“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 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 church—along with horridly damaging messages about where our worth and value come from—have 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.