Dealing With Someone Who Makes You Feel Inferior
How do you deal with someone who makes you feel inferior? Not just once, or twice, but often?
I call them adult bullies, people who seem to take great pleasure in making other people squirm. Maybe you have experience with someone like this. It could be an acquaintance at work, or someone you engage with more closely like a partner, boss, or family member. Whether our antagonist lives in our house, or we see them only occasionally, we can’t just get rid of them. At some point in life we have to learn to cope with their actions and their words.
I’ve actually experienced several people in my life who, with a few choice words can turn me into a ten-year-old girl again, embarrassed by the ugly dress her mother made her wear to school. This realization made me think that part of the problem might actually be ME! And that thought led me to believe that maybe I could do something about it.
At first, I believed I needed to get stronger and develop a tougher skin so their words couldn’t hurt me. Or maybe I should become witty…fight back with cutting words of my own. But unfortunately, I never got good results from either of these strategies. People advised me to just ignore them, but that didn’t work well either.
Feeling defeated, I simply resigned myself to the fact there were just certain people I had to avoid. I’d tell myself, I don’t care what they think about me. But the truth is, I did, and that’s why their words had the power to hurt me. What I learned over time is that although it may be possible to shut some of those people out of our lives, avoiding them only works until the next person comes along and pushes the very same buttons in us.
When we focus on the bully:
There’s a lot of advice out there about how to handle “adult bullies.” Across the board, psychologists confirm that people who try to make other people feel inferior actually feel threatened themselves. To avoid feeling insecure, they always try to stay “one up” on everyone. Any attempt to defend yourself usually results in a bully increasing their ammo. This is all part of their strategy to feel good in the world.
But simply knowing what’s going on over there with the person who makes us feel “less than” doesn’t bring us any relief. Sure, the knowledge is helpful to begin with, but knowing they feel insecure doesn’t help us learn the one truth we need to deal with all people who make us feel inferior. We have to want to find freedom where we can…in our own hearts.
So here it is, the one thing: The words they say to you are actually triggers. These ignite some of your deepest fears relating to lack, weakness, incompetence, unacceptability, appearance, insufficiency, or intelligence. When their words trigger your fear, it sets off your fight-or-flight defense mechanism. The associated feelings like shame and embarrassment make you want to run, hide…and seek safety. You want to run away to protect your self-limiting belief structure from being exposed.
So if we want freedom from feeling inferior, we need to focus on our beliefs about who we are.
When we focus on changing our thoughts:
The reason why an adult bully can make you feel inferior is they’ve learned to speak to a story that you already have about yourself that you don’t like…but also secretly fear might be true. Their words cut to the bone, because you’re afraid that what they say might be true. It’s as if they can see into the book of your life and read the lines of negative self talk you also use on yourself.
What makes a bully so effective in knocking us down is they reinforce what we secretly believe. And this, if looked at objectively (after the feelings of shame and embarrassment fade), can be used as a tool for healing our negative beliefs about ourselves.
The process for healing is a very simple concept:
- Ask yourself, “What are their words saying about you as a person?”
- Dig in and find the place where you hear the truth behind their words. Recognize the words as part of the negative identity you carry… alongside the one you allow others to see.
- Recognize that what the words say about you is just a story related to the past. Remind yourself that you are not that, in essence.
- From another angle…If you were trying to defend something what would it be? Do you really need to defend it? Could you let that go?
- Develop a mantra to have on hand when anyone tries to engage your negative identity (the story) rather than the truth of who you are.
I’ll give you an example,
I have an acquaintance who used to push my “incompetence” button, especially in areas where I already struggled to feel competent. I lived with this “not good enough” story for years. I grew up in a home where excellence was drilled into our heads. Mistakes weren’t allowed. Less than perfect wasn’t ever enough. My self-worth can still get tangled up with too high expectations.
Over time, I’ve had to redefine competence in order to give myself freedom from my parents’ expectations. I didn’t want to live my life from a place of fear, constantly dreading the idea that I might make a mistake. My spiritual path taught me that I was more than my experiences or my mistakes. So now I give myself permission to be wrong sometimes, and make mistakes when I need to, knowing these things don’t make me incompetent.
I keep this mantra on hand at all times. I repeat it to myself when I begin to “fall for” feeling inferior: “I create and meet my own expectations for myself and my life. Even my perceived mistakes are a necessary part of the beauty of my unique life. I honor my decisions and I do my self-defined best…all of the time.”
It’s hard now for anyone to make me feel inferior. I’ve chosen to stop defending the story of insufficiency and incompetence. Nothing has changed for the people who try to make me inferior, I just don’t agree with the story anymore.
Can you think of a time when someone made you feel “less than.” Can you use this five-step process to heal what’s underlying the trigger they use to taunt you? If you care to share, what’s your Mantra, the one that makes you feel whole?
If you’re interested in learning more about empowering decisions, check out my Self Empowerment Checklist.