Inadequacy has a weight. It can sit in your chest and pull you into deep and dark places. Places from which it is hard to emerge. When a sense of inadequacy grabs hold of you, it is suffocating. You forget which way is up, and what is real.
Inadequacy means you never feel good enough. That your eyes are wide open to every flaw and fault, every imperfection. They’re magnified until all you can see is what is wrong, and everything that is right is blurred out and lost. You get mired in a sea of insecurity.
When you feel like you are inadequate, you might fall prey to being a perfectionist.
I was first told I was a perfectionist at school. I remember thinking, that’s a good thing, right? To want to get things right. To aim for the top. To be the best. It wasn’t said with that tone, but still. But aiming for your best, or even being competitive, is not what perfectionism is. Not at all.
A few years ago, a colleague recommended, quite out of the blue, a book to me. A book on perfectionism (and how to let it go). I got the book and did the quiz. When I got full marks, I was struck by an alarming paradox – in getting everything right, I revealed to myself that I’d gotten everything wrong.
Perfectionism arises from the need for external validation of your choices and actions, and your very existence. To have some other human say what you can’t see. That you have worth. Perfectionism is not about being the best, it’s about garnering reassurance.
It comes from deep sense of inadequacy. A hole in your soul, to quote my 28 year old self, mid full blow crazy, talking to my sister whilst sitting on the bathroom floor, in tears. Because I wasn’t getting enough attention from the people I loved to fill the void.
Inadequacy, which I’ve begun to think of as a mental illness, means not being able to see things in perspective, not even remotely. And it’s ruinous to relationships. A draining thing to have to live with, if you love someone like this.
It took me a long time to realise that you ask too much of others when you seek to please them, as a means to feeling whole. When you require their attention to feel okay in yourself. When you ask, even though you don’t realise that is what you are doing, that they make you feel worthy, loved, valued – all the time. That they give you part of their soul, because yours is broken. Healthy, fun, relationships do not this way lie.
I’ve not felt inadequate for a long time. I spent years working on this. Building my self-esteem. Filling my life with things that bring me joy. Letting go of chasing things I didn’t want just because I thought I was supposed to be successful to be worthwhile. Building a strong, mutually rewarding and caring relationship with my husband. Not a month ago I wrote just how much I like myself.
But, for some reason, and I think it has to do with working too hard of late, I’ve found myself in an inadequacy slump. A gravity well, it feels more like. I can’t see the wood for the trees. There is a voice in my head telling me over and over that I am useless, and boring, and fat and (now, obviously) also crazy.
And yes, I know I am not those things. But you know… see paragraph 2.
I think most people would view me as a pretty successful person. A got it together kind of gal. It makes it hard to get help. Both my brother and husband say no one rescues me because no one realises I need rescuing. My sister says, you don’t need rescuing.
They are right. But before I get to this realisation, I yell for help by wounding loved ones with badly timed, unthought through words or tears that won’t stop. I shout at my son in a packed restaurant and distress my sister by sharing my self-destructive, attention seeking thoughts (and these are ugly enough to have her ring three times to see if I’ve parked myself under a bus).
When I was a teenager I stopped eating. My mother put me on her prayer list, but no one came and rescued me, because no one saw that I needed rescuing. Except for when I went away to university, and the most wonderful person I know brought me peanut butter biscuits and peeled me oranges to make sure I had breakfast and showed me, all my life, that I am lovable.
I share all this, not for your sympathy or messages of praise. I know all that. But because I think we all carry old narratives inside of us, that can emerge as pain when we least expect it, and even the most seemingly together of people, might fall apart, extraordinarily irrationally, sometimes.
In the end I rescued myself from feeling inadequate. But I didn’t do it alone. And it wasn’t easy. I had to choose to do it. Maybe that is what I need to remember, here in this moment, with these old patterns activated. That I have a choice to rescue myself from these feelings – which are merely passing sensations, not truths – that need to be addressed with more skilled thinking than repeating untrue phrases that have no merit. I have to rescue myself, not because no one else will, but because no one else can. And because the people I love deserve better from the person they love.