Daily Archives: January 1, 2014

30 Days of Wisdom — Day 1: Eleanor Roosevelt’s Oft-Misquoted Line about Permission


Hiya! Welcome to 2014!

I am embarking on a new series today. I’m thinking that soon I’m going to commit to a plan (isn’t that conveniently vague?) for the whole year to write a series per month — I need to write something every day that is public so I can write more that is private. That doesn’t sound very sensical, but it makes sense if you’re avoiding working on a memoir.

Here is today’s quote:

No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
― Eleanor Roosevelt, This is My Story
tags: confidence, inspirational, wisdom 53755 likes

I’m glad to have this cleared up. For years, I operated under the presumption that the quote was “No one can take advantage of you without your permission” which is an important concept, but it’s nothing like what Roosevelt actually said.

Inferiority. That’s deep. It taps the nerves of Brené Brown’s stuff I covered last month and I guess, judging by the way my body is reacting right now as I type, it really still hits my nerves, despite my insistence that I do my best to not feel inferior. What is the opposite of inferior? Superior. I don’t think that’s where I’m wanting to go either because both of those self-concepts are sort of delusional.

Which is better: A superiority complex or an inferiority complex? Both of them can lead to personal disaster: depression, addiction, self-harm, isolation. Feelings of inferiority stem from deep stuff that didn’t come from nowhere; the problems arise when those feelings go unchecked.

Feelings of inferiority in all people are created by other people. People who tell other people they are no good; that they are failures; that they will always be failures. Those feelings also come from nothing being said at all: being ignored, being cast aside, being emotionally abandoned or discarded in preference for something else. Those feelings of inferiority are so unbearable by the projector of those feelings that they have to be spewed upon someone, anyone, with a pulse.

Roosevelt is expressing the confident notion that we can reject these feelings; that we can refuse to take another person’s crap just because they’re leaking self-loathing and they want the company.

An adequacy complex seems to be the best route: to be enough, but make it run on a law of averages: that sometimes we are amazingly adept and other times we fall spectacularly short. This to me is more like life. The trick is to not let those highs and lows so get to us that we lose our perspective of the importance of the notion.

I just saw “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” while in Buffalo visiting family. It was a “B” movie’s take on an “A+” short story by James Thurber. While Ben Stiller brilliantly endowed it with breathtaking cinematography and he captured the spirit of Mitty’s fantasies. I’ve always loved Walter Mitty; his is a caricature of all our less-than moments and the escapism we all concoct in order to deal with it all.

Whatever way you’ve grown familiar with Roosevelt’s quote (inferiority or being taken advantage of), it’s safe to say it’s a very popular quote with the self-improvement and self-help set. “Be your own person and reject the silly notions of others” is what it’s all about. It’s also (to me) rife with controversy though and here I go stepping into it on a very controversial topic: victimhood. Who hates the notion of victimhood more than the perpetrator (who would rather think s/he has done nothing wrong)? The victim. It’s all about righteously rejecting feelings of being taken advantage of or being led down a path that is not yours, which is more in line with how I’d continuously mistaken the quote. I’m about to reference a blog post that confuses me; my friend posted it on her Facebook wall and it’s title immediately offended me, which probably led me to dislike it right off the bat:

“14 Fucks I refuse to Give in 2014.”

I am uncomfortable sharing it because I have a Big Thing about swearing just for shocks. People can be just as influential and thoughtful without abusing other people with their vitriol and the referenced post just makes me think that the writer is desperately fighting her own self-imposed inferiority complex by being crass and what I consider to be unnecessarily ugly just to get her point across. It’s like “I LOVE ME, BUT I’M NOT ENTIRELY COMFORTABLE WITH THE CONCEPT, NOR AM I GOING TO BE NICE ABOUT IT.” I have suspected since reading it that the writer is much younger than I am. So that makes her about 90. I’m interested in hearing what you think of her post.

Back to me and Roosevelt: When I was in my raging 20s I was literally on a tear to be no one’s bitch. Being no one’s bitch meant that I was hell-bent to make other people my bitch without ever really wanting them around any way. I would be snarky and sarcastic and incredibly assholic. I was angry. Like most adolescents (even though I was deeply in by this point, but I was delayed) I grew up in a world that was becoming clearer to me day by day that it was completely upside-down. I hated the feeling of my parents’ unwillingness or more perhaps inability to change the circumstances of our lives. My crusade wasn’t about desperation, it was about feeling trapped in a crazy screwed-up world of denial and abdication.

So to differentiate myself, I grew fangs and horns and refused (from what I can see now in retrospect) to be defineable. I became not sullen and deep, but comical, flip, glib and really pissed. On the good side, I earned a high school “most likely to …” out of it, we called them Senior Superlatives. I earned “wittiest,” a moniker which I wear proudly to this day. On the less-good side, I was incredibly needy and available to anyone who would give me the time of day. Angry, self-destructive, sarcastic, manipulatable, an emotional push-over and deluded is no way to go through life.

So that was my personal interpretation of that world — here’s the reality though: no one actually tried to make me feel inferior. It was all my reactivity; it was all my doing. I made myself inferior without my own consent. I subjected myself to personalities and situations which were detrimental but familiar. Eventually, I figured it out, but it took finding a mate who wouldn’t exploit me, and creating a family that I could be proud of and focus my energies on first.

In the meantime, I let myself be a doormat and felt like crap about any decision I made. I was full of doubt, even though I possessed the intellect and energy to move beyond it all.

Do you do that? Do you pile crap on to yourself when no one has even suggested it? Do you take responsibility for a thunderstorm on a picnic that was planned? Are you Zeus? Do you summon the cold fronts? Are you a meteorologist? Do you say, “Sorry!” if a movie you picked out (which you’d never seen) sucked? Did you direct it? Did you star in it? Did you threaten people if they didn’t go with you? Do you wear other peoples’ shame without being asked to? What if you are asked to? Do you wear it?


This is the kind of inferiority that Roosevelt is speaking of as well — not just the crap that other people try to foist on to us, but the crap we foist on to ourselves without others even knowing.

Hey! That’s MY CRAP! What are you doing taking it on?! No one takes MY CRAP without MY permission. That’s what the world needs more of.

The creepy underbelly of this inferiority stuff, this taking it on, this stuff we SWEAR we don’t want any part of at all is …. drumroll….


Do you know how close that behavior is to narcissism? It’s a hair’s breadth away from martyrdom, which is just another form of manipulation and making other people feel as though they are inferior, which then creates more isolation… It’s a slippery slope. I wonder, if Roosevelt’s quote were expanded upon (and I’ll look for the book) there might be more to this line than presented.

The thing is: everyone’s in this freakin’ battle all the time. We all have moments of doubt, moments when we need to eat our fears and poop them out and flush them so they can be recycled into freedom.

Share your moments with me. Let’s beat the crap out of inferiority complexes. We can do this. I know we can.

Thank you.