10 Steps to Self Esteem: Step 4 - Overcoming an inferiority complex

Welcome to the fourth step of your 10 steps to self esteem.

ACTION POINT! Remember to fill in your Progress Checker before you start!

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Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent.

Eleanor Roosevelt

When you think about it, we are tackling some pretty deep stuff through these blogs – stuff that can change your life. I hope you are taking time to really take in all the material, letting it truly become part of who you are.

In this step we’re going to take a long hard look at who thinks they’re better/worse than who.

Low self esteem tricks us into feeling inferior to other people.

Remember Cinderella? Cinderella who was constantly bullied, tormented, ridiculed and criticised by her stepsisters?

Every day they told her she wasn’t as good as them – or indeed, anyone – that she was inferior, ugly, stupid and would never and could never find happiness or fulfilment, because no one would ever want or love someone like her, and she would never amount to anything.

Cinderella listened to them. She couldn’t help but listen to them, because she was practically their slave. In fact, she is so neglected by the world at first that her step sisters are her only outside source of ideas about what she herself is like.

But there is a tiny little part of her that refuses to listen – a part of her that knows it’s not true.

And she is wise enough to follow that part.


A proper fairy tale

Who are the ‘ugly stepsisters’? Who is ‘Cinderella’?

Fairy stories are not just entertainment. They show us all kinds of common patterns that you find in real life. Sometimes the different characters in a tale can represent different aspects of a person.

So we could see ‘low self esteem’ as the jealous, vindictive stepsister (let’s call her ‘LoSee’) who’s bullying or trying to bully you (you get to be ‘Cinderella’) into submission.

But there is a part of you (perhaps just a small part right now, but it will grow and become stronger) that knows that much of what LoSee is telling you about yourself is essentially false.

If you know the story of Cinderella, you have probably already guessed that this part isyour ‘fairy godmother’.

I should make it clear that I don’t believe in fairies, or fairy godmothers, and I am not telling you to just wait around for someone to come and wave a magic wand over you and make everything okay. That isn’t going to happen.

I’m telling you to look at the pattern of this story and to understand what it is telling you about what happens inside a person.

The ‘fairy godmother’ is the part of you that sees who you really are, who sees your real value and tries to wake you up to the truth of that, to transform how you see yourself (Cinderella going to the ball), so that you can live the life that’s right for you.

That part of you, your ‘fairy godmother’, led you to read this blog.

When you stand up to LoSee’s lies, and do what everyone – including perhaps even you yourself – tells you you can never do, then you are really untying and escaping from those ‘binds’.

Isn’t it time you stopped listening to that ‘ugly stepsister LoSee’?


Feeling inferior?

In the step after this one, we’ll be addressing how you stop yourself from constantly comparing yourself to other people. But here I want to focus on the so-called ‘inferiority complex’. An inferiority complex exists when you constantly feel you are less adequate, lovable, attractive, intelligent or somehow less ‘worthy’ than most other people around you.


Emotion not logic

An inferiority complex is definitely about feeling rather than thinking.

You don’t sit down and calmly and objectively assess yourself and come to a logical and reasoned conclusion that you are not as good as others in absolutely every respect.

You just feel highly emotional and upset whenever you compare yourself to others.

And this upset leaks out into your everyday life and colors everything. In fact, it’s quite rare for people to do any real thinking about whether or not they really are better or worse than someone elseIt’s just a feeling they have.

Derek said:

I never feel as good as other people, like they’re going to find me out or something. It’s not rational. It’s just a sense I have that other people know more, look better, think better and just are better all round than me!

The fact is, when you feel inferior you feel inferior generally.  This is an important point.


Spreading inferiority

I know that many people are better at many things than I am.

I know there are millions of better decorators, better runners, better musicians and certainly there are better looking people on the planet. There are many peoplewith higher IQs than me.

And all that is just fine, because I don’t feel inferior.

I am much better than many people at some things (like hypnotherapy, swimming and Global Process Ownership). But this doesn’t make me feel superior.

We can only feel ‘inferior’ or ‘superior’ if we look at all human interaction as status markers. If your early conditioning was more focused on status than on connection, you are likely to have got the idea that status is all that matters. We humans are a hierarchical species, so status is important to us, of course, but it is definitely not the only thing that matters.

And of course in some arenas – such as competitive sports or beauty competitions or general knowledge quizzes – status is important.

Consider a hypothetical 100 meter sprint race. Let’s say ‘Janet’ wins. We might fairly conclude from this:

  • Janet is a faster and better runner than the other competitors

  • Janet was a faster runner on the day

but we cannot conclude that

  • Janet is a better person than the other competitors.

Some of the others may be better than her at cooking, or chess, or mechanical engineering, or more at ease socially. Who knows?

In many areas of life it’s more about ‘different’ rather than ‘better’. Sometimes we are more attracted to someone who wouldn’t win a single beauty contest. So are their looks ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than someone who looks ‘ideal’ but leaves us cold?

Watch out for the trap of feeling inferior in one instance or area of life and then extrapolating that sense of inferiority to cover all aspects of your life.


Get out from under the blanket

People often say things like: “I blew my diet on the second day... I’m such a bad person!”  and some people really do define themselves around just one single incident or tiny shred of ‘evidence’ that they really are bad.

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If you feel ugly, or stupid, or unsuccessful, then always counter balance such feelings and ideas with exception examples.

For example, I might be losing repeatedly at chess. Now if I were to listen to the ‘step sisters’ in my mind, I might berate myself: “Jeesh... I’m so stupid!”

Notice how I’ve suddenly gone from just chess to everything here!

I might, indeed, be ‘stupid’ at chess – but super intelligent when it comes to movie knowledge. The term ‘stupid’ implies defunct, deficient and dumb in all ways. Over generalisation is a really bad habit to have if you are trying to maintain emotional stability.

Often people feel inferior because they have focused all their personal discontent on one feature of themselves. This might be a very real learning difficulty in some area, or a real physical difference such as a hare lip or some other perceived physical imperfection.

But we human beings are complex, subtle and multi-faceted. Feeling ‘unworthy’ or ‘inferior’ because of one – or even several – aspects of oneself is like going to a beautiful holiday island and concluding the whole place is hideous because of one over-flowing rubbish bin.

It’s better for me (and you) to develop the strategy of looking for exceptions. So I’m going to say to myself: “So John keeps beating me at chess – but I can thrash him in the water!”


Exercise • Find exceptions

This exercise is similar to the Putting out the garbage exercise in Step 3 (you’re still doing that, aren’t you?)

Draw two columns on a piece of paper.

In the left column, write down some of the blanket negative thoughts you regularly have about yourself.

For example

  • I’m so stupid

  • I’m the worst person in the world I’m hopeless at parties

  • I don’t know anything

  • I’m fat

  • I can’t dance

  • and so on.

Then think of REAL EVIDENCE that shows this blanket statement is untrue, and write it down in the right column.

For example

  • I lent my coat to someone when they were colder than me.

  • I did Mrs X’s shopping for her when she was sick

  • and so on.

You might find it a challenge at first to think of the exceptions – but they are there!

Whenever you feel or hear that self defeating bully trying to put you down, argue with it and put it in its place by pointing out the exceptions to these blanket over- generalisations.


Those irritating ‘perfect’ people

We all need to get into the habit of giving ourselves fair credit.

The first way to do this is to be specific.

Occasionally, we all bump into one of those super annoying people who seem to have it all. You know the types, good looking, intelligent, funny, popular and – it always hurts a little to find out – they’re nice people too, dammit!

But who cares?

You don’t have to. You won’t have to look far (if you are playing by the rules of hierarchy) to find others who are more classically beautiful, more talented and wise and decent and all the rest of it.

And anyway those ‘perfect’ types aren’t really perfect, of course. So

  • Keep it specific. Don’t go from: “They earn more than me!” or “They have a better body than I do!”, both of which are specifics, to: “They are better than me!”, which is a massive over-generalisation.

  • Remember that feeling inferior to everyone is a ‘stepsister’ lie, because it can so easily be countered with logic. Speaking of which...

  • If you feel a bit deflated because someone else seems so much more confident or beautiful or intelligent than you (and remember this might just be the warping effect of low self esteem) then look for exception examples. “Wow, Maria is beautiful! I don’t feel as pretty as her tonight but I know that some people do find me attractive and some people find her a bit too perfect.”

Low self esteem runs on rigid, inflexible thinking. Once you start to generate more flexible perspectives the whole edifice of low self esteem starts to break apart and crumble. (Yay!)

I said that feeling inferior is more of a feeling than a logical conclusion. We can know we are, say, inferior in physical strength to some people but not feel inferior generally to them.


HOMEWORK

Do the exercise daily until you notice  at least half of the progress indicators shown below

  • you feel more able to think rather than just react emotionally when someone seems to do or be better than you in some way

  • you are better able to identify specific qualities and no longer make sweeping statements to yourself about yourself from limited evidence

  • you notice that you are appreciating your own strengths and qualities more

  • you can recognise that people can be better in some ways without being better (in every way)

  • you naturally discount and challenge the negative inner talk that tries to convince you that you’re inferior

As we move on to Step 5 we’ll be exploring more ways you can stop comparing yourself to others so much. This will mean that feeling inferior just figures less and less in your life, and you can really start to feel a strong sense of self worth and self respect.

Emma


emma@emma2france.com ~ 07702 814690