“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt
This is a hard one. But Eleanor Roosevelt knew what she was talking about. The former First Lady ranked in the top nine most widely admired people of the twentieth century. Her legacy, one among many, was to tell us “The choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.” Yet her life was far from an easy one. Her experiences led her also to tell us this: “You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ ”
How Others Can Make Us Feel
Perhaps the most frequent, and psychologically damaging, event we can experience is to have other people try to make us feel inferior to them. Parents, teachers, friends, and our peers have enormous influence on our state of happiness — if we let them. We can feel good about ourselves and the careless disparaging or mocking words of someone else can change our state immediately for the worse — if we let them. We can feel genuine and deserved excitement at our achievements and yet the words of critics can sink our enthusiasm — if we let them.
The foundation of why we let other people affect our state of mind and heart lies in our willingness to forfeit our own life to theirs, symbolically, at least. We worry so much about being accepted that we are often willing to pay a high price for that approval. Sometimes we are aware of doing this. Many times we are not, until some event or crisis changes our perception.
In truth, our concern about what others think and feel toward us occupies way too much of our time. That kind of worry is like living a half life for the duration we spend immersed in it. It yields nothing for us — except distraction. It solves no problem. It does not enhance our life, or move us forward.
Others Have No Power Over Us
If we were aliens come to earth to study the species, how would we see this negative behavior in which earthlings spent time making others feel less important, less significant, less valued? Step back and imagine you are the observer, not the participant. The first, the most primary question you would ask is why people put up with it.
It’s a good question. We don’t have to. We cannot always stop others from careless or even cruel behavior, but we can stop ourselves from reacting to it.
A Way Into Freedom
Weakness is not being less — no one is “less” than anyone else — weakness is reacting with negative emotion to whatever is going on. Yielding to that unhappy emotion.
We do not have to do that.
When we understand this truth, we are free. Exactly what these very powerful words of Eleanor Roosevelt are telling us.