For most people the idea of not being good enough arises in roles that are important to them. Being a good parent, student, employee, partner, spouse or friend are a few of the central roles which people find important. The use of a measuring stick against which to determine how successful one is in any of these areas is extremely common. Whether it is the person who thinks, “Who would want to be with me,” or the child who doesn’t have the latest X-Box, or the parent who’s pressed to get to her child’s athletic event or the teen who feels the right person doesn’t like them. In particular, those who are separated, divorced or have experienced failed relationships are particularly vulnerable to criticism and self-doubt. This deceiving state will lead one to question their capacity to be an effective, responsible, successful, and worthy human being. When these thoughts go unchallenged they can lead people to falsely conclude that they just don’t measure up.
Not measuring up, whether it is in accordance to societal, family or one’s own perceived expectations, can have harmful effects on a person’s sense of worth. When a person feels “not good enough” in the eyes of a parent, partner or other significant person, the feeling can spread to other areas of one’s life like an insidious infection. Being viewed as less than normal brings a great deal of judgment that can lead to a sense of embarrassment, shame, and failure as a person.
Absolutely central to the idea of not measuring up, feeling inadequate or not quite normal, is that there have to be criteria we measure ourselves against- or a measuring stick. If the elusive measuring stick is exposed, and it spares no one, it will become apparent that it is often generated by modern culture that promotes certain ideas about what it takes to be successful. Too often this is determined by how much money you or your parents make, meeting certain relationship expectations, being a certain body type, being a good parent, having the right education, etc.
Most popular magazines and TV ads tempt people to measure themselves in relation to others, thus fostering unfair comparisons. The media seems to set the bar for what constitutes a successful person, relationship, body, and all sorts of other attributes. They seem to want to tell everyone how to be sufficiently strong, pretty, rich, thin, smart, and motivated enough. When this measuring stick is examined carefully a person can often draw different conclusions about themselves.
For example, if someone feels inadequate due to a failed relationship, closer examination might reveal the efforts used to help this relationship succeed. Looking back at what was once hoped for in this relationship might reveal some of the turning points that led to trouble. Perhaps this “failure” may mean that one or both were aspiring to something altogether different. And while some personal flaws may also become exposed, they may not be viewed as opportunities to become a better person, or that there they have some work to do, rather than a conclusion of being a “total loser.” A closer look might also expose that some of the self-doubt and sense of failure might have something to do with the expectations of others, such as family members, friends, or even a culture that views single people suspiciously. It might also lead one to realize that they have been very responsible and successful in many other relationships.
Exposing and confronting self-doubt is not always as easy as the example illustrates and may require some careful and persistent examination. Two things to remember about self-doubt is that it tends to gets stronger when you feel isolated and alone and it gets weaker when exposed (talked about) in the company of a trusted person(s). For those who may be inclined to expose and confront self-doubt asking questions such as these can help get you started:
What situations cause me to doubt myself?
What is this self-doubt in relation to? (Social awkwardness, parenting, friendship, how I look, etc.)
What effects does it have on me? (Physical, emotional, mental)
How does it affect my relationships? (Make a thorough list)
What does it try to talk me into or convince mr about myself?
How does self-doubt hold you back or limit you or restrict your life?
In what ways do I try to counteract self-doubt and reduce its negative effects?
Can I think of times I was successful in reducing or overcoming self-doubt?
Who can help or support me in my efforts to overcome self-doubt?
Do I have beliefs based in faith that would counter doubt?
How would my relationships with others change if I could overcome self-doubt?
What new directions could my life go in if I could live without self-doubt?
“I seek strength, not to be greater than others, but to fight my greatest enemy, the doubts within myself”
Editor’s note: Dario Lussardi is a licensed psychologist-master, providing consultation at the Community Counseling Center in Wilmington, where he maintains a private practice providing therapeutic services to adults, couples, children, adolescents, and families.