How Feeling Unworthy Eats Away at Your Success

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Big Leap" by Gay Hendricks. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you ever struggle with feelings of unworthiness? Do you feel like you’re flawed at your core and fundamentally “not good enough”?

Many people struggle with feeling unworthy and fundamentally flawed at their core. The belief that you’re unworthy of success and happiness takes its roots in childhood, which is why it’s so difficult to transcend.

Here’s how feelings of unworthiness eat away at your happiness and progress.

Confronting Feelings of Unworthiness

According to Hendricks, the belief that you’re unworthy originates in some experience of rejection that you felt you were to blame for, or from being criticized often. Perhaps you came to believe you were at fault for your parents’ divorce, or you had a parent who was relentlessly hyper-critical of you. You may have come to accept these perceived failings or flaws as an innate part of your identity. 

When you’re feeling unworthy, and you start to achieve success in life, this creates a situation where you’re trying to hold conflicting beliefs. This puts you in a state of cognitive dissonance, which psychology tells us is uncomfortable to maintain, so you’ll feel compelled to resolve that discomfort. To resolve it, you may engage subconsciously in this line of reasoning:

  • I can’t be both flawed and successful.
  • Therefore one of those can’t be true.
  • But I am flawed (this belief is deeply rooted).
  • So, therefore I mustn’t be successful.
  • Hence, I must keep myself from success (self-sabotage).

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

In addition to creating cognitive dissonance, this kind of false belief could also manifest in imposter syndrome (also called imposter phenomenon), which can be a difficult barrier to success. Therapist Abby Rawlinson, who specializes in imposter syndrome, identifies five specific ways that it manifests. These include: a belief that you have to work extra hard because you’re naturally less competent than others, inability to feel proud of your successes because you feel undeserving, a belief that you’re a fraud and the fear that you’ll be discovered, and refusal to ask for help for fear that it will reveal your incompetence. We can see how these may result from the false belief that you’re fundamentally flawed and therefore can’t be successful.

If you think you suffer from imposter syndrome, the American Psychological Association offers some advice for confronting this limiting belief, including:

Monitor your internal dialogue about yourself, and when you have critical or negative thoughts about yourself, ask yourself what you would say to a friend if they said those things about themselves. 

Discuss your imposter feelings with others that you trust, in a supportive environment, preferably outside of your professional circle. Individuals with marginalized identities may feel more comfortable talking with others who share that identity.

Recognize your achievements by acknowledging compliments and accolades from others. If you receive written praise or awards, place those physical reminders where you can see them daily.

Acknowledge and discuss your failures with others. Chances are when you discuss these openly you’ll find that others have had similar experiences, and this will remind you that everyone experiences both success and failures in life and reinforce that that’s normal.

How Feeling Unworthy Eats Away at Your Success

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  • How to overcome the psychological barriers to success and fulfillment
  • Why most people have a self-imposed limit to happiness
  • How to identify your own false beliefs and stop self-sabotaging

Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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