Along with powerlessness, feeling inferior is one of the most difficult experiences a man can have. When you deal directly with feeling inferior, this rips off any facade or structure that you have built to convince others of the opposite impression – that you’re powerful, competent and in charge. In other words, you don’t have to work at showing the world you’re something you’re not, if you feel inferior.
Most people feel inferior to some degree or another at times, and some people feel inherently inferior all their lives. Yet many of us work so hard to posture and build an identity to reject feeling that way. We try to run far away from feeling inferior, usually by gaining wealth and status or trying to become important in one way or another in the world. We try to create a persona of someone we want to be, or someone we’re not, to fight against the feelings we hold so deeply within us.
I think it’s harder for men, because as men, we’ve grown up and been socialized by so many institutions and media to be in charge and be in control. There is no room for feeling inferior in our modern culture, yet intimate relationships have evolved to demand our vulnerability as men. It’s a Catch-22: culture says be strong, but relationships say talk out feelings and be vulnerable. What’s a guy to do without going insane?
In my opinion, it’s OK to feel inferior. It won’t make you less of a man to feel inferior. You may think that others will reject you, including your wife or partner, if you open up and talk about feeling inferior or be vulnerable to any degree. If you are with the right person, that’s probably not true and won’t happen. If you’re with the wrong person, your mate will expect you continue to conform to all the false demands our culture has put on us: to always be strong and bulletproof, and show no weakness.
When we try to be “strong men,” what does that actually mean to you? Does it mean being a stoic rock, or not showing weakness to others? Does it mean playing the “part” of the man? How much do you conform to the rigid stereotypes that media and culture manufacture for men?
Thinking about and challenging what you know about feeling inferior is important to being able to eventually incorporate it, not fear it and start to accept it. It’s a natural and (sometimes) inevitable part of our experience, and the more you can get used to it, the better chance you’ll be giving yourself of not making unwise decisions to avoid feeling inferior.
How can you deal with feeling inferior?
- Challenge what it means to “be a man” and to be strong all the time
- Communicate your inferiority to yourself, and someone you trust, like your wife or girlfriend
- Journal about feeing inferior: use a dedicated journal to write about your inferiority
- Seek out professional counseling to help you further understand your inferiority, and to work through it
- Understand it’s origins, by looking at your early childhood and growing up in your family of origin
- Make friends with it, and don’t run away from it: accept it as it is
- Try to not “overcompensate” for it, by trying to prove how superior you are or how competent you are to others. People see through other people when they’re not transparent, and are acting out a role
- Know that other guys like you are feeling the exact same things as you are, and that you’re not alone with your inferiority
- Ask yourself: “what’s the worst that can happen if I feel these feelings?”
- Play out in your mind the worst-case scenarios, and figure out who would see you as lesser-than or reject you for being inferior. Ask yourself how you give them so much power over you.
- See if you make decisions against feeling inferior. Understand what the consequences of those decisions have been for you
Feeling inferior is a part of the human experience; it’s not a bad feeling that requires you compartmentalize your feeling and run away from it. The better you can get to know when you feel inferior, the more likely you can open up your relationships in a deeper way – including your intimate relationship – and the less likely you’ll be making poor decisions because you’re avoiding feeling inferior.