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 to 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.

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.

At first, when confronted by them, I thought, I need to get stronger! I need to develop a tough skin so their words can’t hurt me! Or maybe I should fight back with cutting words of my own!

Unfortunately, I never got good results from any of these strategies. People 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, avoiding them only works until the next person comes along and pushes the very same buttons in us, making us feel inferior again. What I learned over time is that our feelings of inferiority are amplified by what we focus on.

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 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 stong 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 lack, weakness, incompetence, unacceptability, appearance, insufficiency, or intelligence. 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.

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When we focus on 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’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 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 that you fear behind their words.
  3. You may be surprised by thoughts about yourself that you don’t like – don’t worry, we all have these.
  4. Recognize that what the words say about you is just a story related to the past. Today you are different.
  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.

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 somewhat believe to be true. In fact, it’s quite easy for someone to confirm what we already suspect or believe. Shifting your focus from the person you think is causing you pain to delving into your own belief structures will help you see that you have the power to heal your own feelings of inferiority.

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.

Learn more about self-discovery and self-awareness in my online course, Writing Your Way Home.

If you care to share, what’s your Mantra, the one that makes you feel whole and powerful?

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.


  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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