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 take great pleasure in making other people squirm. Maybe you know someone like this. Maybe they’re an acquaintance at work or perhaps someone you engage with every day, like a partner or family member.
I’ve had several people in my life who, with a few choice words could turn me into a ten-year-old girl, embarrassed by the ugly dress her mother made her wear to school.
At first, when I was confronted, I thought,
- I need to get stronger,
- or develop a tough skin so their words can’t hurt me.
- Maybe I should fight back with cutting words of my own!
Unfortunately, I never got good results from any of these strategies.
People also advised me to ignore them, and I tried.
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, avoidance only works until the next person comes along and pushes the very same buttons in us, making us feel inferior again.
I learned that confidence around adult bullies can only be gained by understanding ourselves better.
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When you 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 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.
The more we engage them, the more fun they have with us.
I wish that simply knowing this would take away the sting of their actions, but it doesn’t. 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.
So here it is, the one thing: The words they say to you, the ones that make you want to run and hide, are actually “triggers.” They are comments (usually criticism) that ignite some of your deepest fears relating to your
- insufficiency, or
Make sense? When their words trigger your fears, 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 own 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. We need to know a truth that is bully-proof.
When you focus on your 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’re saying 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 already 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 is pretty simple actually: Next time someone tries to make you feel inferior,
- Ask yourself, “What are their words saying about me as a person?”
- Dig in and find the place where you hear the truth that you fear behind their words.
- You may be surprised by thoughts about yourself that you don’t like – don’t worry, we all have these.
- Recognize that what the words say about you is just a story related to the past. Today you are different.
- 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.
Although we may feel better blaming the bully for making us feel inferior, the fact is no one can make you believe anything about you that you don’t already believe to be true. In fact, it’s quite easy for someone to confirm what we already suspect or believe.
It’s harder for anyone to make you feel inferior when you stop defending and believing the story of insufficiency and incompetence. Nothing has changed for the people who try to make you inferior, you just don’t have to agree with the story anymore. You won’t need to defend something that isn’t true.
If you care to share, what’s your Mantra, the one that makes you feel whole and powerful?