“I’m Not Good at Anything:” How to Combat Low Self-Esteem

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It’s common to have the thought, “I’m not good at anything,” at one time or another in life. This thought may come to you when you are young and still trying to figure out what career you want to pursue or what your greater life purpose might be. It can come later in life, too, as you are changing career paths, or when you are feeling like you aren’t living as meaningful or accomplished a life as some of your peers.

Usually, thinking, “I’m not good at anything” indicates that you are experiencing a bout of low self-esteem or self-doubt.

Some people can shake these thoughts off, and move on. But it’s common to get bogged down in this type of thinking. If this type of thinking becomes dominant, it can be difficult to move past it. The truth is, though, everyone is good at something, and usually what holds people back from figuring out what that something is, is negative self-talk and low self-esteem.

Let’s look at what “I’m not good at anything” may feel like, what may be causing these feelings, and how to cope.

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What “I’m Not Good at Anything” Feels Like

Feeling like you are not good at anything is an indication that you are experiencing low self-esteem and a poor self-image. Often, feelings of low self-esteem are correlated with feelings of anxiety and depression. Negative self-thoughts can impact your performance and experience at school and work, and can even negatively impact your interpersonal relationships.

Let’s take a look at what how these negative thoughts are typically experienced:

Playing the Comparison Game

You may be grappling with your purpose in life, and you may feel like you don’t have any talents or gifts. This thought often comes when you are comparing yourself to others. You may look at social media, or TV, magazines, and the news, and feel like all you see are people who are successful, self-confident, and seem to have found their purpose in life.

Harping on Past Failures

You may also be going through a list of ways you perceive yourself as unsuccessful. You may think back on a time that you tried to pursue an interest or applied for a job, and failed in some way. You may be thinking of times you received low grades in school, times that you were put down by others, or times that you felt unappreciated.

An Inability to Try New Things

You may consider trying something new, or pursuing a hobby that you think you might enjoy, but your negative thoughts are likely stopping you from doing so. You might imagine yourself being good at something momentarily, but then immediately think of the ways that you could fail.

Besides “I’m not good at anything,” some of the other thoughts you may be having at this time may include:

  • “I have no talents.”
  • “I am not interesting and no one is interested in me.”
  • “There is no point in me trying to be good at anything.”
  • “Everyone else but me is happy and successful.”
  • “I’ll never be good at school or work.”
  • “There’s no reason for me to try something because I won’t be good at it.”
  • “I’m a failure.”

It’s important to understand that these types of thoughts—along with the thought “I’m not good at anything”—are simply thoughts. They don’t necessarily express the reality of your life. They are examples of negative self-talk, and usually perpetuate a cycle of more negative thoughts, piled one upon the other.

Identifying the Causes

There are several different dynamics that might be at play that are contributing to your feeling of not being good at anything. Often, the reason someone has these thoughts is because of a combination of personality traits, upbringing, and life experiences.

Understanding what may be causing these thoughts will help you figure out how to move past them.

Low Self-Esteem

Low self-esteem is probably the most common trigger of thoughts like, “I’m not good at anything.” As the American Psychological Association (APA) describes it, low self-esteem has to do with the way you perceive yourself. “It reflects a person’s physical self-image, view of his or her accomplishments and capabilities, and values and perceived success in living up to them, as well as the ways in which others view and respond to that person,” the APA describes.

It’s important to understand that your perception of yourself and your abilities isn’t static. You can have periods of negative self-image and times of positive self-image. In other words, self-esteem is something that can be improved.

Studies have shown that higher self-esteem and self-image can have positive impacts on life experiences.

Negative Self-Talk

It may not feel like it, but we are constantly telling stories about ourselves in our minds. Thoughts like, “I’m not good at anything” are an example of negative self-talk, and can have real impacts on how we perceive ourselves, our relationships, and what we are able to pursue in life.

Studies have found that repeatedly engaging in negative self-talk can have strong impacts on our mental health, and can increase anxiety and depression. But there’s a silver lining here: thoughts are so powerful, that making an effort to change negative thoughts into more positive ones can have real benefits.

For example, people who adopt more optimistic attitudes about life tend to experience more physical and mental well-being as well as increased quality of life.

Relationships

The company we keep can have strong impacts on how we see ourselves and what we perceive to be our strengths and weaknesses. Being in a close relationship with someone who is quick to put you down, who believes that you are untalented, or worthless in some way, can negatively affect your self-esteem.

Conversely, research has found that being in relationships with people who are supportive, encouraging, and accepting can boost self-esteem. The effects of this may be cumulative, too.

For example, children who are given positive messages about their self-worth are more likely to seek out relationships that are positive as teens and also as adults.

Childhood Traumas

Unfortunately, experiencing adverse childhood experiences or traumas can have lifelong impacts on self-esteem and self-image. Studies have found this to be particularly true when it comes to household dysfunction and abuse.

Children who lived in homes with high levels of dysfunction or who experienced abuse were more likely to have lower self-esteem as grownups.

How to Cope

Fortunately, there are several things you can do to break the cycle of negative thinking and the idea that you are not good at anything. Here are some ideas.

Take a Social Media Break

Most people are reliant on social media as a way to connect with others and even as a way to get news and keep up with current trends. But there’s a dark side to social media, and that’s the way that it can negatively impact self-esteem and feelings of self-worth.

People on social media often share a “curated” image of their lives, using filters in photos, and picking and choosing which parts of their life to share. That’s why it might seem like everyone is full of successes and talents.

Taking a break from social media can give you a chance to stop engaging in the comparison game that social media seems to encourage, and to focus on improving your own self-image, mental health, and well-being.

Learn to Accept Compliments

People who think they are not good at anything often won’t believe other people when they point out the things that they actually are good at. Simply put, people with low self-esteem aren’t very good at accepting compliments.

If this is true of you, you might consider a little exercise. Note each time that someone attempts to offer you a compliment, and see what happens if you accept it. Yes, you might feel at first that you are faking it to some extent. But if you continue accepting the compliments, you might change your own thinking about the way others perceive you and your ability to perceive yourself in the same light.

Try Journaling

A powerful way to sort out your feelings and understand your thoughts is to write them down. First of all, writing down your thoughts and feelings can help you identify what they are. Understanding what’s going on with you is the first step to starting to feel better.

Taking a few minutes a day to just “spill” your thoughts on the page can be therapeutic.

If you notice that your thoughts seem to be dominated by negative thinking and low self-confidence, you might want to try something different: a gratitude journal. One of the best ways to turn negative thinking around is to start a gratitude journal, and studies have found a relationship between gratitude and self-esteem.

Keeping a gratitude journal isn’t complicated: just write down one thing you are grateful for each day. It can be something as simple as your morning coffee, or your child’s laughter. Just commit to writing it down.

Try Therapy

Therapy is a great way to work on your self-esteem and self-image. Therapy can help you better understand what is causing you to feel this way, but even more importantly, it can help you practice ways of managing your negative thoughts.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy focuses on identifying negative thoughts, and learning techniques for retraining your thought patterns and adopting a more positive mindset.

Identify the Gifts That Come From Within

An impactful way to combat the thought “I’m not good at anything” is to reframe what being good at something really means. When most of us think of being good at something, we think of things like getting a high-powered job, getting into a good college, having some admired talents, or having a happy relationship or marriage.

But these are all outward accomplishments, and while they may be things to celebrate, they aren’t the only ways that people’s life gifts are expressed.

Your gifts may be less obvious or “showy” but are still just as meaningful. Being a good friend, a good listener, or someone who is kind and patient, are special gifts. Similarly, having lived through difficult circumstances and learning to persevere despite challenges, is most definitely a gift, and something to be proud of.

See what happens when you sit down and list the talents that are more inward and have to do with personality qualities that make you a good person and positive contributor to making the world a better place.

A Word From Verywell

“I’m not good at anything” is a very powerful statement, and if you say it often enough, you will start to believe it. But a statement like this is just a thought you are telling yourself, it comes from a place of low self-esteem, and is not your reality.

Everyone on earth has something that they are good at—simply getting up in the morning and starting your day is an accomplishment in and of itself. It might take a while to identify your talents and strengths, but they are there. You owe it to yourself to do a little digging and to change your mindset to think more positively about your own self-worth.

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