Have you ever had a time when you go into an important conversation—maybe it’s a job interview, a work presentation, or an enrollment call with a potential client—and you just freeze?

Your heart races. Your brain goes silent. You stutter or just can’t find the right words to say.

Often, this happens when we’re afraid of being inadequate. We want to say something smart and useful, but we’re worried that other people will discover how inadequate we are.

Recently, a friend shared with me that they’re struggling to overcome the fear of inadequacy. She works with two colleagues who are quite critical. She often freezes up when talking with them. Her creativity goes out the door, and the anxiety lingers with her for the rest of the day.

I used to freeze up all the time like this. I remember when I was seventeen and working at Friendly’s restaurant, I was so insecure that I couldn’t even make conversation with the other waitresses. Over time, though, I learned the practices that I’ll share with you in this article, and as a result, I cannot remember the last time that I froze up like this.

These six practices helped me overcome my fear of inadequacy, and when you practice them, they will help you too.

One: Practice Self-Awareness

It can help to think of the fear of inadequacy as an emotional habit. Habits are automatic emotional or behavioral responses. They occur when you see, hear, feel, smell, taste or think something, and you automatically engage in a habitual response. Perhaps you stop talking. Or you get really nervous. Or you start judging yourself. These can all be habitual responses.

Self-awareness is the key to cultivating new habits. Our bodies hold our habits, and they offer a wealth of information about our habits. To let go of a habit that no longer serves you, it’s important to notice what’s happening in your body.

For example, the next time you feel yourself freeze up, pay close attention. What happened at the precise moment before you froze? What happened as you were freezing? Which physical sensations were you feeling in your body? Which emotions? What thoughts and beliefs were you experiencing?

By tracking your sensations, emotions, thoughts, and responses with curiosity, you can gather the information you need to identify when an old habit is arising and consciously shift into a new emotional and behavioral response.

Two: Compassionately Witness Your Emotion

It’s normal to want to change what you’re feeling immediately. It’s not fun to freeze, and of course, you want to feel different. However, to overcome your fear of inadequacy, you need to offer compassion to the part of you who is afraid of not being good enough. Rather than telling yourself that you shouldn’t feel how you feel, take a moment to offer yourself the same compassion that you’d offer a small child who was hurt.

One part of compassionately witnessing the part of you who is afraid is to name your emotion correctly. I often hear people say, “I was feeling inadequate.” But inadequacy is not a feeling. It’s a story.

Instead, get curious about the emotions and physical sensations that you feel. You may be feeling afraid, embarrassed, anxious, or another emotion. Your body may be hot, your heart racing, your shoulders tense. Those are emotions and feelings.

The Non-Violent Communication list of words can help you put a name to what you’re feeling: https://www.cnvc.org/sites/default/files/feelings_inventory_0.pdf.

This may seem like wordsmithing and healer jargon, but the truth is that your words are powerful. Your body and mind respond differently to different words. Imagine yourself the impact of telling a small child, “You feel so inadequate,” versus, “Hunny, you’re really scared right now, aren’t you?” It feels different, right?

Three: Pay Attention to the Stories You’re Telling Yourself

Instead of seeing reality as it is, we take in the world around us through channels of perception that are full of our assumptions, beliefs, and stories about ourselves and the world. Something can only trigger you if it matches a story that’s already in your channels of perception. In other words, if someone else judges you, but no part of you agrees with their judgment, then their opinion won’t affect you.

I’ll share a personal story here to illustrate this. I have a nine-year-old son, Kai, and Kai’s dad and I have been separated and co-parenting for several years. My partner comes from a very traditional family, who believes that it’s wrong to get divorced or to date someone with a child. Several months after we began dating, we were planning to bring my son to visit my partner’s family, but when he shared this idea with his sisters, they told him that my son and I weren’t welcome.

Of course, I felt sad for my partner, because this meant that he would likely become even more distant from his family. But I didn’t feel at all embarrassed or defensive. The idea that there’s anything wrong with me or my family is so completely outside of my worldview that there was no internal judgment in my channels of perception to be triggered. I didn’t even feel there was anything to defend.

When I told friends about the situation, several said things like, “Shame on them!” However, rather than shaming them or feeling angry at them, I just felt sorry for them. Their judgment of me is a sign that they have their own loud inner Judges, and it means that they’re probably not allowing themselves to be fully authentic or alive in their own relationships.

If you find yourself freezing up or feeling embarrassed or ashamed about something, take some time to notice the stories in your channels of perception.

Writing down the stories can slow down your thoughts, making it easier to identify the old stories and release the challenging emotions. Back when I had a loud inner Judge, I would write down my Judge’s stories several times a day, every day. It took about a year for my inner Judge to become very quiet, and while of course, I still have a Judge, it just rarely shows its face.

We’ll continue this article here: How to Overcome the Fear of Inadequacy: Part 2. Click to read more!

 

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