One of the toughest battles we fight is against ourselves; the battleground usually being our own heads.
You try so hard, yet you seem unable to get that grimacing little critic in your head to even crack a small smile.
And you try to brush it off or cover your ears, but somehow that little nagging voice keeps whispering away, telling you that you’ll never be good enough.
All the promotions, all the gold and glitz and glamor won’t satisfy it.
This subtle, persistent feeling of not being as good as you should be, as you can be just follows you like a bad smell…
Even though everyone around you thinks you’re doing just fine.
So what does feeling inadequate look like, when it’s not so obvious to spot?
Well, the 8 signs below are some of the most subtle ways that feeling inadequate shines through:
1) Constant comparisons
Not so obvious to the untrained eye, yet one of the most taxing sports to play.
Comparing yourself to others saps up all your mental strength.
It’s as if no matter the place or time of day, your mind loves pointing at other people and criticizing you for not being as rich, nor pretty, nor athletic or tall or funny or intelligent as they might be.
Perhaps it’s hidden away as a swift glance at a colleague’s work, or a nosy scroll through an old schoolmate’s social media feed.
Either way, you’re left feeling like these people are exceeding far beyond your own capabilities.
And be warned; this degree of constantly measuring your success, your looks, or your life against others’ can be a subtle yet powerful sign of feeling inadequate.
Now, this isn’t about occasional bouts of self-doubt – which are common and natural. It’s more when the game of comparison filters into your every waking minute, even when there’s no valid reason for feeling that way.
2) Constantly second-guessing yourself
Do decisions – whether big or small – feel like huge, monumental tasks?
Do you find yourself caught in a loop of constant self-doubt and uncertainty, questioning even the smallest of choices?
Another indicator that feelings of inadequacy have a seat at your kitchen table.
And this one isn’t just about indecisiveness; it feeds on the feeling that whatever choice you make, it might just be the wrong one.
Cue decision paralysis and never getting anything finished.
If this sounds familiar, and you’re always questioning your own judgment, always fretting about making mistakes despite having a history of doing quite the opposite, this may well be a sign that you’re wrestling with feelings of inadequacy.
And this extends beyond occasional hesitations or doubts – which are perfectly normal.
It’s about this continuous undermining of your own capabilities, to the point where you shoot yourself in the foot, even when there’s no reason to do so.
3) Aiming for perfection (although it doesn’t exist)
You work tirelessly, day in and day out, always striving for the golden apple of completing a perfect project…
Yet you know full well that perfection doesn’t exist.
But does that stop you from trying?
Every detail has to be just right, every aspect has to be flawless. The fear of making a mistake was so overwhelming that you often find yourself paralyzed, unable to finish a project…
Yet still laboring over it until you’re red faced and exhausted.
And when (or if) you reach the finish line, no satisfaction awaits.
Instead, you scrutinize and pour over every detail – seeing only the flaws, the imperfections.
If you find yourself caught in this pursuit of unattainable perfection, and constantly belittle your own achievements because they’re not ‘perfect’, it sounds like you’re wrestling with feelings of inadequacy.
4) Belittling your own achievements
In continuation from how hard you work to be perfect, you don’t ever accept praise from others (or even yourself) without feeling like they’re lying.
It doesn’t make sense; you’ve worked hard, you’ve achieved something commendable, but instead of celebrating your success, you downplay it.
Big promotion? You just blush and tell everyone there were no other options.
Launched a new startup that’s doing incredibly well? Just a bout of good luck.
Climbed Everest? No biggie, wasn’t as hard as you expected anyway…
This degree of constant belittling of your own achievements and undermining yourself is a subtle sign that you’re wrestling with feelings of inadequacy.
And it’s not about being humble or modest; you don’t believe yourself good enough either.
5) Seeking validation from others
So, as we explored above, you can’t accept a compliment…
Yet paradoxically, you still seek that praise and flattery. Although you can barely grimace your way through someone saying something nice to you.
You’ve achieved something big, you’ve performed well, but somehow it doesn’t seem real or even slightly worthwhile until someone else acknowledges it.
You slurp up praise and flattery, even though you’re visibly uncomfortable when it’s offered up to you.
Yet the hard truth is that no amount of praise or validation from others can fill the void created by feelings of inadequacy.
If you’re always craving external validation and relying on others to affirm your worth, take it as a sign that you could use a little work on your self-esteem.
A little praise goes a long way, but it’s hardly a healthy diet to live off.
6) Working yourself to the bone
Like a frantic little hamster, you spin all day, until you’re sweaty and your eye is twitching and you can barely stay awake.
You don’t feel deserving of rest, so you’re instead constantly pushing harder, working longer, trying to prove to yourself and others that you are enough.
But no matter how many hours you put in, no matter how much you achieve, it never feels like enough. You’re constantly striving for more, driven by this paralyzing feeling of not being good enough.
Unfortunately, this lifestyle isn’t exactly sustainable. Plus, the more tired you get, the more mistakes you make, the more mistakes you make.
So if you’re constantly overworking yourself, if you’re pushing beyond your limits to prove your worth, it sounds like it’s time to rest up and try focusing on self-love instead of self-punishment.
Sure, being dedicated or ambitious are admirable traits, but your compulsive need to overwork yourself as a way to compensate for perceived shortcomings isn’t going to help you much in the long run.
7) Avoiding new things out of fear of failure
Do you love monotony?
Routine, schedule etc. are all music to your ears…
Sure, you might have ideas, dreams, things you want to try, but the fear of not being good enough holds you back like a ball and chain.
So rather than risk failure, you stick to what you know. You stay in your comfort zone, where it’s safe and familiar. That little hamster spinning on the well.
However, know that by avoiding new experiences out of fear, you’re limiting your own growth and reinforcing feelings of inadequacy.
If you’re always shying away from new experiences, if the fear of not being good enough is holding you back, then it might be a sign that your self-doubt is getting in the way of living.
8) Extremely self-critical
Now, that little critic we were introduced to at the start, how loud is its voice?
And does it sing to you and tell you you’re good enough, or does it yap and sneer and berate you for every move?
If you hold yourself to impossibly high standards, when you inevitably fall short, you’ll be the first one to beat yourself up about it.
If your inner voice is more negative and harsh than loving and uplifting, and you have more of an enemy in your head than an ally, it might be time to take a step back and assess how you see yourself.
Breaking the cycle
If you see yourself in these signs, it sounds extremely likely that you are grappling with feelings of inadequacy to some extent.
However, know that these feelings don’t have to define you.
You’ve taken a big first step in recognizing these signs. With self-awareness and conscious effort, these tendencies can be addressed, and then managed effectively.
Begin by acknowledging your feelings; notice when you’re overly critical of yourself or when you’re constantly seeking external validation.
So begin paying attention to times when you’re avoiding new experiences out of fear or overworking yourself to compensate for perceived shortcomings.
Become aware of these habits, then try to do the opposite of what your head wants.
Additionally, approach each day with kindness towards yourself and set realistic expectations both for your achievements and for improving upon these feelings of inadequacy.
Change doesn’t happen overnight. Instead, it’s a gradual process that requires patience and persistence.
But with time, self-love will become second nature, and you’ll find that you’re capable of far more than you ever expected.
Lost Your Sense of Purpose?
In this age of information overload and pressure to meet others’ expectations, many struggle to connect with their core purpose and values. It’s easy to lose your inner compass.
Jeanette Brown created this free values discovery PDF to help clarify your deepest motivations and beliefs. As an experienced life coach and self-improvement teacher, Jeanette guides people through major transitions by realigning them with their principles.
Her uniquely insightful values exercises will illuminate what inspires you, what you stand for, and how you aim to operate. This serves as a refreshing filter to tune out societal noise so you can make choices rooted in what matters most to you.
With your values clearly anchored, you’ll gain direction, motivation and the compass to navigate decisions from your best self – rather than fleeting emotion or outside influences.
Stop drifting without purpose. Rediscover what makes you come alive with Jeanette Brown’s values clarity guide.