My Inferiority Complex from Comparing

When was the last time you compared yourself to others?

When you compare, do you compare yourself to people who are better or worse than you are?

What feelings come up after you’ve made the comparisons?

The last time I compared myself with other people was just last week when I saw an old colleague of mine switch roles and become a senior manager at a major company. That same day, I also compared myself to a business school classmate of mine who is four years younger than I am in age but who is a manager at his work. In both of these cases, I felt insignificant and little because I no longer have a “senior” in my title and I’m also not a manager. When I compare, I often compare myself to people I think are better than I am, and I use that as a way to put myself down. When I feel equal to or when I feel that I am in a better position than others, I approach it with a sense of privilege and gratitude. Before I make the comparison with someone I think is better than I am, I could have been in a great mood, feeling that I’m doing well in life. But once I start comparing, I turn all my accomplishments into naught. I deny that I’ve done anything well or right.

I shared these feelings of feeling less-than with a friend. The friend asked if I could also become a senior or a senior manager if I wanted to. Sure I can. But then I asked myself, is that what I want? At this point, no, and I also don’t feel ready yet to advance in my role. When it comes to job titles. I have had “senior” in my title before, but those titles were mere title changes that gave me a bump in my salary, not necessarily titles that gave me more responsibilities or extra experience. I have foregon the senior title a couple of times for more money. In my mind, I’d rather chase money than a title. However, guilt forms within me when I think this way. Why don’t I want more? Why am I not driven the way I should be?

Another example of feeling inadequate because of comparing relates to the long-term goal I set this year of wanting to increase my salary to 300K in three years. I still need to work out the steps on how to get there, but I thought the goal is achievable and not too lofty. But when I saw on social media that some people set goals to have a 6–7 figure monthly income, I wondered if my dreams are too small. When people in my life share their dreams that seem far fetched for myself, I also wonder if my dreams need to be bigger?

There are moments and in certain areas where I feel completely confident. I can work a crowd at large parties. I can have exciting one-on-one conversations. I am excellent at job interviews. I walk into the gym like I own the weight room. I grew an Asian American social group from 500 members to 3000 members within three years. When I was deep into the translation and interpreting business, I spoke with authority and clarity and also taught others how to support our community with people who have limited English abilities.

But I have long held insecurities about my capabilities at the workplace. I also have an inferiority complex of where I am in life compared to where I think I should be, and where I am going compared to where I think I should want to go. When it comes to my career, every single step feels like it has been challenging as I’m always trying to prove to myself that I am worthy of the role. Even though I’ve received accolades and promotions, I never feel that I am good enough. I always feel that I am not enough.

When it comes to business school as well, I often feel that my classmates are smarter than I am and have better experiences than I do even though I have no bases for my assumptions.

Last week, I had a team project for business school. I felt anxious about it because I have never worked with the classmate. He’s spoken up in class and made some good points. I felt that he is smart. I was nervous about the project and worried about how I would come across to him. I was also feeling stressed because it took me a while to grasp the assignment. Thankfully, I finally understood it and I was prepared––I read the case. I formulated my thoughts, and had a point of view to share. Once I did that, I felt much better. In our team meeting, I was actually more prepared than my teammate, and we had a good discussion. I did not feel less than, but like an equal. That was a win for me. It was a win because even though I had felt less than, I didn’t let it hinder my performance. I still did what I needed to do, and I proved myself wrong.

This is how I am in the workplace a well. I always make sure that I prepare ahead of meetings. This is a good thing, but what I need to alter is the reason why I’m prepared. I should be prepared because it is best for me and also my customer, not because I want to make sure I don’t feel less-than at the meeting.

Sometimes, when I feel little, it shows in my body language and others can see as well. Years ago when I was researching which business school in Chicago to apply to, I went to an info session held by the admissions office. My married ex came along with me. At the time, he was finishing up law school. Before the session, there was an hour of meet and greet, with h’ourderves and cocktail tables for people to mingle. The admissions director was making his rounds. When he came to our table, he looked at my ex and me, and asked him, “why are you deciding now to get your MBA?” My ex immediately redirected the admissions director’s attention to let him know that his wife, who was standing next to him, was actually who is interested in applying.

Something about how the director of admissions assumed that my tall, white, male, blonde-haired, blue-eyed partner was looking at business schools, made me feel little. I felt insignificant because I’m am short and I didn’t feel that I have the stature of someone impressive, especially when I was standing next to someone else who is 6’4. I also have the complex of not being where I should be in life and so I was already feeling insignificant. Once I feel little, I feel like I also shrink in the space I’m taking up. That interaction and event was a bust for me. I didn’t reframe my mindset and felt inadequate the rest of the time. I stayed little and did not have a great interaction with the admissions director.

The truth is, I did that to myself. I made the assumption that he didn’t see me as business school material. I made the assumption that I didn’t stand out. For all I know, he could have thought we both were looking at business school, or that he was just asking everybody there the same question. That I let that person’s possible opinion deflate my confidence is something that I need to work on. My ex and I talked about this after the event. He was surprised by how quickly I deflated and also pointed out that I have a tendency to defer to people who I think are better than I am. This was 3 years ago, and I’m still working on the moments when I want to defer to people because I think they are better and therefore always right.

After that experience, I attended all pre-business school events by myself. I made sure to go by myself so I had no one to lean on when I felt uncertainty. I made sure to remind myself to stand tall and not defer to anyone. I was nervous for every single event, but I took deep breaths before walking into the room, and made my rounds. I did so well it took my own breath away. I took control of the room and situation, not the admissions directors. The interview and networking event I went to before I got accepted to Kellogg at Northwestern University was amazing. I was on it. I was in control. I was confident. All of that showed through my interactions and personality that day, and I think all of that helped with the admissions’ decision to accept me into the school.

The little moments when I feel big are moments that I am proud of. I am big! I can take up space. I belong and I am just as competent as anyone who got hired into my company and got accepted into my business school.

Going back to feeling little. I feel little when I compare. I feel little when I let society determine who I should be, how I should act, where I should work, what position I should hold, and how much money I should make. I feel little when I don’t fit into the box. I feel little also because I don’t take credit for what I have achieved and what I am capable of. I know in my mind that I am not what I believe myself to be, that I am more than what I tell myself I am. But I think so little of myself in certain cases that it is crazy to anyone who know me that I think that way.

What do I need to do to feel confidence in these areas? What I need to do to counter these self-doubts and insecurities?

I know that a mindset shift is needed for me to truly feel confidence in work and school, to keep in mind that I am competent and not let my confidence escape me. Here are some actions I can take whenever I start to feel less-than.

Question the Limiting Beliefs. When I feel inferior, or as if an imposter, I need to sit down and evaluate my thoughts and feelings. Are they accurate? If there are areas I can work on, write those down and take steps to improve myself so I can build confidence in those areas. If I am belittling myself again, I should jott down what I am good at, what I have done well, and challenge my inferiority complex. I need to own what I know. Own my achievements. Own that I am good enough.

Accept that I can also Be Better Than Others. I can be the alpha, too! I don’t need to always be the beta in work and school. I don’t ever need to make myself little just to make other people feel better. Sometimes I do that. I make myself seem less knowledgeable because I am afraid to be the one who knows the most. Why do I do that? Who does it even serve? I need to learn to accept that I do know things, that I am capable, and that when I own it, I can share my knowledge and truly become a leader.

Accept the Compliments I Receive. I don’t take compliments well. I say thank you but I don’t agree with the compliments most times. I see what other see, and I see why they say what they say about me, but deep down inside, I don’t believe it. I say thank you because I know it’s what is expected of me, and there’s no need to show my insecurity in front of people who don’t matter to me. I need to work on believing in myself and my worth so I can truly accept what others see in me and believe me to be.

Keep Moving Forward. I haven’t been one to stop taking action just because of my fear of not being good enough. I need to continue not to let my fears and feelings of unworthiness hold me back. This is one way I can prove to myself that I am so much more than I believe.

Document It. We are forgetful beings. When things go well, I celebrate them for a few seconds, and then I go back to the grind. When things go unwell, I can focus on it longer, feeling down. But the truth is, there are more good moments than bad, but I fixate on the few occasions that make me feel little. Documenting my wins will help remind me that I am so much more than what I am feeling in the current moment.

Love Myself. At the end of the day, I need to accept myself. Accept where I am in life while knowing that I’m taking steps every day to grow and become more and more myself. Accept and love myself for how I am now, and tell myself every day that I am enough. This is a way to affirm to myself that I’m moving in the right direction.

Do some of these feelings happen to you?

If you also feel insecure, feel little, or inferior, I hope that you also know that you are so much more than what you believe yourself to be. Observe yourself more. Listen to what others are saying to you, and embody those compliments. You are enough right now. Don’t let even yourself tell you otherwise.

How Feeling Unworthy Kept Me in Bad Relationships

After my last post on my upbringing without my mom, I connected with my mom. I expressed my resentment toward her absence when we were growing up, but also shared that I have an inkling that she may have been going through struggles and conflicts that made it difficult for her to show up as a mother. My mom decided she was ready to share her story with me, and it was heartbreaking. I demanded the truth, and got it. I wish my assumptions were inaccurate, that I was romanticizing the whole thing, but my mom is filled with hurt.

Whatever the reason was that she decided to get married, my mom has been miserable since the beginning. She’s living a lifestyle that is a downgrade to her upbringing, and she seems to regret that. It also seems that each of my parents look down on the other for specific reasons. My mom looks down on my dad because of his height and because he is from a poor family. My dad looks down on my mom because she did not complete a formal college education. My mom came from a rich family and grew up with maids and a driver. My dad is a professor with a ph.D and values internal growth rather than external materials. Even on the wedding day, and days leading up to the wedding, my mom did not feel that she was loved or considered. She also expressed that she had kids to distract her from her marriage.

As I listened to her share, my heart ached for her. I had a feeling that she wasn’t living her as her true authentic self, but I didn’t realize how much pain she’s been in. She put us down, because she was put down by my dad. She wasn’t there for us, because her mother wasn’t around for her. She wasn’t home and didn’t attend our events because she wasn’t happy. Overtime, she’s hidden the parts of herself that I love about her––her big personality, her straight forwardness, her liveliness––with the hopes that if she changes, she can receive love from my dad.

I recognize many parallels from the people I’ve had in my dating life with what my mom’s experienced with just one person, and I realize that all of it has to do with my lack of self-worth when being with those people. My mom hasn’t seen her worth, but she is slowly recognizing that she is worthy of love and and that she deserves much more than what my dad is offering her. I’ll share some of the examples that showed a lack of self-worth that came to mind.

  • When I let them take parts of me but not all of me––My dad has a girlfriend of 18 years and he is still with my mom. From the outside, everything looks fine and dandy. My parents run a hiking group together, they teach English together, they also host cooking classes together. There are pictures shared each week on the adventures they go on. But my dad has a girlfriend and my mom is still with him. The pictures look happy and harmonious, but they are not authentic. My mom let my dad behave in ways that make her feel little. She lets him walk all over her because she hopes that her acceptance of his behavior would make him love her.

    I’ve also been in manipulative relationships where the guy is still connected to his ex-girlfriend, where I’m kept a secret, where everything, including when and where we see each other was on his terms. My emotions went up and down because of this guy. When things are good, I’m happy. When I feel ignored, I feel down. And all the times in between, I’m wondering if he’s thinking of me, if I even matter. I realize now, that I’m the one who put myself through all of this. I lacked self-respect and self-worth. The reason I say this is, these guys have told me exactly what they wanted. From the get go, they told me straight up that they wanted to be with me but stay single. They didn’t want other people to think they are taken. They want to keep their options open. And I’m the one who lived in a dream land where I thought things would change. I lived in a fantasy where I thought that if I gave myself more and more, if I did what they wanted, gave them the freedom they seek, then they will be mine eventually. So I kept giving and giving, and I kept asking for a relationship, but all I got was nothing back.

    It takes me a while––it always does–––for me to finalize recognize that I was demeaning myself when I let guys treat me as a side chick, someone who is easily replaceable, someone who has no value or self-esteem.
  • When he silenced me for being me and for speaking my truth––My mom has been someone who spoke her mind. That was something I remember growing up. If she was there and had to stand up for us, she had no fear in doing so. My mom shared that she feels that she can no longer speak her mind. If she wants to stand up for something, my dad silences her because he feels embarrassed by her causing conflict or tension. She now chooses not to speak up as much because she doesn’t want to get reprimanded for it.

    In relationships as well, I feel that I’m always the one to start conversations when things are not going the way I want them to go. In those bad relationships though, I also notice that the guy gets annoyed when I want to have a serious talk, when I am asking for something that I deserve. They make me feel like i’m nagging, that I’m an inconvenience, that I shouldn’t want what I am asking for. When we like someone a lot and want to please, it’s easy for us to change our behavior and who we are so we can stay with the person. But when a person doesn’t respect you, even if you speak your truth and ask for what you want, you will not be heard.
  • When I accept disrespectful behaviors and make excuses for them–My mom described some things my dad has done that tells me that he does not respect my mom as a person. I’ve been in situations as well, where the guy I liked would always show up late, sometimes even 2–3 hours late because he had other more important things to tend to. I let them be late. I don’t show I’m angry. I still act as if I’m so grateful for them to even show up, as if he was an angel sent from heaven and I should bow to him. I tolerated the behavior. I thought this makes me someone who is understanding, who is not emotional and who would not bicker about tiny things, but this is a behavior that shows that he has no respect for my time. And my accepting this behavior showed that I didn’t respect my own time and worth.
  • When he verbally and emotionally abuses me by putting me down and making me doubt myself – If my mom shows that she is more dominant in a situation, my dad puts her down. He denies that she has strengths in organization, in leadership, and talks down to her when she tries to showcase those skills. Now she tries not to speak up or stand up for what she feels is right so not to upset my dad. My mom has silenced herself, made herself little so my dad can shine, accepted the emotional and verbal abuse that denies her of her worth over and over again.

    When the person you are with cannot celebrate your wins and share your strengths, it is an insecurity in themselves that they are showing. When you don’t realize your value, you will try to accommodate the other person’s insecurity by dumbing yourself down, and overtime, you will just believe it.
  • When he uses sex to keep me with him, or withholds sex as a power play—The first guy I was involved with after my separation was someone who used sex as his weapon. He would talk about it as if it was his biggest pride. He used it to persuade me that I was making a big mistake when I tried to end it with him––it took me a few times before I finally cut off the relationship. He told me that I will be sorry because I will never have amazing sex like that again.

    If I hadn’t recognized my worth finally, it would have kept me because in that time in my life, sexual compatibility was a key thing that I was looking for. When I realized that I deserved so much better than he was able to offer me and that he treated me like trash, even if it were the best sex in the world, I wouldn’t want it. He can keep it.

In all of these examples, I frame it in terms of “I let him to this to me,” “I let him behave a certain way,” because I believe that we have choices and have control over who we choose to be with. These choices may not be easy, because there are considerations and fears that keep us from leaving a bad relationship––maybe we worry about not being able to financially support ourselves, or we are scared to be alone, or that we love this person so much that we still are hoping that he will change one day. Or, in many cases, we also fear the unknown. There are many reasons for us to stay in a bad relationship, but I’ve come to realize, from my experience, that the biggest reasons for us to stay is that we don’t think we are worthy of something better.

For most of my life, I felt unworthy. I always felt stupid, and ugly, and little. A big part of it has to do with my upbringing, because I was told that I’m stupid and ugly. And so when it came to dating, I always felt bad for the guys who were with me, for having to tolerate with all my flaws and shortcomings. After my ex, I’ve been through guys who mistreated me. Like many other women, I thought that if I talked about what I’m looking for, what I wanted, if I just let them know, they will eventually change. I wanted commitment, but they wanted parts of me but not all of me. They wanted a companion when is convenient for them. They were selfishly used my time as if it were infinite, and I just gave them my time, as if it wasn’t worth anything.

We talk down to ourselves and say that this is as good as it gets. We don’t see that we deserve so much better. We don’t love ourselves enough for fight for a better situation. Brené Brown puts it well, “If we want to fully experience love and belonging, we must believe that we are worthy of love and belonging.

The truth is, we are worthy and deserve to be accepted and loved for who we are, flaws and all. We should be loved for who we are without having to hide parts of ourselves. When we don’t feel loved and fight tirelessly for that love, it impacts how we see ourselves, because we feel that we have to constantly make changes to who we are to get the love that we seek.

Here are some things I’ve learned from my bad relationships on how to exercise your self-worth Of course, I am not a professional. These are some things that I’ve picked up through my experiences and through hearing shared experiences with my girlfriends.

1. You Are Worthy. You are worthy. You are worthy. You are worthy. Don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise. You don’t need to change who you are to be worthy of love and comfort. Worthiness, in Brene Brown’s words, does not have any prerequisites. In this moment, just as you are, you are worthy. When we let people treat us in a way that we don’t deserve, it tells them that we are okay with it and that we don’t think we can do any better. A person who doesn’t value you will walk all over this and take advantage of it.

2. Dig a Little to Figure Out Why You’re Still in it. I think it’s important to reflect on what is important to you in a relationship and why you’re with a specific person. My big queue is when I notice that I am not acting in accordance to what I truly want. When I am not being authentic to what I want and who I am, all sorts of tensions and conflict rise up within me, and even the joys I feel with the person are just temporary. As a whole, the bad relationships were a big hit to my ego, my self-respect, and my self-worth. As I said earlier, there can be many, many reasons to keep us in a bad relationship, but we only need to find our self-worth to realize it’s time to go.

3. Stop Being Too Nice. I used to think that I would be nice and smiley to everyone, even if they have hurt me. I used to be so “empathetic” that I worry about hurting someone if I don’t do what they want. Stop thinking about how your decision to make a better choice for yourself will impact the other person. Be nicer to yourself. And after you end it, also don’t be so nice to want to keep it civil with that person.

As I’ve found my worth, I also started to question: why do they think they deserve to still have access to me? When I ended it with the manipulator, I would still acknowledge him in social settings. We met through salsa dancing, and I still danced with him. But every time, I felt icky afterward because I was doing it to be civil, to be nice, even though it was not what I wanted. Why should I still stroke his ego when he mistreated me?

I think this is part of recognizing my worth and having self-respect. I don’t harbor hatred toward him, but I do not respect him as a human being, and I don’t want anything to do with him. He is invisible to me and that is on him.

4. Be Proud of Who You Are. Stop hiding yourself and making yourself little. It takes courage but also vulnerability to step out of your little bubble so you can start to shine. I’ve been in plenty of situations where I felt less than and unworthy, and my response to that has been to shrink inside myself and defer to others. I will share more on this in another post.

5. Own Your Worth. One final reminder that you are Worthy, without any conditions or pre-requisites. In Brene Brown’s words, you are worthy,

“[w]orthy now. Not if. Not when. We are worthy of love and belonging now. Right this minute. As is.”

Once you recognize this, you will stand up for yourself. You will break away from what puts you down.

My Body Image Struggles

Shenyun Wu

I had a complicated relationship with food and my body image in high school. Media played a part of it, but the needle that broke the camel’s back was when my dad told me that my face looked a bit rounder. In his way, he told me that I was fat. In his perspective, it was an innocent comment that he must have never thought about again, but that meaningless comment was the catalyst to my eating disorder and struggle with my body image for several years after that.

I already had a hard time with food to begin with. Since I was young, my mom would make us finish all the food on our plate or in our bowl––not even a grain of rice should be left behind. There was one time, I felt so full I thought the food was filled all the way up to my throat. I finished the food but had to throw up the food right afterward. I was less than 7 years old at this time. The rule of cleaning up a plate is why I lacked a sensor that would tell me to stop when I was full. My mom often commented that I didn’t have a sensor when I would eat a full bag of chips, but she didn’t realize that she had made me this way. Apparently, my sibling had the same problem of not stopping when full as well. I eventually learned in my early twenties that it is okay not to finish everything on my plate, and that it’s okay to stop when I don’t feel like eating anymore. I don’t always have to eat to the point of making my stomach explode.

I developed an eating disorder pretty quickly after my dad’s innocent comment. I didn’t know that binging and purging was a thing, but I got the idea from a scene from Miss Congeniality where the girls decided to party at a club before competition day with a giant pizza, and someone said something about “throwing it up” so the calories don’t matter. Needless to say, I became bulimic. It was perfect. I could eat all that I wanted, throw it up, and not worry about getting fat. I remember finishing Costco’s 12-inch pumpkin pie, which is around 3.5 pounds, in one sitting, and then going to the bathroom to discard the content from my stomach, up my throat, and into the toilet. It’s disgusting, but I couldn’t stop and didn’t stop for two years.

Having an eating disorder isn’t just physical. It actually takes a huge emotional toll on a person. How can you think for yourself and focus on anything else when your mind is occupied by the worry of getting fat, about what food to binge so you can get rid of it later, about how much calories remain in your body. I was depressed. I felt unworthy.

I think my parents knew––I haven’t confronted them about this yet––but they probably thought that I was just going through a phase. Luckily I was able to stop after going to college but I know that many other individuals who go through eating disorders get into extreme situations where they damage their health and require professional intervention.

When I finally stopped, it wasn’t because of any outside factor. It was because I finally decided I need to be nice to myself, that this is not good for me, and I can do better. It is an addiction. You try to stop, you stop. You relapse, then you try to stop again, and relapse. I have relapsed a few times over the years, but today, I’m in healthy relationship with food and also my body.

The truth about the old me was that I was not fat. Not in the slightest. My current weight is the heaviest I’ve ever weighed, but I like my shape, I love my body, and I am amazed by all it can do––I’m actually on a quest to lift 225 lbs by end of Jan 2021. Today, I can lift 180 lbs on my 114 lb frame.

I share this because it’s an important part of my past, but it’s also why the words we use with people is so critical. They can have a huge impact on a person, including yourself. Media plays a huge role on our self-image and body image, but how we talk to ourselves and the people around us about our body and theirs can have a positive impact if you choose to.

1. Start with You. Do a self-check on how you speak to yourself about your body. Do you criticize the reflection in the mirror? Do you call yourself ugly? If the words you choose are not ones you’d use on a friend, don’t use them on yourself either.

2. Positive Self-talk. It’s easy to nitpick your physical looks, but that is not helpful. Reflect on the great things your body is doing for you. Be grateful for the body that you have.

I have an athletic body type and I actually did not wear shorts nor sleeveless shirts until I got into my junior year of college. I was self-conscious about my muscles because it wasn’t a sign of beauty when I was growing up in Taiwan. I continued to have a love-hate relationship with my body-shape into my late twenties. Some days I’d like my muscles because they make me look healthy, other days I’d hate them because I feel too masculine and unapproachable.

Now, I tell a different story to my body. I tell my body that it is strong and resilient, and each day I surpass a goal at the gym, I learn that I am mentally and physically strong as well. My body has taught me that I can achieve so much more than I believe I can if I’m just willing to put in the time and push myself. I can take that determination and strength to other parts of my life.

3. Take the Focus Away from the Body. We all need words of affirmation and positive feedback, not only for looking beautiful, but other attributes that make us great. Make a list of attributes that you appreciate about yourself and that people have praised about you so you remember that you are more than what you look on the outside.

When you are encouraging your girlfriend, talk about attributes that make her great, such as how resilient she is, how smart she is, how dedicated she is. Take the focus away on just her looks because she is so much more than that.

4. Body Shaming Is Not Okay. Calling someone too skinny, or too fat, or too muscular, too anything is not okay! It’s their body and not yours. You do not have a right to put labels or define how they see their own body. Don’t call yourself any of that either.

5. You Have Control. If you’re unhappy with your body, that’s okay. It’s where you are now and there isn’t anything wrong with that. But if you aren’t happy about where you are now, you can change that. You aren’t stuck.

Just like how you make changes in other aspects of your life to improve your living situation, your financial situation, your job situation, you can take small actions that will make you feel better about yourself. Start bringing a little movement into your daily life, make more conscious choices about at least 1 meal during the day. By setting small, achievable goals, you’ll be able to get to larger changes that will bring you the difference you want to see.

At the end of the day, what matters is how you feel about yourself. Invest that effort and energy on yourself so you can feel your best self.

6. Sympathize and build resilience. If you know someone who is struggling with their weight and body image, be kind to them and listen to them without judgement. It’s not so easy for someone to just “stop obsessing about their weight.” There often is a deeper issue behind the behavior.

You don’t have to agree with their struggle, but they need to feel that they can come to you. Be encouraging. Help them focus on other things they have control of in their lives and help bring up their self-image by taking the focus away from the body to things they are good at and attributes you appreciate about them. Help them be kinder to themselves and plan activities that can encourage positive feelings to their bodies, such as walking dates, group exercise dates, or healthy-meal dates.

We all deserve to be loved, regardless what shape and size we are. Be kind to yourself and those around you when it comes to body image.