Feeling Inferior at Work : Consenting to Be Stressed


“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

—Eleanor Roosevelt


No doubt you have seen this famous quote before, but I’d like to explore this further from the perspective of WHY we give that consent to feel inferior and ultimately give others permission to create our stress. There are a couple of generally accepted rules-of-thumb on why we get our buttons pushed—although these reasons may, well, push your buttons. The first reason is:

*Consider the Source*

The person who has criticized you matters to you. You respect them or like them or feel they have some kind of influence over your life and their comments are taken seriously. If this were not the case, you would not take the words to heart. Here’s an example:



If my significant other said, “Those are funny-looking earrings,” I would probably feel hurt. If the neighbor’s two-year-old child came over and said, “Those are funny-looking earrings,” I would weigh the comment and consider the source:


a. This is a little kid I hardly know and have no significant relationship with.

b. He doesn’t have a strong command of the English language yet, so he may have meant “amusing” or “fun” instead of “funny.”

c. Generally, though there may be some exceptions to the rule here, I don’t find that two-year-old children have exquisite taste in jewelry.



Therefore, the truth of whether my earrings are actually funny-looking or fantastic is not the point. The point is the source of the comment. I give my consent to feel badly, inferior, angry, or stressed based on the source of the comment rather than the reality of the comment.



Another reason you may allow yourself to feel inferior is:

*You Feel the Comment Could Be True*

On some level, you feel the comment is true. Or at least you can see why the other person feels the comment is true. It may look like this:



If someone called me a bad mother, I would get my buttons pushed, to be sure. I don’t think there is a mother alive who wouldn’t. But I think I am a pretty good mother, and certainly not a bad mother, so how does this theory that I feel the comment is true fit?



Well, truth be told, I have had doubts about my mothering on occasion. (I would also add, that it would concern me if a mother didn’t question her mothering skills from time to time as this would indicate to me that the mother is not taking her role as seriously as she might).



Similarly, we evaluate our actions as employees on a regular basis and make adjustments to ensure long-term success, right? In fact, most of us get a review of these actions annually. Since this doesn’t happen in our personal relationships, the onus is often on ourselves to self-critique and make adjustments as needed.



While I have had a doubt or two (okay—several) I do think I am a good mother in the end. But if someone said to me that they did not think so, I would choose to be upset (whether I am aware of choosing this consciously or not). I would defend myself and attempt to prove that this isn’t true—but the only reason I react negatively is because I’m a little worried, deep, deep down, that they are correct.



Now if someone said, “Your hair color is unattractive” I would not react in a negative way. Okay, this isn’t as critical as my mothering skills—but it is a judgment that can have some sting, i.e., a person’s appearance. I use this example because I have tried just about every hair color there is, and I know that my current hair color is my ideal hair color. So I just chalk up this comment to personal opinion, or even poor taste, and watch the comment slide on by. It’s just not true for me. I have no doubts about this.



The surer you are about something, the less likely you will feel the need to defend it. You don’t feel attacked, so there is no need to defend.





Consider the two above explanations for feeling inferior as you go throughout the next week. Where are you getting your buttons pushed? Why are you stressed about that feedback? Why is it so hard to hear? Where do you need to make changes, and are not, because it’s too hard or not fun?



Tough questions. But just creating a little self-awareness this week may help you unearth some areas that do need improvement and that are in your control.



Nothin’ inferior about trying to improve yourself!







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Excellent Point! Not rated yet
Your article made me feel better. Your prospective was great. I do have areas that do need improvement and being aware is a great reminder.

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This article was taken right from the pages of my latest book"101 Ways to Love Your Job". There are 100 more just like it.





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