John's Blog

The Blog of John Gibson, PhD


Core Belief: Inadequacy

After hundreds of hours of doing therapy with people who struggle with depression and anxiety, one of the core pains I hear again and again is the bone-deep notion that one is inadequate. This is when you have the sense you simply aren’t good enough, or that you’re deficient or defective in some way.

This type of belief has at least three powerful consequences.

First, you’re more likely to find evidence to support your notion of not being good enough when you size up situations, and you’re more apt to reject evidence that contradicts it. Beliefs bias our perceptions.

Second, if you belief, deep down, that you are truly inadequate, you’re much more likely to experience strong, crippling emotions such as despair, sadness, hopeless, and shame. Beliefs influence our emotions.

Third, you’re more likely to develop compensatory strategies for the belief, even if you are not aware of the particular psychological functions that these behaviors serve. For example, you work extra hard in virtually at all endeavors, accepting nothing less than perfection. It’s as if you’re engaged in a constant series of personal tests of self, always trying to prove that the belief is not really true. Unfortunately, perfection is difficult to achieve, especially if you strive for perfection in all things. Conversely, someone else with this belief may take the opposite strategy: he or she may try to avoid endeavors where there is a risk of failure. This strategy helps you avoid being reminded of the belief. In other words, it helps you avoid painful emotion that accompanies the belief.

Once the inadequacy belief is installed into the psyche, it’s resistant to change. Our psyches are built in such a way that we seek consistency in our views of ourselves, even if those views are erroneous, painful, or maladaptive. The notions that we hold about ourselves go stronger as time goes on, no doubt from sheer repetition of concluding and re-concluding that, once again, we come of short.

So what can we do about it? One of the things I ask my therapy patients to do is to explore the validity of the conclusion. Beliefs about self often start when we are young. Unfortunately, we may draw conclusions about ourselves using child or adolescent logic; we do not have the wisdom and experience that we will acquire in adulthood. Yet, even after we acquire such wisdom, we seldom go back and edit the self. Rather, we take our earliest conclusions for granted. They must be true because they feel true, and because we’ve always thought that way. I ask my clients to give themselves permission to examine these bone-deep beliefs through the eyes of their adult selves. Maybe you really are inadequate, but then again, maybe not. Maybe things aren’t quite as simply as they appeared to you as a child. Maybe you have learned some things about yourself as adult (or your situation growing up) that were not factored into the early--dare we say, premature--conclusions that you reached about yourself.

This is how we start.