I’ve never met a person who doesn’t struggle with feelings of not enough-ness at times.
And while some of our unworthiness triggers are obvious, others can be trickier to spot.
Here’s one that, for me, took years to recognize, but now that I see it, I’m better able to press pause before I head down the path of self-doubt and confusion.
Setting the scene:
I’m happily chatting away with friends, and suddenly, I start to get a little quiet…and more quiet still…
…and then I notice I’m feeling all insecure and getting into my head about it.
This predictably leads to nagging, bubbling resentments as I listen to the others talking, until eventually, I feel left out, like everyone but me knows how to do this whole friendship thing.
For years, that’s all I was aware of: the uncomfortable feelings of insecurity, resentment, and loneliness.
But then, something shifted.
I’d been working with my inner parts using Internal Family Systems Therapy, something I teach in my courses, and now I was able to witness which inner parts were being activated in these situations.
And what was happening under the surface really surprised me…
Not because it was so shocking, but because it was so simple.
I learned that this particular self-doubt spiral begins when someone is sharing an opinion or idea they feel strongly about.
They might be anywhere from super excited to hair-on-fire outraged, but the common theme is emotional conviction attached to whatever they’re saying.
This tapped into a prevalent pattern from my childhood, one in which certain family members had extremely definite, rigid views of the world, and they insisted others follow along.
As a kid, if I didn’t adopt their perspective, I was rejected or mocked or punished, driving home the clear message that not only was my thought process wrong, I, as a person, was all wrong.
Consequently, I had inner parts who were very practiced at scanning situations and sensing if someone felt strongly about their opinions.
If my parts detected this, they would begin pressuring me to conform in order to protect me from the rejection I experienced as a kid.
Before I learned how to work with these parts…
…I experienced this pressure solely coming from other people, which would cause me to feel resentful (“God, they’re so friggin’ pushy!”).
And if the other person actually was trying to exert control over how I thought or behaved, I didn’t know how to set boundaries and would just stew in my anxiety and resentment.
Until we work with our inner parts, they’re stuck in the past…
…reacting to life with the maturity and skill level we were at when these parts were first created.
And when those parts take over, we can feel and act just like we did back then.
In my case, an inner five-year-old part would take the wheel, and then I’d become totally overwhelmed by adult conversation (hence getting really quiet) and feel like I’d be punished if I didn’t agree (hence the resentment).
And because as a kid I was rejected until I agreed (given the silent treatment or a time out, etc.), I would anticipate this and start to feel left out and lonely, even if others were actually including me.
By witnessing and working with these parts…
I was able to see a gap in my experience: I needed to learn how to check in with my own values and needs even (especially!) when other people felt strongly about theirs.
In the past, I only saw two choices: try to change the other person or miserably go along. Not the most inspiring of prospects.
But now, I’m practicing building my adult skills in these situations, so I can take care of my inner five-year-old instead of forcing her to take charge, which she’s ill-equipped to do.
For me, practicing new skills looks like this:
Noticing when I’m starting to get quiet and checking in: Do I just need some downtime or am I feeling that nagging pressure to conform?
If the latter, I have plenty of options.
For example, I might visualise my inner five-year-old and send her some love, which can feel very calming and grounding.
Or if the other person is asking for my response, I might say that I need some time to think about it.
This, by the way, is often a biggie:
Allowing ourselves ample time to think and process.
As a kid, I was rarely allowed to do this, so it’s been a game changer as an adult to practice creating this space for myself.
While it can feel otherwise to our inner parts, very seldomly do we actually need to give an instant answer.
Other people might pressure us and/or we might pressure ourselves, but nine times out of ten, the world will continue revolving on its axis if we take 24 hours (or more) to think on something.
By witnessing your inner state–what am I thinking? What am I feeling? Are there inner parts who need some attention?–you create more internal space, which then makes it possible to…
…check in with your values, instead of forcing yourself to adopt another person’s priorities as your own.
Someone might value x, while you need to prioritize y. In the past, I’d spend vast amounts of energy trying to convince them to value y, too, or I’d resentfully go along with x.
But with practice, it gets much easier to pause and allow for lots of options to arise in the in-between.
Maybe Cath wants to co-teach a course on auric clearing but I want to lead one on shadow work, so we decide to host a larger event, and each of our unique classes is on the schedule.
We still get to collaborate and have fun, but neither of us is teaching on something we don’t feel well-informed or excited about.
Or perhaps you would be happy visiting your family if, instead of staying at their place, you get an AirBnB.
That allows you to connect and have fun while still having you-space and downtime.
The point is, no one is served when we override our needs and values.
While we live in a world filled with us-against-them messaging and stories where one viewpoint or person holds the “ultimate rightness” over all others, this is an egoic illusion.
It might make the world feel more manageable and straightforward at times, but it’s a simplification that forces us to ignore nuance, complexity, and diversity.
It’s a shortcut with a high price tag.
When we practice tuning in to what’s truly important to us, this paves the way for genuine collaboration over blind conformity or embittered antagonism.
Getting clear on our values helps us get clear on what we have to offer.
Far from being selfish, tuning into what we need and value is a powerful act of honoring our unique gifts and offering them in such a way that we’re not depleted.
Which–guess what?–means that we can continue to make these offerings over the long haul, as opposed to living by other people’s values, draining ourselves dry, and retreating into burn out.
So next time you’re feeling that you’re not enough, press pause.
Ask yourself: Am I pressuring myself to go along with someone else’s values or needs?
And then: What actually feels important to me here?
Create some space. Give yourself some time.
Your needs are just as valuable as everybody else’s.
And when you honor them, you heal the inner parts who fear that you’re not enough.