“Hey, I remember you! You used to have a blog!”
This would be the perfect time to make excuses about the missing 10 months of posts, but I won’t. What I will say is that I intend to try my best to put my writing and myself out there more often. I’ve missed being in this space.
So a question for you, dear reader: Have you ever found yourself feeling “less than”? Like you’re not good enough, or lacking somehow? It usually comes from comparing ourselves to others. You feel less than other moms. Less than other wives. Less than other co-workers. It feels a lot like second place.
This is an uncomfortable place to be. And that is an understatement.
I think that this happens more often that we even realize. Now that I’m aware of this feeling and what triggers it, I am noticing it a lot. It looks different depending on the root cause, but it’s pretty common in my life (and I bet yours, too). And I can tell you–I don’t always handle it well.
Let me give you a run-down of all the ineffective ways I might choose to deal with feeling less than. There are several in my arsenal. My guess is that you might be able to relate to one or two (or more). Tell me if any of these sound familiar. Then keep reading for a better way.
The first reaction that I usually have when I feel like I’m in second place is to hide. Depending on what caused this feeling, my inner dialogue sounds a lot like this: “Oh, you don’t appreciate me? You want someone/something else to be more important than me? Fine. You don’t get me AT ALL.” This particular reaction looks a lot like a pouting child, because that’s exactly what it is. This might be shutting out your spouse or children at home because something else was more important to them at the time than you were. It might be closing the door to your office or cubicle or locker at work and pushing people away. This is steady, heavy retreat. You might think you are “punishing” the people you are upset with by taking yourself away, but really, this one is all about self-preservation. That, and attention getting. It’s the go-to emotional management style for kids because it’s easy and often works. But it’s not effective in getting you what you want in the long run.
Closely tied to the “hiding” reaction is the instinct to find distractions. There isn’t really a thought process on this one, because the whole idea is to numb out thoughts and feelings, but if I employ the hiding technique, it’s quite easy to wrap this one up with it. For me, this might look like too much time on social media (my go-to), binging on Netflix, binging on food or drinking too much, or throwing myself into any activity that lets me forget what’s eating me. Distractions are meaningless endeavors that waste time. They are numbing as all get-out, but completely ineffective at solving any problems. As a mom, wife, and teacher, I don’t have time to waste. And in the end, I’m still left with feelings of less than. Now they are just topped with a dollop of guilt for checking out in an unhealthy way. Super.
Next up on the ineffective emotional reactions list comes the martyr syndrome. This one feels even better than withdrawing and pouting (that’s sad but true), at least for a while. Playing the role of martyr makes me feel better about being upset. It goes like this: “Well that’s great. Look at all I do for you/around here/to make things work, and you don’t appreciate any of it! I’m going to pile more on my plate right now, loudly, in front of you, so that you notice how much I do. I might even tell you about it. Loudly.” I can see myself pulling this one out of my pocket as my kids get older and don’t need me as much. This one doesn’t come across as immature, but it sure comes across as bitchy. I’m not sure why I choose this reaction when what I am looking for is some attention or recognition, because I certainly would not want to spend time with someone acting like this. But it happens more than I’d like to admit.
If my reaction to feeling less than makes me feel sad rather than angry, I may turn my efforts to the least attractive and most annoying strategy I’ve got–cling. That inner dialogue sounds like this: “Oh no. You don’t want me. I’m not good enough. I’m obviously not trying hard enough. I’d better put myself out there more. I’m going to insert myself into your world until you notice me and how awesome I am. Yep. That’ll do it.” Now even typing this, it makes me cringe. Why on earth would I or anyone else think this strategy is effective? Would you want to choose to focus on someone like this? Um, no. Me neither. I feel like the only reason someone would pay you any attention when you act like this is to get you to go away. But when you’re feeling less than, attention is what you want. And since you might not be exactly logical, when you get attention from this strategy, you think it worked. Pathetic, I know. But I’m being honest. And I bet that this is something you’ve done, too.
My last reaction to feeling second is, I think, the most dangerous. It doesn’t look like it from the outside. But it can get out of control quickly. Sometimes I choose to compete to get back into first place. What am I lacking that is making me come in second? If I can identify that, I can work to fix it. It sounds like this: “Uh oh, I’m in second place again. I don’t like being second, and I don’t like feeling less than. But I think if I can just be more _____, then I’ll be first again. I’m going to work extra hard on that quality. Yep. And then others will be pleased and like me and I’m back on top. Done.” On the outside, this just looks like hard work and self-improvement. And I suppose it can be those things. But if the motivation for these actions is simply to get someone else’s attention, then you aren’t being genuine at all. You’re faking for the benefit of someone else. I can be a super mom! Super wife! Super employee! Look at me and my awesomeness! This is dangerous because this is how we get LOST. We do things we think others will like, even if they are not truly “us”, and after a while we can’t even tell the difference anymore between what we do for others and what we do for ourselves. And the balance is shifted and we drift away. I choose this one in professional settings more often than not, because it’s more socially acceptable. A clingy, pouty co-worker? Ick. A driven, competitive co-worker? Completely okay. This strategy makes you lose your “why” quicker than any other, because it requires a lot of effort, and you are focusing on becoming something that you really are not. Yikes.
So seriously–why is it so hard to be second? To feel less than? Why is this such a “thing”? Logically, we all know that we can’t be the best at everything. We can’t make everyone like us. We can’t always get what we want. We teach and preach this to our children on a daily basis, we write songs about it, and it’s the theme of commericials. But when it comes down to brass tacks, this feeling is incredibly uncomfortable. And as human beings, something we do NOT like is being uncomfortable. So while the logical, evolved part of our brains tells us it’s okay, the loud, whiny, reptile part of our brains tells us it is not. We end up conflicted and searching for ways to get back to being comfortable, often desperately employing the ineffective strategies mentioned above.
Okay, great, you might be thinking. You’ve listed out a bunch of ways to deal with feelings of less than, none of which are good, and I can relate to some/most/all of them. So now what? What DO I do to cope with these feelings?
What if I told you that I have started viewing my feelings on being in second place as a blessing? Because honestly–that’s what they are. (Hang in there with me–I’m serious.) Say you realize someone doesn’t need you as much as you think they should/they used to/you want them to. Your spouse or significant other is engaged in a new hobby, or traveling a lot, or caught up with things going on at work. Your children are growing and becoming independent and don’t need or want you every second of the day anymore. Someone else at work was tasked with a project or given recognition and you were not, or you were left out of something. To these things I say: YEE HAW!!!!! Guess what? At this moment in time, you are not needed by anyone else BUT YOU. You are all you have anyway. Want to find yourself? This is the perfect time. Embrace this, for heaven’s sake. You may have to dig deep to figure out what you want to do with yourself and your time, but that’s okay. You’ve got the minutes to spare. Rest assured, as quickly as this descended on you, it will lift again, and you will likely find yourself being pulled in six different directions at once. So lean into this time. Maybe it’s a project that you’ve been putting off. Maybe it’s books you want to read, or a class you want to take. A creative outlet? Professional development? Clown school? Doesn’t matter. DO IT.
This time, if used properly, will make you a better YOU. Not to get attention from anyone else, or to prove that you are worthy of others’ time, but just to make you BETTER. Happier. Stronger. More independent. Now please be careful–don’t pursue things that you think others will want you to do. No no no. Only focus on yourself right now. This is the perfect time to be selfish. Guess what? Doing this will make you a better significant other. It will make you a better parent. It will make you a better coworker and employee. And in the end, none of that matters in the least. Because you will be left with a better YOU. And that is the most important thing.
Give it a try the next time you feel less than. Dig in, look around, and ask yourself what YOU want. Then go do that. You might just find that being second isn’t such a bad thing after all.