influence they have over us.
1. Remember that thoughts are just that – thoughts
Don’t get me wrong, we all experience incredibly powerful, distressing and sometimes crippling thoughts in response to things that happen in our lives. Although we cannot have complete control over the painful events that happen to us, we can learn skills to allow unhelpful thoughts to have less control over us.
2. Notice and name it for what it is
Knowledge is power. If we don’t acknowledge and understand our internal experience how are we expected to address it? In a day, you might experience a bunch of unhelpful thoughts, but chances are the origin of the unhelpful stuff your mind tells you comes from the same story. Try and notice when it’s happening. Take a moment to mentally reflect on it – “ah, I know this story”. Call it out for what it is! In doing so, you are becoming more aware of the cycle your mind gets you into and you’ll be better equipped to choose whether to buy into the story like you may have done in the past, or choose an action that will take you toward the life you want (rather than keeping you stuck).
3. What is it costing you?
Imagine going through life constantly getting hooked by the not good enough story. Take a moment to reflect: If you spend your time and energy buying into it where will it take you? Where has it taken you in the past? Has it stopped you from doing anything? What has buying into the story cost you in your job, your relationships, your family? Looking forward now, how will it affect your life? What will it take away from your life
4. What have you tried to get rid of uncomfortable thoughts and feelings?
Maybe you’ve tried distracting yourself. Maybe you’ve had internal battles with yourself in an attempt to find evidence against these thoughts. Maybe you’ve tried to invalidate these thoughts by saying “thinking like this is stupid”. See, our minds beat us up and tell us that we’re not good enough and then it tells us off for thinking that way! Seriously, we can’t win! Others use alcohol and drugs to shut thoughts off. I bet you’ve tried countless strategies, but if you’re anything like me you have probably noticed that they just come back – often twice as hard! These strategies can feel helpful – they ease our discomfort in the short term, but they tend to reappear quite quickly.
5. Making room for discomfort
Life can be hard. It can feel completely unbearable and out of control. We are all going to experience challenges in life. Life is unpredictable after all and unfortunately we don’t know what will be around the corner. All we have is “the now” and it’s our choice in how we spend it. If you’ve reflected on the strategies that you’ve used to try and get rid of these uncomfortable feelings and thoughts, you might have realised that they haven’t been as helpful as we would have liked. Would you be open to trying something new?
The unhelpful story playing in our minds is just one thing in our life but we often get consumed by it which is why we find it difficult to see the bigger picture. Would you be willing to sit with some discomfort and experience difficult thoughts and emotions in the midst of everything? Remember, emotions and thoughts come and go like waves, they are forever changing. We must experience all emotions whether it be happiness, sadness, anxiety or anger. After all, if we never experienced rain we wouldn’t know the beauty of a rainbow.
It’s difficult to avoid or completely get rid of the not good enough story, but we can learn how to not let it fuel our experiences and dictate our lives. Acknowledge the story, let it be a part of your world but not your whole world.
If you feel like you need support or would like help addressing your story, please feel free to make an appointment with one of our experienced psychologists at Attuned Psychology.
Psychologist BPsych (Hons), MPsych (Clinical)