feeling inferior

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 know someone like this. Maybe they’re just an acquaintance at work, or perhaps someone you engage with more closely like a partner 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, we have to learn to cope with their actions and their words.

feeling inferiorI’ve actually experienced several people in my life who, with a few choice words can turn me into a ten-year-old girl, embarrassed by the ugly dress her mother made her wear to school. Feeling inferior to others isn’t just a problem, it can make it difficult to show up in places you need to be for fear of feeling confronted by someone who always makes you feel less than.

At first, I believed I needed to get stronger, to develop a tougher skin so their words couldn’t hurt me. Or maybe I should learn to be 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 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, making us feel inferior again.

Battle inferiority with this Free Self-Empowerment Contract

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 and efforts. They can’t afford to lose to you. This is all part of their strategy to feel superior.

But simply knowing what’s going on with the person who makes us feel “less than” doesn’t bring us any relief.  Sure, the knowledge is helpful, 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.” They are comments (usually judgments or criticism) that 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. We need to know ourselves better than we know our enemies.

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When we focus on changing our beliefs:

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:

  1. Ask yourself, “What are their words saying about me as a person?”
  2. Dig in and find the place where you hear the truth you fear behind their words. Recognize the words as part of the negative identity you carry… alongside the one you allow others to see.
  3. Recognize that what the words say about you is just a story related to the past. Today you are different.
  4. 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?
  5. 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. With his questions and comments, he always had a way of making me feel like I didn’t know what I was doing. Around him, I felt like an imposter. I had been living 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 was never enough. It was easy for people like him to trigger my fears about failing.

Over time, I’ve had to redefine competence in order to gain freedom from expectations of the past. I didn’t want to live my life in 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, they show that I am learning.

I keep this mantra on hand at all times. I repeat it to myself when I feel inferior: “I create and meet my own expectations for myself and my life. Even my perceived mistakes are a necessary part of learning and growing. They’re really just decisions and they’re mine to make regardless of the outcome.”

If you’re interested in becoming more empowered and learning to set your own guidelines and expectations for yourself, check out my Free Self Empowerment Checklist.

It’s harder now for anyone to make me feel inferior since I’ve decided to stop defending and believing 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. I refuse to defend something that isn’t true.

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 and powerful?


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  1. Trevor Esrael

    Fantastic post, Tracy. Love your posts, but this was especially appropriate for me at this moment!

  2. Anonymous

    Thank you Trevor, I love hearing from my readers when I’ve been able to help in any way.

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