How We Are Responsible For Feeling Inadequate

Research shows that there is an inter-related connection between our thoughts, feelings and actions. Psychologists call this the cognitive triangle, and the way it works, is that if we have negative and disparaging thoughts about our selves or act in self-defeating ways then we will feel bad about who we are. Since our feelings are mediated by our thoughts and actions, we can change how we feel by changing how we think and how we behave.

It has also been researched by social psychologists that the mind tends to get stuck on the negative. Studies have shown that when a positive thought exists it can be flipped with relative ease to a negative one but it is much harder to shift from a bad thought to a good thought. What this means, is that negative beliefs are resistant to change, we have to work harder to see the positive but we can train our mind to do a better job at seeing the glass as half full instead of half empty.

One way to reshape the mind and stop the cycle that perpetuates feelings of inadequacy is by becoming mindful. Mindfulness means that we pay attention to our internal chatter, and bring it into conscious awareness so that it can be challenged since the inherent bias of the brain is to focus on the negative and to ignore the positive. David Burns, a psychologist, was inspired by the work of Albert Ellis whose approach challenged and replaced irrational thoughts and limiting beliefs with healthier and more constructive ones. David Burns popularized his work, and made it more accessible by assigning a name to each irrational pattern of thought. By becoming cognizant of these patterns we can identify our own negative thought patterns, recognize that they are unreasonable and irrational, and then understand that they serve no purpose other than to make us feel bad and inadequate.

Below are a few examples of cognitive distortions or ways in which our mind convinces us that something is true when in fact it is false. More examples can be found on my site Prepare To Leave The Nest.


How We Are Responsible For Feeling Inadequate

This cartoon is illustrative of catastrophic thinking. Unfortunately for those with this habit, when faced with uncertainty they automatically engage in ‘what if’ thinking, and imagine the worst possible outcome. This thinking creates an anxious mind, which generates a fearful expectation that any emotional discomfort will be so overwhelming that they will not be able to cope, and so the feeling of anxiety must be avoided at all costs. Since avoidance doesn’t reduce anxiety but rather makes it worse, it is more helpful to address the fear head on.

A solution would be to write down the anxiety-provoking belief in the form of an, ‘if-then’ statement because once a belief is clearly articulated as a hypothesis it is easier to evaluate and assess whether or not the belief is valid. You are then likely to discover that even though your negative beliefs are not true they are responsible for your increased state of anxiety.

Emotional Reasoning

Emotional reasoning is another kind of thinking error, in which we reason from how we feel and, then falsely conclude that our feelings are an indication of the truth.
A solution would be to pay close attention to the explanations you give yourself when evaluating the veracity of your thoughts. If you find yourself saying things like,’ I know’ or ‘It feels ‘, without any objective and concrete evidence then this is a red flag, and what you believe is really being generated by your own negative thoughts.

Since our actions also influence our feelings, below are some examples of self-defeating behaviors that reinforce feelings of inadequacy. More examples can be found on my website, Prepare To Leave The Nest.

Avoiding discomfort

Avoidance is a behavioral strategy that may bring temporary relief, but will magnify the threat in the long term, and increase anxiety. Since actions influence thoughts, your mind will silently tell itself that the situation must be threatening because if it were harmless you would not be avoiding it, and so sadly, each time you avoid something that causes discomfort, you unwittingly give it power, and create anxiety in anticipation of it.
The solution is to acknowledge your fear but to also make a distinction between rational and irrational fear, and then to tell yourself the following: that despite your fear you will not retreat because you know that each time you do you will make the fear stronger, and each time you don’t, your anxiety will lessen because you prove to yourself that it wasn’t as bad as you had imagined, and you were able to cope.

Using a Passive style of communication

Those who communicate with this style of communication engage in self-defeating behavior because they remain silent while others often disrespect, and mistreat them. Passive communicators rationalize their passivity by telling themselves that they don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings because they are good, and taking the moral high road. This may be partially true, but the real fear is the fear of being disliked or a fear of retribution. After a while though, the frustration from continually appeasing and pleasing others can no longer be suppressed, and like any container, will eventually become filled beyond capacity and overflow.

When this happens the anger is expressed in one of two destructive ways. One way is like a volcanic eruption. All the pent up frustration, hurt, anger, and resentment gets thrown onto a stunned target. This reaction is so excessive that the aggressor immediately feels guilty, and with remorse, returns once again to suppressing their feelings, and ingratiating themselves as a way to make amends for their aggressive outburst. The other way is hidden and indirect because they fear retaliation and know no other way to express their anger in a way that feels safe. Even though the hostility is covert, it can still be felt as hostile because it is being expressed in a passive-aggressive way.

The Solution is to practice assertive communication and to know that communication when done in a way that is respectful and not threatening or demeaning is never inappropriate but in fact a sign of self- respect.

If you would like to learn more about how we are responsible for causing our own feelings of inadequacy, a program addressing this issue and the broader topic of self-worth, in general, can be found at

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