Feeling unworthy or like an impostor can negatively affect our leadership, writes Gregg Vanourek, whose recommendations include not comparing ourselves to others, embracing Tara Brach’s idea of “radical acceptance” and examining where these doubts originate. “Sometimes it’s good enough to know that we’re still here and willing to try another day,” Vanourek writes.
Many of us are walking around in a “trance of unworthiness.” It’s a gnawing feeling that we’re deeply flawed. It tells us we’re not worthy of love, happiness, success, or approval. And it follows us around like a shadow.
When I first encountered this provocative term from psychologist and author Tara Brach, it felt like a revelation to me, because I’ve seen it in so many of my colleagues, clients, and students—and because I’ve felt it at times too. Brach describes it as “fear or shame—a feeling of being flawed, unacceptable, not enough. Who I am is not okay.”
Brach tells the story of a dying mother sharing a searing secret with her daughter:
“You know, all my life I thought something was wrong with me. What a waste.” -a dying mother, told to her daughter (from Radical Acceptance). The Sources of Low Self-Worth Feelings of low self-worth (unworthiness) are surprisingly common—and quite destructive. Where do they come from?
According to the research, the sources of low self-worth include the following:
- isapproving or overly critical parents or other authority figures (like teachers or coaches), often accompanied by intense pressure for achievement
- Uninvolved, distant, or preoccupied parents or other caregivers
- Frequent comparisons to siblings during childhood, leading to feelings of inferiority
- Excessive praise by parents for performance or abilities (vs. effort and process)
- Too much unhealthy conflict in the home (note: many children absorb those negative emotions and attribute the conflicts to their own faults or failures)
- Childhood experiences with taunting, bullying, or ostracism
- Overprotective parents, leaving children unprepared for challenges
- School setbacks or failures, leading children to feel flawed or stupid
- Societal expectations and pressures, including unrealistic portrayals of life and beauty from social media
- Trauma and abuse“Why do we hold on