I was 16 when I diagnosed myself with ‘complementing tourettes syndrome’. It’s a (fake) condition that causes me to blurt out niceties at anyone and everyone. If you don’t like receiving complements, run!
It has taken me decades to figure out why I can’t contain my need to complement people, but I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a defense mechanism. When I’m nice to others, they can’t see how inadequate I am. My complements act as a wall, shielding me from their potential to harm me. I am weak and they are strong. The power is theirs already, so I give them mine just to make sure that they know I’m aware of our rankings. They are above me. Always.
Until about a year ago this was the way I viewed myself. I honestly saw everyone as better than myself. I’d learned to find comfort there. It was a dark place, but I’d grown accoustomed to putting myself down. When I was small I wasn’t visible, and invisibility haults competition. I was afraid and I was letting it rule me.
The past couple of years have been filled with learning experiences for me. I’ve sought out the answers to questions like ‘who am I?’ and ‘What is my role in…?’. I’ve done a lot of seeking, praying, talking, listening, and reading. I’ve learned a lot about myself and others, but the most valuable thing I’ve learned is that I am not inadequate.
I know that I’m not inadequate (that I’m not unable to deal with life, or that I’m beneath everyone all the time), but sometimes I still struggle to believe it. Sometimes I still (after all of this work and conscious devotion to loving myself) get stuck in feelings of inadequacy. Why?
I’m not a psychologist or a counselor, and I have very little experience with mental health other than my own, but it seems like we all get stuck in our old thought patterns (and behaviors), even after realizing that they’re flawed. I think it’s the whole ‘practice makes permanent’ phenomenon.
Practice makes proficient, not perfect, and not permanent. Practice makes us skilled in doing the thing that we’re practicing. I believe those faulty thought patterns and behaviors can be changed through diligent practice.
So here are some of the things that I try to practice when I can tell that I’m slipping back into patterns of inadequacy.
1. I practice vulnerability. I can’t speak for everyone who battles overwhelming feelings of Inadequacy, but I know that I struggle with a need to feel approved of. Anyone who knows me can vouch for me. I want to be liked by everyone, even people who I don’t like. It’s crazy. It’s suffocating. This desire has kept me from being vulnerable for years. I feared that if I lowered my defenses I’d be consumed. So, I worked tirelessly to never put myself out there or expose any genuinely sensitive part of myself. I only did things that I couldn’t fail at. My relationships were pretty strained (because if anyone had anything constructive to say to me I’d run). My creativity was suffocated. I may have felt safer, but I was unhappy. Now, when I’m feeling especially inadequate, I make every effort to do things that open me up to the possibility of being judged or hurt. I don’t look for opportunities to be hurt, but I stop hiding. I do things like make and sell jewelry, or write blog posts. I stretch myself beyond my bubble, and try to welcome feedback. This exercise has stopped the destructive cycle of self criticism. The more vulnerable I am, the more open I am to support from others! Being vulnerable is scary, but it has been so rewarding!
2. I focus on others. I’m learning that my strong feelings of inadequacy generally accompany isolation or me-centered living. So now, when I’m feeling inadequate, I try to shift my focus to others. I try to do things for others and enjoy the company of others. (I don’t look for someone to ‘fix’ or ‘help’. I think that this is a dangerous slope!) I engage in genuine relationships. I think that we were created to love each other, so I try to fulfill that purpose, especially when I’m feeling inadequate. When I love someone in a way that makes them feel loved I start to get a better idea of my value. My inadequate feelings shift as a result of fulfilling a very important purpose.
3. I take care of myself. Feelings of inadequacy often arise as a result of comparing myself to other women. She’s prettier than I am. She’s in better shape than I am. She has it all. She’s supermom. Shes the perfect wife. I’m none of those things! In the past I would have let these things really sink in. I would have just accepted them, and I might have even taken worse care of myself. I’d eat junk food and sweets to stick it to the fact that I felt fat or unattractive. I’d pick a fight with my husband just to make sure that he was paying attention to me. My logic was super flawed, but I think doing these backwards things made me feel more control over my insecurities. Now I try to do the opposite of what I did in the past. When I’m feeling inadequate because I’m comparing myself to other women, I focus on what positive behaviors I need to adopt to feel less inadequate. I exercise, eat right, drink water, get rest, and bathe regularly. I know that I should be doing all of these things all the time, but I don’t. I notice that I’m slipping when I start comparing myself to other women. Recommitting to good self care helps me feel less inadequate.
There are probably several other things that I could be practicing, but these three are serving me well for now. Practicing vulnerability, focusing on others, and taking care of myself are things that are hard for me to do. I feel less inadequate when I’m challenging myself in these areas.
I don’t know that I’ll ever completely overcome feelings of inadequacy, but these practices are helping me calibrate. I think I now have a much more realistic view of myself and the people who I have always put above me.
Thanks for reading!