We all feel insecure or a little inadequate at times, but if persistently feeling ‘not good enough’ is having overwhelming, distressing, or debilitating effect on your life then it’s often a sign of low-esteem or low confidence. As part of our Burst the self-doubt campaign, our experts share their thoughts on how to spot the signs and why you may be feeling this way.

Spotting the signs

Perfectionism, procrastination, people pleasing, and over-thinking are common traits of those who have low self-esteem, but what leads us to form these behaviours? 

“Humans are incredibly resourceful, so in response to feeling ‘not good enough’, we develop coping mechanisms to help us feel safe, cared for, and generally ok in the world,” explains therapist Lucy Myers.

“We experience these habits as innate parts of our personalities - e.g ‘I’m just very organised’ or ‘I just can’t say no’, rather than as learned patterns of thinking and behaving. Ultimately these habits are working incredibly hard on an unconscious level, with the main aim of convincing ourselves we’re ‘good enough.’ And, even more crucially, to prevent others from unveiling our worst fears: that we’re not.” 

Staying in control

But as Lucy explains, when something that’s worked for us for years becomes the problem, it's no surprise that unaddressed feelings lead to an increased risk of burnout, and mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, OCD, or addictive behaviours - which are also all attempts to cope with distress.  

“The behaviours I most commonly observe in my clinics are ones where we’re desperately trying to feel good enough by staying in control – both of ourselves, and of how other people see us, and therefore how they react to us,” explains Lucy.

Pretending and perfectionism

Therapist Billie Dunlevy agrees and says that pretending is another behavioural aspect that can show up in those that don’t feel ‘good enough.’

“We see people acting like they are doing much better than they are in their relationships, family and work is a key sign of someone not feeling ‘good enough’ – and actually serves as a double-edged sword… The person who is struggling but acting otherwise isn’t seen or understood so they can be supported. And the people watching them think ‘she’s got it all together and is totally acing life. Why aren’t I?’”

Perfect is an unobtainable illusion that only puts pressure on every aspect of life to live up to unrealistic expectations,” adds Lucy.

Where does it come from?  

Lucy says the original causes of low self-esteem and ‘not good enough’ feelings are complex and uniquely experienced from person to person, but they often stem from childhood.

“From the moment we’re born we begin to develop our ‘sense of self’ - our self-esteem, self-belief, and self-worth,” explains Lucy. “Our earliest life experiences play a crucial part in shaping how we see and understand ourselves, and how we believe others see us too. If we’re given the message - through the words, actions or behaviours - that we don’t measure up to expectations, we develop a deep and painful sense of being ‘not good enough’ for the love, care and attention of others.” 

But Lucy says that as we get older and we meet new people these beliefs will either be challenged or reinforced, and will become embedded into our self-concept.

“This will influence the internal narrative we hear playing in our heads, the voice that we hear as ‘our thoughts’,” says Lucy.  

“In my client work, I often find feelings of shame are deeply rooted on an unconscious level - shame that there is something inherently wrong with who we are as a person.” 

How it affects women

Billie Dunlevy agrees but while not feeling ‘good enough; can affect anyone, societal pressures on women to be ‘all things’ are also to blame.

“In reality, no one can be ‘all of the things’ and feel like they are doing any them well, so naturally women often feel like they are falling short in one way or another,” says Billie. “Women’s liberation has been vital in increasing the choices available to them which is fantastic. However, having choices often means we have to say no to something. The idea that ‘women can have it all’ may be causing harm to some women’s wellbeing.”

Lucy agrees and adds: “Women are more likely to become experts at ‘masking’ what they see as their weaknesses and struggles, which only serves to exacerbate the feelings of ‘imposter syndrome’ that often accompany low self-worth and these ‘not good enough’ feelings.”

Social media

Billie also says that social media and consumerism plays a huge part in these feelings too, and that women have a tendency to compare themselves to what they see online.

“Social media and influencer culture feeds off our insecurities and is constantly suggesting ways we can ‘better’ ourselves or optimise our life,” shares Billie. “Whether that’s buying certain products or consistently suggesting things we ‘should’ be doing - which nine times out of 10 has a component of spending money. It feeds off the feelings of never doing or being enough – which is often at the heart of low self-esteem.”


Billie says her therapy room is awash with women of all ages feeling burnout and fatigued talking about how there isn’t time to do ‘all of the things’ – whether that’s being the perfect parent, daughter, sister, batch cooking, exercising, or even attending therapy.

Influencer culture can also exacerbate self-esteem issues.

“Cognitively we know what we are seeing isn’t real, it is heavily curated to look perfect. In fact, we all have an (unhelpful) tendency to only really put online our highlights. This gives the false impression that this is what other people’s lives are like all the time,” says Billie.

Unlearning behaviours

Lucy says that the thing she most commonly hears in her therapy rooms is that people don’t believe it’s possible to change because they feel their patterns of thinking and behaving are based on truth.

“I often hear: it’s just the way I am,” says Lucy. “But for anybody who is feeling like this, it’s really important to remember that the thoughts and behaviours we’ve learnt, can be ‘unlearnt’, and replaced with new, more balanced and more healthy ways of thinking about ourselves and our worlds.

“The key is to raise your self-awareness, develop self-compassion, identify unhelpful and unbalanced patterns, and courageously experiment with trying new and more self-accepting ways of relating to yourself and with others. It’s possible to do this yourself, but working with a qualified therapist or therapeutic coach can be really valuable in providing you with the right support to acknowledge your true strengths and brilliant qualities, challenge your often unconscious self-limiting beliefs, and develop new perspectives and solutions to old problems.”

If you would like to discuss any of these issues with a trained and registered counsellor or therapist, please visit the BACP directory.