How to handle people who make you feel inferior

Eleanor Roosevelt once said: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Well, if only it was that easy. Positive self-esteem is related to upbringing and the strength of the bonds we form with our parents. But even with the best start in life, most people have found themselves in scenarios, either social, professional or familial, where they discover how it feels to be somewhat lesser than their cohort. You might feel inadequate, faulty, humiliated or just downright wrong. It’s an uncomfortable, demoralizing sensation – and very debilitating, especially if you are overly modest or self-effacing.

People who make you feel inferior often have quite serious issues themselves. Sometimes linked with bullying, co-dependent, narcissistic or even passive-aggressive behaviour, the ultimate result is the victim always ends up feeling like … rubbish. You have probably heard of Sigmund Freud, but what of psychotherapist Alfred Adler (1870-1937)? He was a student of Freud, but it was Adler who developed the concept of the Inferiority Complex. At its most basic, the normal emotion of inferiority is OK; it serves as a motivating force in life. It’s just when it becomes an all-consuming pursuit of power that we need to raise our eyebrows.

How to deal with people who make us feel inferior

  • Don’t give a toss about what other people think of you (“Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.” Clark Gable)
  • Be the best person you can; this creates self-confidence. Heed Oscar Wilde who said “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.”
  • Don’t let them get away with it. Take charge and decide to act (but not attack)
  • It’s them, not you! Watch how they treat others; it’s likely they exhibit the same superior gambit with everyone
  • Read Benjamin Hoff’s ‘The Tao of Pooh’ for inspiration on human behaviour
  • Have a think about renegotiating the terms of your relationship and remember: “The sun never has an inferiority complex. It shines the same whether above or below.” 

People who make us feel inferior have ingrained belief systems that don’t really gel with what life’s all about. They eschew the potential joy that can be had by empowering, nurturing and validating others. We can understand and empathise; now it’s time to move on.