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  • Writer's pictureMyriame Lyons

4 Coping Strategies for When You’re Feeling Incompetent

It’s unrealistic to think that you’ll feel great about yourself one hundred percent of the time. It’s normal to have fluctuations in our mood and self esteem, especially if you are in the midst of stressful life circumstances-maybe you've been recently diagnosed with a chronic illness or are experiencing a lot of anxiety lately.

With that being said, no one likes feeling incompetent. When you’re stuck in that headspace, you can begin to doubt your capabilities and your worth. Negative self talk takes over and you may be filled with feelings like shame, despair, sadness, and even anger.

While there is no singular way to cope when you’re feeling incompetent in life, there are many different strategies that you can try to help you feel better about yourself. Here are some of my top ideas to help you shift your mood.

What to do when you’re feeling incompetent in life

Again, improving your self worth doesn’t have a “one size fits all” solution. Take the strategies that work for you and leave what doesn’t–you know yourself best.

1. Zoom out the lens

Oftentimes, we subconsciously hold ourselves to higher standards than we do others. It can be easier to have compassion for others since we have a bird's eye view of their lives. As someone who is removed from their situation, we can more clearly see the complexity of another person: their strengths, their challenges, their resources, and their unmet needs.

Being able to see a person’s struggles as only a small part of the greater context of their life helps us gain perspective. It’s often more difficult to do that with ourselves because we feel consumed by our insecurities. This can cloud our judgment and make it more difficult to see ourselves in an objective way.

Next time you’re feeling incompetent, try “zooming out the lens.” It can be hard to focus on anything else but the feelings of insecurity, and you have the strength and power to try and take a step back. As Tim Ferris once said in his podcast The Tim Ferris Show: “Don’t believe everything you think.” You are not your thoughts. Bring in your human complexity with some kind self talk. Try “Hey [your nickname], you're being hard on yourself right now. Pause for a moment. Zoom out-be a fly on a wall. This is a hard situation. Many would struggle here. Struggles are temporary. This will pass.”

2. Allow yourself to feel

Although it can be helpful to acknowledge other aspects of yourself when you’re feeling incompetent in life, it’s also important to allow your feelings to be. When we experience uncomfortable emotions, our instinct is often to ignore them or deny their existence. We may also shame ourselves for having these feelings in the first place.

However, all of these defense mechanisms get in the way of actually feeling our feelings, and moving towards a state of calm. Avoiding the raw emotion does not actually make it go away–it just prolongs our suffering by pushing them down. While it may feel counterintuitive to lean into the emotion instead of running from it, doing so can help you feel validated and start your healing process sooner.

If you’re unsure where to start, here are some steps to emotional resilience that may be helpful:

  1. Check in with your body. Mentally scan your body from top to bottom, side to side, to notice physical sensations.

  2. Focus on a particularly “loud” physical sensation. That might be in your jaw, upper chest, hands, or lower stomach. Place a caring touch on that body part.

  3. Breathe. Take 4-5 slow breaths.

  4. Name the emotion(s). Ask yourself what feelings are coming up. Is it fear? Sadness? Anger? Disgust? Joy? Excitement or sexual excitement?

  5. Wait for a zing of recognition. Then ask: what is this emotion about? As you describe what your feelings are about, notice if there are any shifts or changes in your body. You might initially notice an increase in the identified emotions then a gentle softening or release.

  6. Breathe. Take another 4-5 slow breaths.

Once you have allowed and acknowledged the feelings, you might feel ready to move on with your day-like continuing your work project or getting back to child rearing.

3. Use self compassion

When you’re feeling incompetent, you may be inadvertently adding onto your suffering by being unkind to yourself. It is difficult enough to feel insecure in the first place; shaming yourself for feeling this way only makes things worse.

However, it's also unrealistic to try convincing yourself that everything is perfect, especially when you’re feeling this low. Your self talk won’t go from disparaging to glowing overnight. Instead, try to meet yourself in the middle with self compassion.

Similar to zooming out, self compassion bridges the gap between acknowledging your hardship and gaining perspective on your struggle. For example, the next time you notice yourself berating yourself with negative self-talk, you might try shifting toward something like this: “These feelings of inadequacy are really uncomfortable. Discomfort is part of being human. Others feel this way too. I know I won’t feel this way forever. I can get through this hard time. I can do this.”

4. Reflect on your values

There are many different reasons why you might be feeling incompetent. Some people feel this way when they fall short of others’ expectations. Sometimes these expectations are explicitly stated, but more often than not, we make assumptions about what other people want from us.

This is a tricky place to be. It’s natural to have a desire to be liked and accepted by others. We are social beings after all; wanting to belong, in any which way, is part of our wiring. However, if you’re only focused on gaining approval from others out of fear of not being liked or being abandoned, you might stray from what is important to you.

Take some time to reflect on what you truly value. How can you align your actions with those values? Praise from meeting others’ expectations is fleeting, but you can achieve a long-lasting sense of self worth when you live in alignment with what is important to you. Instead of living from a place of fear, you can live from a place of joy and love.

Get help for feeling incompetent with online therapy in Canada

All of these strategies are great starting points for coping with low self esteem. However, if you’re still feeling lost or want help implementing these strategies, consider working with a therapist.

It can be incredibly isolating to deal with low self esteem. Your insecurities may prevent you from opening up to family and friends, even if you could really use their support. While it may feel difficult to express how you feel, you don’t need to suffer in silence.

As a counsellor in Vancouver, I help folks like you who are feeling incompetent in life. It’s common to struggle with these emotions, and it’s okay to ask for help. Working with a therapist can help you gain insight around your thoughts and feelings, and having this insight can help you relate differently to what has happened-paving a path for moving forward.

In our work together, we’ll build your emotional resiliency for coping with difficult feelings and experiences. I hope to empower you to make changes toward living a meaningful life–whatever that looks like for you. You don’t have to stay stuck in feelings of incompetence. If you’re interested in learning more about working together, I encourage you to connect.

Stay strong,


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