I read something interesting the other day, which referenced a quote often attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt:
"No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."
The actual words she said are actually a bit less succinct, but I think give the sentiment more dimension (via Quote Investigator):
“A snub” defined the first lady, “is the effort of a person who feels superior to make someone else feel inferior. To do so, he has to find someone who can be made to feel inferior.”
As I reflected on this insight, I was reminded of many times I felt offended or disrespected by someone (intentionally or otherwise), and what kind of consequences that feeling had on that relationship as well as my overall state-of-mind. No doubt, for a time afterwards, I was surly and unpleasant as a result. Who knows what kind of other alternative possibilities I may have missed out on while focused on being offended. What a waste of energy!
But as Roosevelt pointed out, a prerequisite to feeling insulted is to tacitly presume one is, in some way, inferior. This mental predisposition is what compels people to be reactive; without it, there can be no snub. It also can simultaneously create an urge to over-compensate by needing to "look good" compared to other people.
This kind of sensitivity is often attributed to a large ego. Someone who is easily angered or insulted when challenged, is often ascribed to having a bit of an ego-problem. However, this can imply an attitude of strength or dominance, or put another way, a lack of humility. However, the truth is actually the exact opposite: it is in fact a deep, intrinsic sense of feeling flawed, of feeling lesser. And more devastatingly, then feeling ashamed about it. Shame can be an incredibly destructive emotion. If you haven't heard Brené Brown speak on the subject, I highly recommend it.
We are all incredibly, deeply, exquisitely flawed individuals. From our physical appearances to our personalities and professional lives, we have our issues. And while we may sometimes feel guilt, which can motivate us to improve and do better, other times we feel ashamed, which makes us believe that we are simply bad and unworthy. And that is one powerful source of suffering. Believing oneself to be unworthy of respect or love can drive all sorts of pathological behavior.
Regardless of how we integrated this shame into our identity, we need to reframe our flaws in a different light; they are part of us, yes, but they are not us. If we can train ourselves to look beyond, we can cultivate an awareness that we are, in fact, something far greater. Ways of going about this is perhaps a good avenue for another post.
This true identity gives us access to the certainty that we are not in any way inferior, no more than you could say one tree is inferior to another. It just is. And having access to that reality is a source of truly amazing things.