How to Overcome Inadequacy as an HSP

A highly sensitive person overcomes inadequacy

As HSPs, it’s easy to seek our own value in the opinions of others — and end up feeling inadequate or judged. Here’s how to change that.

Who were you meant to be before the world told you who to be? Glennon Doyle asks this question in her book Untamed, and answering it can be life-changing. Especially if you’re anything like me — an introverted highly sensitive person (HSP) who grapples with deep inadequacy.

I was meant to be a quiet, calm little girl with big dreams, a big, tender heart, the ability to empathize with almost any situation, and the tendency to cry the second someone else does. 

I was meant to impact others with my sensitivity, intuition, empathy, trust, and kindness. To contribute by listening and understanding, empathizing, and caring — not just with words.

But then the world told me to become outgoing and fun, to hide my sensitivity, push down my empathetic tears, and masquerade as an extrovert if I wanted to be liked and accepted and successful. So I did, until I believed that’s who I really was. I became stressed out and exhausted and … someone else. And these beliefs have created land mines of inadequacy throughout my life.

I think HSPs may struggle with inadequacy more than non-HSPs because we absorb and deeply process everything, often without realizing we’re doing it. And we’re also affected more deeply — by words, things we overhear, things that hurt us, and the stories we tell ourselves.

One of my goals for this year is to overcome my fear of inadequacy through writing. As I’ve been journaling about this, three practices have emerged that are helping me detach my value from the opinions of others and move toward believing that I am good enough — because of my sensitivity, not in spite of it. 

How to Overcome Inadequacy as an HSP 

1. Recognize your sensitivity as a gift (i.e., the ability to empathize with almost any situation is a good thing).

I spent a lot of time journaling about Doyle’s question of who I was meant to be before the world told me who to be, and this helped me see that I was meant to be confident in my value and unique traits as an HSP. No insecurities, inadequacy, or fear of being misunderstood or not valued.

While I was growing up, the world told me that my value is determined by what others think of me, how much money I make, how far I’ve climbed the corporate ladder, and who loves me. I believed this, and that belief has cost me dearly, in lost dreams, lost confidence, and so much time and effort wasted, just to avoid inadequacy and failure.

It can be harder to recognize our sensitivity as a gift that we’re meant to give because it’s not acknowledged or affirmed the way our other strengths are. The corporate world clearly values initiative and leadership and innovative ideas, but doesn’t always recognize empathy and intuition and connection with the same esteem. Can you imagine if our bosses came up to us and said, “Great job being sensitive today”?

It’s far easier to be completely confident in my ability to be a good listener, writer, and editor because I’ve been told that I am throughout my entire life. But my high sensitivity, empathy, and introverted nature are rarely praised. More often than not, those traits are perceived as a weakness or disadvantage, and society doesn’t help, either.

For most of my life, I’ve been called “too quiet” and “too sensitive” — so it’s not surprising that it’s difficult to believe that my sensitivity is actually a good thing. But I have the ability to choose and change what I believe, and you do, too.

See, when we have the same thought enough times, we eventually believe it — and that belief begins driving our decisions, responses, and behavior, subconsciously or consciously. A few examples of thoughts that you may (falsely) believe about yourself may include: 

  • “I’m not smart enough.” 
  • “I don’t deserve ___.” 
  • “I’m an imposter — and it’s only a matter of time before someone finds out.”

It’s not easy to change our beliefs because they’re so deeply rooted, and identifying the belief(s) we want to change is the first step.

Then we can decide what’s actually true — for example, our sensitivity is a strength, regardless of how the world sees it — and begin doing the work to change our current, damaging belief. Taking this approach can help detach your value from the opinions of others, which is the beginning of finding your value from within.

2. Believe that you’re enough and trust your inner voice.

During a color-based personality test in fourth grade, all the popular kids (which seemed to be most of the class) were orange, which was the “extroverted” color. My test result labeled me as blue, and there were only two others in that category. 

I knew this because my teacher went through each one of the colors and asked us to raise our hand when our color was called.

I remember the moment I had to raise my hand with such clarity that I can not only still see the exact desk I was sitting at in that classroom, but I can also still feel the wash of shame and embarrassment. I’m sure most of the other kids forgot about the results of that personality test almost immediately, yet I continue telling this story today. 

See, in fourth grade, my focus was on fitting in, feeling “normal,” and being accepted. As the “quiet one,” I’d already felt different for most of my life, and I’d decided that different was bad. (I’ve since learned it’s not.)

Being “too quiet” or “too sensitive” also makes other people uncomfortable. They start asking questions about why you are the way you are, further reinforcing the belief that you’re not good enough.

We all have these highly critical messages, and they often run even deeper for HSPs because we process everything on such a deep level, like the way we react strongly to criticism. And listening to your critical inner voice — those messages of “I’m not successful enough,” “I’m not worthy of being loved,” or “I’m too much” — is guaranteed to give you the same outcome, every time: it will keep you small, safe, fearful, and steeped in inadequacy.

The next time you hear some version of “I’m not good enough” internally, ask these five questions to break the cycle. Patiently sit with each one until you hear the answer:

  1. What is the story I’m telling myself?
  2. What am I making this mean?
  3. What is causing me to react so strongly? (Look deep within to answer this one!)
  4. What is my inner critic trying to protect me from?
  5. What is actually true — and what am I supposed to learn from this?

This process can help you be a little more objective about what’s actually happening beneath the surface, so you can start changing your inner critic’s message, overcome inadequacy, and believe that you are good enough, exactly the way you are. 

To use the example of my fourth grade personality test, the story I started telling myself that day is something was wrong with me because my score put me in the blue category. I made my result mean that I wasn’t good enough because I was so different — and I carried that belief into adulthood, until I became a coach and started doing the work to change this message. 

In fourth grade, my inner critic was trying to protect me from getting hurt by all the kids that may not have accepted me because I wasn’t outgoing and talkative and… like them. During the past several years, I’ve finally realized that my high sensitivity is a big strength. That is what’s actually true. 

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3. Identify any areas of self-denial, like shelving your dreams or walking away from your passions.

I was a music major in college — until one of my professors asked about my Plan B. I already struggled with inadequacy around my voice and music, so that question was all it took for me to immediately change my major to journalism, because I was a lot more confident in my writing.

But that also meant that I stopped allowing myself to experience one of the things I most loved. I turned my back on music so completely that, for years, I couldn’t imagine stepping on a stage or recording a single note — all to keep myself small and safe. For you, this may be giving up on your love for painting, not even trying for that promotion, or shelving a dream you’ve had since childhood because you’re afraid to fail.

This subconscious (yet continual) effort to avoid the feeling of being inadequate has been working behind-the-scenes ever since, and recently showed up in another area of my life. This is what inadequacy does. It finds the areas in which we’re least confident — like presenting during a meeting at work or finally trying to turn your hobby into a career — and takes root.

I recognized the pattern and scheduled a session with my life coach, who quickly helped me see that I was about to walk away from another passion of mine just to avoid feeling inadequate. She also said this to me: “Making the decision not to share our gifts for fear of rejection and inadequacy is selfish.”

That really hit home. And so I say to you: Choosing not to share your empathy, intuition, emotional awareness, love, care, and sensitivity — everything that you are because you’re a highly sensitive person — is to deprive the world and the people closest to you of what you have to offer.

And it also costs you, my dear HSP, because you are wired to give and help and support and feel. This is who you are, and what makes you feel alive and whole.

Committing to seeing your sensitivity as a strength and a gift, doing the work to believe you’re enough — exactly the way you are — and embracing any areas of your life that you’ve walked away from to avoid inadequacy are all powerful steps to finding your value from within.

Are you an introvert? Check out my on-demand workshop to go deeper and learn to identify and change your limiting beliefs, using my step-by-step process.

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