Feeling Inferior?

Some of the best advice about feeling inferior came from Eleanor Roosevelt when she said “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

On the surface her admonition seems to refer to others’ words and actions and their impact upon our sense of self. While true, it’s really only part of the message. We are equally guilty of consenting to our own self denigration. Let’s examine both aspects of feeling inferior so that we can quickly dismiss these feelings in favor of the more productive “can do” mindset.

Other-inspired inferior feelings

There isn’t anyone among us who hasn’t felt inferior, at least temporarily, by what others have said about us or how they treated us. Why do others do this? There are a number of reasons. They may:

  • Do so unintentionally. What they said or did wasn’t intended to hurt us…they just expressed themselves poorly.
  • Be deflecting pain they’re experiencing. We humans tend to do this hoping that it’ll alleviate some of our pain. It never does.
  • Have done so intentionally in hopes of gaining an advantage over us.
  • Have done so as a way to protect themselves. The best defense is a good offense.
  • Have done so because they enjoy hurting others…a very rare occurrence.

If you sense they’ve done so unintentionally, be gracious and accept their apology. It’s sure to come when they realize what they’ve inadvertently done.

When you sense they’re in pain and deflecting that pain, say “It appears that you’re hurting. Is there anything I can do to help you?” Again, they’re likely to apologize and share the source of their pain with you. When you help them, you gain a lifelong friend.

If you sense the person is trying to gain an advantage over you, smile and treat whatever they said or did as if it had no impact on you at all. Nothing infuriates someone who attempts to take advantage of others than failed attempts. They’ll probably leave you alone in the future which is what you’d prefer anyway.

Those who feel inferior often attempt to make others feel inferior as a way to protect their already fragile ego. Use this opportunity to find positive, yet genuine, ways of helping boost their confidence so that their feelings of inferiority are diminished.

For those who simply like to inflict pain on others, nothing is more irritating and frustrating to them than failed attempts. You could ask them “Why are you trying to hurt others when you have so much to give that will elevate those whom you meet?” It’s a long shot, but only takes a few seconds of your time.

Now let’s explore self-induced inferior feelings.

Self-induced inferior feelings

Who among us hasn’t:

  • Discounted our abilities on the presumption that if it’s easy for us it must be easy for everyone.
  • Felt inadequate when attempting something that we’re ill-suited to do.
  • Questioned our ability to accomplish something because we have no background or experience to support our efforts.
  • Assumed that because we’re not naturally talented in an area that we can’t enjoy some level of success in that area.
  • Compared ourselves to others, always those who are better at some aspect of what they do than we are.
  • Assumed that what we’ve dreamed is simply that…a dream that is unattainable.

When you feel inferior because you’ve discounted your abilities, ask yourself: Am I discounting my capabilities? Are there people who struggle in their attempts to do what comes so naturally to me?

When your inferior feelings are the result of feeling ill-equipped, ask these questions: Should I  perform this task? Or should I hire someone to do it for me and devote my energy to things that will make it affordable to hire someone?


When the lack of background and experience are the source of your inferior feelings, make a list of all the things you’ve learned, all the things you’ve accomplished when you had no prior knowledge or experience. You’ll quickly realize that your true power is your ability to learn and adapt.

If you feel that you lack the talent to do something, remind yourself that desire trumps talent every day of the week. Then evaluate your desire to accomplish the task you’re facing. Use a scale of one to five, with five being high, to determine how willing you are to take the first three to five steps necessary to complete the task. If they aren’t all fours or fives, don’t bother. By forgoing the opportunity you’ll not only avoid wasting your time and effort, you’ll avoid taking a hit to your confidence.

When your inferior feelings result from having compared yourself to someone better than you at some aspect of what they do, remind yourself that no matter how good any of us gets at what we do there will always be someone better at some aspect than we are. Remind yourself that these people are potential teachers and that you can improve your capabilities by observing what they do. Or, better yet, asking them how they became so proficient in the area in which they excel.

One of the unfortunate aspects of human nature [it plagues all of us] is that it’s easy for us to dismiss dreams. Earlier disappointments often fuel feelings that what we wish, what we’re dreaming of, are unattainable. The reality is that if you dream it, it is possible. The only question that remains is “Is it important enough to you to do what’s necessary to make that dream a reality?” If it isn’t, that’s fine. Just realize that you’re making a conscious choice not to pursue that dream because the payoff isn’t worth the effort. You’ll avoid inferior feelings and hits to your confidence.

For you

Feeling inferior is something that we will experience throughout our lives. It’s an emotional reaction and, as such, unavoidable. That doesn’t mean we have to nurture these feelings. We have the ability to quickly set aside these feelings in favor of more productive behaviors. 

In the text above, I’ve illustrated ways to avoid feeling inferior and, in the process, boosting your confidence. Please use them to your advantage.

For our kids

Teach your kids that feelings of inadequacy and inferiority are natural, but that they have a choice. They can either nurture them or quickly set them aside in favor of productive behaviors.

If they choose to nurture them, they limit their success and the attendant joy accomplishment they’d experience. They’ll also take a hit to their confidence which will further limit their success and the joy success affords.

Conversely, if they quickly set aside their inferior feelings in favor of productive behaviors, they’ll accomplish anything they desire, assuming their desire is strong enough, and they’ll enjoy greater success and continuously increase their confidence. That’s a huge payoff for a little effort.

Let others know that you love them by sharing this blog post. They’ll appreciate that you care.

I love hearing your thoughts and experiences, share your wisdom in a comment.

If you’d like to enjoy great confidence, check out our Confidence Self-Study programs (opens in a new link). 

If you’d like to enrich the lives of others by teaching them to be more confident, check out our Teaching Confidence Instructor Certification program (opens in a new link).

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2 Responses

  1. bill prenatt

    Dale, Thanks for your usual insightful thoughts feeling inferior. After many years of allowing myself to be critical of myself, I decided ti stop it! The reason being that the whole world will let me know when I’m out of line so why should I bother 🙂

    • dfurtwengler

      LOL, oh so true that others will let us know when we’re out of line. One of the keys is to use their comments to aid our personal growth, not grow our feelings of inferiority. Thanks for sharing, Bill.

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