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.

6 responses »

  1. Being mocked, humiliated, or shamed can be damn painful. Especially in high school when you’re trying to fit in and some dense teacher or classmate decides to do it. However, as you get older and start to realize that ultimately you are not your thoughts, feelings but something much deeper, the sting goes out of the verbal slap in the face.

    • yes. i know those slings and arrows! you are so right.

      my son is going through that right now. he is very deep though and he doesn’t suffer these fools long. he has his guitar and a few truly trusted friends and he speaks candidly with me and his dad, so we are very grateful.

  2. My son comes to mind as well after reading this post. He has often expressed to me why the things that make him different often gives others license to made fun of. He has gotten better at accepting who he is and surrounds himself with people that accept him. But I at 40 deal with these issues too. I am too one these “let me hold that crap for you” people. The new year has given me a fresh start. I had told you I stopped blogging, but never said why. Short story, they made me feel less than worthy about everything I wrote and posted in my blog. We don’t speak to each other, but they took to social media to do it. So essentially everything I wanted to write about was filled with doubt. Even though I was getting fed the crap, it was also my doing too. This year I choose to shut it down. They no longer have my consent.
    Also I must go see that movie with my boy 🙂

    • That movie is great for kids to see. There’s a terrific scene that starts out in an elevator and then ends up on the streets of Manhattan.

      Your son is a beautiful and talented person. We must do all we can, as parents to help them see beyond the immediate future. I often tell my son of the trolls in his life, “Don’t worry. One day they will be working for you.”

      this being 40 is an eye-opener, isn’t it? and the meanies are still out there — hating themselves and taking it out on us. Kristen Lamb, a writer about / for writers wrote a post today and in this line, I found solace: “There are people who are simply made of spite and hate and they will take it out from the safety of a computer behind the anonymity… ”

      As for your blog, you do what you need to do. I have never had a crappy thing said to me on my blog. I have had a person I knew who insinuated I was blogging incorrectly, and she had assumed the position of Grand Master Blog (which is funny because I started mine first and she is a mediocre writer) but she lives near me and had to establish her dominance over me in some way even though she knew I didn’t give a toot about so-called chains of command (I respect them, but I don’t cow-tow to the supposed inflation of importance: real leaders don’t need to shout). ,y problem was that I followed her advice and I started to feel inauthentic and I knew then that that was a problem.

      I have people who caution me, “be careful about what you write…” especially regarding my mom and my grief. “Your children might see it … ” which is funny because I started this whole thing for two reasons: 1) to exercise my talent and 2) to share with the boys. they don’t read any of it; nothing I say here is inflammatory. I’m smart enough to know that what I write on here may as well be published on the front page of the NY Times (I wish!!) so I’m smart about it.

      the other thing is this: we can’t live in fear. we can’t give anyone else the power to tacitly direct our lives. the worst thing i could do to myself would be to stop doing something that helped *me* because someone else was uncomfortable with it.

      one of my biggest regrets is that I never shared any of this with Mom; she asked a lot. but I also knew that if I did that then I would be giving away my power to her, because as nice as she’d like to *seem* to everyone, a lot of what I did, which was any good, was often co-opted by her or criticized: “the way you put that… that doesn’t quite work does it?” or “it’s interesting how you chose to write that…” everyone’s ear is different and she had a fantastic ear for phrasing so if I did anything “correct” she would later say it was because she taught me, not because it was just its own thing. her ego was wide.

      lots of people just want to lash out. aggressive, passive-aggressive, silence… we can’t please ’em all.

      stop holding other peoples’ crap. especially if they’re not asking you to. you are ALMA!!!! YOU ARE AWESOME!!!

      • Thank you Molly! It means a lot to have support online. Funny this person I speak of lives close to me too. Aaanywho… i will be re-reading this a few times when the voice comes back.
        Also, I did not really feel comfortable with that post and the 14 *ahem* things. I honestly could not get through the whole post . I did see that it was retweeted a lot. I guess shock value might work in that way. But yes I would have unfollowed as well. It seems to be an on going trend to either shock or copy what every else does. I turn the other cheek to it.

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