Inadequacy: Definition & Overcoming These Feelings
What does it mean to feel inadequate? From time to time many of us struggle with feelings of inadequacy. But there are things we can do—we’ll talk about those things here.
What Is Inadequacy? (A Definition)
Inadequacy is defined as the condition of not being enough or not good enough. Feelings of inadequacy are when we feel we’re not good enough. These feelings generally have nothing to do with our actual performance or abilities in life. In fact, these feelings may have a lot more to do with low self-esteem or low self-confidence than any objective measure of ability or competence.
What is an inadequacy complex?
The American Psychological Association defines an inadequacy complex (more commonly known as an inferiority complex) as a feeling of inadequacy or insecurity coming from actual or imagined physical or psychological deficiencies. This feeling of being “less-than” or “inferior to” others can often cause us to shut down (withdraw) or act aggressively depending on our coping style and what helps us best manage these feelings.
Keep in mind that we all feel inadequate to some extent. It’s not that some people have an inadequacy complex and others don’t. Rather, some of us just experience more inadequacy than others and we feel this to varying degrees (Heidbreder, 1927).
The opposite of inadequacy
When we feel adequate, we feel like we have worth or value. We’re probably less likely to seek out validation from others because we already know we are okay the way we are. We also tend to have positive views about ourselves and feel good about who we are most of the time. As a result of these positive self-views, we are also likely to be happier, more successful, and more popular (Crocker, & Knight, 2005).
Personal Inadequacy Versus Social Inadequacy
There isn’t a super clear distinction between personal delinquency and social inadequacy but there are some subtle differences that might be helpful to explore.
Personal inadequacy involves a general sense that we are not good enough—maybe we feel we can’t do things right, we aren't a good person, or we can’t succeed in our chosen profession. When it comes to personal inadequacy, other people may or may not be involved. For example, I might feel inadequate at my job, I might struggle to have confidence in my ability to manifest my dreams, or I might feel like I’m failing at adulting. This type of inadequacy can emerge in anything and everything we do.
Social inadequacy involves a feeling that we’re inept specifically in social situations or we are not good enough “in the eyes of others”. We may feel unable to approach the opposite sex and establish romantic relationships. We may feel like we don’t know how to carry a conversation. Or, we may even be anxious about calling a stranger on the phone because we don’t know what to say. In this case, we may be especially likely to feel shame about ourselves and fear rejection.
What Are Feelings of Inadequacy?
Inadequacy is technically when we are not good enough. But we can feel inadequate regardless of whether we are inadequate. In fact, feelings of adequacy have very little to do with our actual competence or ability to execute a task.
We can have these feelings in multiple areas of life such as the following:
Feelings of inadequacy at work
It can be common for us to have feelings of inadequacy at work. Numerous studies have shown that inadequacy is common in fields such as teaching and healthcare. If we feel inadequate at work, we might feel:
Feelings of inadequacy in relationships
Given how tenuous romantic relationships can be, it is not surprising that many of us feel inadequate in them. If we feel inadequate in our romantic relationships, we are likely to feel more jealous. We are more likely to question our romantic partner’s intentions, not because of them, but because we don’t feel good enough about ourselves (Karakurt, 2012).
When it comes to friendships, inadequacy has also been linked to hostility. Researchers suggest that our own sense of inadequacy can get projected onto others. When we feel inadequate and make others feel inadequate too, it can help dull the pain, at least temporarily (Cowan & Ullman, 2006).
Video: The Gift of Inadequacy
Feelings of Inadequacy Versus Feelings of Worthlessness
Feelings of inadequacy and feelings of worthlessness are largely overlapping concepts. Research often combines them or uses these terms interchangeably.
Both of these feelings can include self-directed negative emotions such as guilt, shame, self-doubt, etc… And both of these feelings are linked to negative outcomes like depression (Zahn et al., 2015).
People who feel inadequate, worthless, or generally have low self-esteem may also experience the following things:
How to Deal With Feelings of Inadequacy
If you’re feeling inadequate about something in particular, there are a number of strategies that research shows can help you to feel better. These are:
Implementing any of these strategies can help you feel more competent and comfortable in situations that produce inadequacy.
How to Overcome Feelings of Inadequacy
Although some of us may feel inadequate only occasionally, others of us walk around in the world with a general feeling of inadequacy. Our feelings are not situation-based—our feelings are based on us. In this case, we hold negative opinions about ourselves or our abilities. This type of inadequacy can be a bit harder to overcome as it’s not based on the situation—it’s based on our thoughts about ourselves. To overcome this type of inadequacy may take more time and more work, but it’s not impossible.
In addition to building confidence, learning how to believe in yourself, and learning how to love yourself, here are some specific tips to overcome feelings of inadequacy.
Video: Freedom from Self-Doubt
Fear of Inadequacy
In addition to feeling inadequate, we can also have fear of feeling inadequate. We worry that we’re going to feel stupid. Or, we dread being embarrassed in front of our peers. This experience of having emotions about emotions is referred to as meta-emotion, and it’s not generally good for our well-being.
So in addition to addressing our feelings of inadequacy and trying to manage them, we may also want to practice acceptance of inadequacy. If we accept that we’ll sometimes feel inadequate, then we’re less likely to fear it, and then the experience won't be as bad. Check out this article on acceptance to learn more.
Quotes To Overcome Inadequacy
If you’re striving to overcome inadequacy, sometimes a good quote can help inspire change and put you on the right path. So here are some quotes that may be helpful to you.
More Articles Related to Inadequacy
If you want to keep learning strategies to overcome inadequacy, here are a few more good articles to check out.
Books Related to Inadequacy
Here are some books to explore if you want to keep building the skills needed to overcome inadequacy.
Final Thoughts on Inadequacy
It’s totally normal to feel inadequate from time to time. If we work at it, we can reduce the amount of time we spend feeling this way and we can leave more room for personal growth, confidence, and enjoyment. Hopefully, the strategies presented here will provide some guidance that will put you on the path to greater self-love and self-worth.