When It Feels Right to Feel Bad


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


I can’t count the number of times I have felt inferior, less than, not enough as a female leader, a mother, a wife, a friend.

That breathless, weird, gut-wobbly feeling where I find myself feeling small is easily accessible. Even as I write these words, I can quickly replicate it—my heart beating faster, a spinning feeling where I lose my footing and am floating untethered, alone, swirling in shame and self-doubt. It’s a feeling of being insignificant, unworthy in a world of the strong and the powerful and the got-it-nailed-down, the voices in my head roaring, “Who do you think you are anyway?” “Nice try, but you’ll never measure up to them” “Why in the $*#^!&! did you say that, do that, be that?”

It’s exhausting.

It’s heart-consuming.

It’s definitely not the way it’s supposed to be.

I am not sure I agree 100 percent with Eleanor Roosevelt’s words. I have been in many situations where people purposefully tried to make me feel inferior, I am quite sure of it. There are usually a lot of power dynamics floating around in systems that subtly and directly keep people in their place underneath.

At the same time, there are many more times where no one around me was trying to make me feel anything. Everything that was going on in my head and my heart was completely and totally self-inflicted.

It felt right to feel bad.

Do you know this feeling? The one where in some strange way it feels right to feel bad? This “bad” feeling is somehow comfortable, familiar, easy (and really predictable).

Power is a tricky thing to talk about, and an even trickier thing to step into. It’s an issue for both men and women, but I firmly believe that when it comes to women, there’s an extra complication. Years of patriarchy in the world, in the churchalong with horridly damaging messages about where our worth and value come fromhave created a dilemma for us.

Wanting more power—leadership, value, voice—feels bad.

We don’t want to be power-hungry. We don’t want to take from others. We don’t want to rock the boat. We don’t want to look stupid. We don’t want to make ourselves that vulnerable. We don’t want to __________ (you fill in the blank).

But for all the “don’t wants” there are an equal amount of “wants.”

We want to step into who God created us to be.

We want to use our gifts and passions for the greater good.

We want to use our freedom to set someone else free.

We want to create and lead and nurture and advocate and collaborate and speak and share and be part.

We want to matter.

The trouble comes for us when we let the “don’t wants” control us.

I keep learning that the only way to step into who I was created to be, is to risk the feeling of inferiority. To expose myself. To make myself vulnerable. To trade my desire for comfort with a willingness to live in the discomfort of stepping into the good kind of power that Jesus embodied.

The power of humility, of showing up with all my weaknesses, all my strengths, in all my relationships.

The power of presence and participation, of being in the room fully instead of lurking in the corners watching everyone else play.

The power of risk, of engaging even when I don’t have it all figured out and buttoned down in a neat and tidy way.

The power of sacrifice (not the kind that says, “Oh, I will just put my needs aside so everyone else can get theirs met; mine are stupid anyway,” I’m talking about the power of sacrifice where we give up our pride and self-protection and comforts and what-people-might-think and comforts to live out the call that is deep in our hearts).

Humility, presence and participation, risk, sacrifice. As I ponder each of them, I realize how much I love these words.

At the same time, I hate them, too. Because each of them require me to actually show up and play and invite the possibility of feeling inferior.

I get tired of feeling inferior. Don’t you?

But I keep learning something so important that will probably take me a lifetime of practice: I can’t prevent the feeling of inferiority. It’s going to swoop in.

The thoughts and self-doubts are going to start swirling. The weird reality of what happens when we step into our power isn’t going to magically go away. The challenge for me is what I’m going to do with these thoughts and feelings.

I love the connection to the practice of centering prayer. In centering prayer as we are trying to clear our minds and souls and meditate, it’s inevitable that loud distracting thoughts come in. Instead of trying to resist them and hunker down and will them away, the better practice is to acknowledge them lightly—”Oh, there you are, I see you, I acknowledge your presence. But now I am going to send you on your way.”

That’s what I’m trying to learn to do with inferiority.

It can’t take root without my permission.

When the feelings come in, I don’t have to give myself over to them. I can acknowledge them. I can say them out loud to safe friends. I can honor “Oh, there you are again, trying to ruin me. Guess what? You can’t.”

I can refuse to give them permission.

Oh, my SheLoves sisters, you are more powerful than you know, with so much leadership and value and voice to bring to a hurting and desperate-for-wholeness world.

Let’s refuse to give inferiority permission.

Kathy Escobar
Kathy Escobar co-pastors The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver. A trained spiritual director, speaker, and advocate, she also blogs regularly about life and faith at kathyescobar.com and is the author of Faith Shift and Down We Go—Living out the Wild Ways of Jesus. A mom of 5 young adults and teens, she is married to Jose and lives in Arvada, Colorado.
Kathy Escobar

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  1. I think my fill-in-the-blank for the we don’t want to would be seem entitled. Even in places I know I could belong, my lifelong battle with feeling displaced makes me feel like to truly act as if I belonged somewhere would be too entitled, too presumptuous. Thanks for making me see what a problem this is to living out my calling.

  2. I read this a few days ago and have been mulling it over ever since. It’s powerful. Thanks for putting it into words.

  3. Joy Howard says:

    Such perfect timing. Such encouragement. Thank you. Yesterday, in my early American literature class, my college students and I discussed Anne Bradstreet’s 17th century poems.

    We talked about the sense of inferiority that seeps into women even as brilliant and talented as this women who was the first woman to publish poetry in English in America.

    She doesn’t think she is good enough even thought she has mastered physiology, anatomy, astronomy, and Greek metaphysics so darn well she weaves them effortlessly into her poems. In class, my students said that we have to fight actively as women, or people of color, or immigrants, or queer , or, or, or… We have to fight and tell ourselves the truth to make sure we do not accept the message of the world that refuses to see our brilliance and our love. I told my students to keep fighting.

    I say the same to you. Keep fighting. Don’t let the world’s words of inferiority seep in.

    • thanks, joy. it is fascinating how deep the grooves are for us as women, the voices that tell us we aren’t _____ enough, and how much overcoming needs to happen. it’s so beautiful to see so much overcoming happen!

  4. Hannah Kallio says:

    I agree with you about the idea of acknowledging painful thoughts rather than trying to stuff them. My experience, in ministry and in my own life, is that they come back until they are dealt with. All those self condemning thoughts are rooted in lies I believe, and for every lie there is a more compelling truth. Discerning the lie and asking for God’s truth results in freedom, not just freedom to focus elsewhere in that moment, but permanent freedom from that lie.

  5. Erica Goldberg Senecal says:

    Thank you.

  6. In it together, friend. Thank you for over-writing eloquently and kindly and passionately and positively the on-going negative messages I’ve been jostling in my mind and heart of late…the light is exposing and the truth, freeing. THANKS! xoxox

  7. Thank you for this. I struggle so much in the role of leader; it’s that dynamic of wanting to be a “good girl,” or a “nice person.” Which isn’t always the best compass for leadership. Like pastordt said, I especially appreciate your revised definition of self-sacrifice. I am not even kidding when I say that I’m going to write it down so I can revisit it in prayer this week. Thanks for your words!

    • oh, the good girl groove is such a strong underneath current and can really rob us of our true call, our true identity, our true leadership, our true us. thanks for taking time to share.

  8. pastordt says:

    I LOVE THIS SO MUCH. Thank you for putting into beautiful, powerful words, this central so-important truth, Kathy. And this little paragraph right here? “The power of sacrifice (not the kind that says, “Oh, I will just put my needs aside so everyone else can get theirs met; mine are stupid anyway,” I’m talking about the power of sacrifice where we give up our pride and self-protection and comforts and what-people-might-think and comforts to live out the call that is deep in our hearts).” YES, YES, YES. Making that all-important shift is central. Preach it.

  9. Donna-Jean Brown says:

    Thank you for this encouragement to honour our feelings. Thank goodness there are resources that can help us keep learning how to do that, like SheLoves and Brene Brown’s book “Rising Strong”. And “centering prayer” oh yes – I find it very helpful and in fact just returned from a group that helps me do that. Here’s a link in case anyone wants to explore the idea. http://www.contemplativeoutreach.org/category/category/centering-prayer

    • i am glad you shared that link! such an amazing tool. i need to practice it much more in my life because it always brings peace. i haven’t read rising strong yet but am looking forward to it soon!

  10. There are so many empowering thoughts in here Kathy! I particularly appreciate this one… ‘The trouble comes for us when we let the “don’t wants” control us.’ I will now be more self-aware when I am too consumed with the ‘don’t wants’ in my life. This is so helpful. Thank you! xo

  11. Bev Murrill says:

    I love your definition of the power of sacrifice; spot on! And I also have learned to lightly (and lightly is the key, isn’t it) acknowledge my issues but go on regardless. Good post, Kathy. Thanks.

  12. Holding our hearts before the Truth of what God says about us and living in the empowerment of healthy community, I think, is where we find the courage to refuse those harmful — and false — messages.
    I really love how you talk back to your feelings of inferiority!
    I heard someone ask this question once and it has stayed with me: “What would you do to a friend who lied to you as often as your feelings have?”


  1. […] week i have a post up at sheloves magazine. October’s theme is power, and it’s called When it Feels Right to Feel Bad. Eleanor Roosevelt says, “no one can make you feel inferior without your permission” […]

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