Feeling the need to prove yourself can be strong, but ultimately, no amount of persuasion on our part will change someone’s mind once they’ve decided to think of us in a certain light. This is because what they are saying, and how they are acting, is more about them than it is about us. There are things we can learn from the situation, as there are in any situation we encounter, but our attempts at trying to prove people wrong is a total waste of our time and energy.
When I first heard this, it was a hard pill to swallow. For a recovering people pleaser like myself, if someone made fun of me, put me down, or just decided that they didn’t like me, I would do anything and everything in my power to change their minds. I’d convinced myself that these people were just joking, that I was being too sensitive, or that the problem was somehow me.
It wasn’t until I had several sessions with my therapist that all of this started to turn around for me. She helped me to see what was really going on, and gave me tools to help me navigate these situations when they came up again.
Before I go any further, let me explain my definition of the phrase “feeling the need to prove yourself”.
When I say that I feel like I need to prove myself, I generally mean that I feel like I have to show someone else that I am _____ enough. I’m smart enough. I’m pretty enough. I’m brave enough. AND/OR I’m trying to show them that I’m not “too much” in whatever way. I’m not too sensitive. I’m not too afraid. I’m not too selfish. I’m not too high maintenance.
I’ll give you an example.
I had a friend who used to constantly call me “a big baby” when I expressed any doubt or concern over anything. If I didn’t like a certain food…even if it would cause me to have negative physical symptoms…she would say that I was being a big baby for not wanting to eat it. If I didn’t want to do something that she did, she would say I was being a big baby about it and I needed to just go. If I was having trouble with a relationship, a class, or anything really, she would say I was just being a big baby and I needed to get over myself.
For years, I felt like I needed to prove her wrong. I would try to push through and do whatever she wanted me to do. If she called me a big baby, I would lay out all of my arguments as to why I wasn’t being a big baby, and why my feelings about “xyz” were justified.
Guess where all of this got me???
She didn’t care why I felt the way I did, she just wanted to poke at me and make me feel like I wasn’t good enough. And the more I argued, the more she said I was being a baby about things.
That’s why, the first thing I learned moving forward, was how to recognize those people that are just trying to make me feel less than in some way.
Because I would often miss it. I wanted to be liked, I wanted to be included, and I wanted to be nice and see the best in people. So, I just told myself that I needed to lighten up.
In reality though, these people were being mean. They were being manipulative. They were projecting their issues onto me, trying to get attention by making me look stupid, and trying to make themselves feel better by pointing out what they considered flaws in me. And a lot of them just wanted me around if they needed something, so they just wanted a yes woman (someone who always says yes).
Everyone is different, and you are the only one who can definitively say whether or not someone is being this way with you. But I will say this…if you are in any relationship where you don’t feel like you can fully be yourself, or someone you spend time with actively tries to tear you down, you should highly consider moving on from that relationship.
If someone is consistently putting you down, criticizing you, diminishing your accomplishments, or trying to get you to act like a different person, you deserve better!
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that, sometimes, feeling the need to prove yourself comes not just from the other person, but also from your own lack of confidence in yourself.
Yes, that person is being a jerk. But the only reason that you are putting up with it, and giving any credence to what they are saying, is because you aren’t so sure of yourself. You somehow see them as an authority, or as better than you, so you submit to their criticisms because you feel like they have the magic recipe that will make you better too.
This is not a judgement towards you from me…this is me continuing my story, and also being observant of others who have gone through the same situation.
Throughout my life, I’ve often worried that I’m too much for people. I’ve felt like I had to hide part of myself to really fit in anywhere. And I’ve had a pathological need to be liked. Being this way played right into the hands of those people who wanted to use me, to make fun of me to make themselves feel bigger or better, or to place their crap on me so they didn’t have to deal with it.
It wasn’t until I started learning more about myself, and began feeling more okay with being the most authentic version of that self, that I felt safe enough to step back and challenge that need to prove myself.
When we have more confidence in who we are, we aren’t as likely to look to others for validation.
Having confidence in yourself will help too with the next big step, which is learning to set boundaries with people.
Again, this is a situation where only you can fully determine what boundaries you need to set with each person. To help with this, I have an entire blog post about setting boundaries. It can help you figure out if you need to set a boundary with someone, how to do so, and what to expect when you do.
From the beginning, just know this…if someone makes you feel bad about yourself in any way, you don’t have to hang out with them. I don’t care if they have been your best friend your whole life or if they are family…you don’t have to spend your time and energy with people who treat you poorly, act like your second rate, or only want you around when they need something.
Now I know, there are some people in your life that you can’t cut out completely. Some people that you may not want to walk away from entirely. In this case, you still need to set boundaries on how much time you feel comfortable spending with them, and how you let them treat you when you do.
There is someone in a group I hang out with occasionally who often refuses to talk to me. I’ll say something to her and she’ll just look at me and walk off. Sometimes she’ll physically turn her back towards me to try to cut me out of the conversation. When she does talk to me, it’s either to make fun of me, or to try to cut me down in some way.
In the beginning, I would go out of my way to try to talk to her. I felt like I just needed to prove that I was interesting enough, or smart enough to talk to. I thought if I could prove how fun I could be, maybe she would start talking to me more. But the harder I tried the worse it got.
So finally, I stopped forcing it. I saw how she was going to be and I realized that it’s not about me at all. Now when we’re together, I’m nice, but I don’t try to force conversation with her. If she makes fun of me or says something I just laugh it off and move on.
This may sound like I’m just letting her walk all over me, but I have found a happy medium that works for me. I know that talking to her isn’t going to do any good, but she’s not someone that I can cut off entirely. This is the compromise between the two…and one that you may have to find with someone in your life as well.
How can you still interact with that person, but do so in a way that allows you to keep from taking their actions personally and keep your peace in the process?
Setting boundaries isn’t always easy, especially at first. But doing so will help you to spend less time and energy trying to prove yourself, and give you a chance to find people that appreciate who you are, and who want to have a real relationship with you.
Above all, try to remember that most people who are acting this way are doing so unconsciously.
This is not a way to excuse people’s actions in any way by saying things like, “oh, they don’t know what they are doing, if they did, they would be nicer”, or “give them some time, they’ll change”.
No. Instead, I want to (hopefully) give you the same ah-ha moment that I had when I heard this: You’re trying to prove someone wrong who (most of the time) doesn’t even know or understand why they are saying the things they are.
In The Mindbody Prescription, Dr. John E. Sarno describes the unconscious as “illogical and irrational”.
It’s like trying to explain to a toddler, why they can’t play with fireworks. They see sparkly, shiny things that make fun, loud sounds. They aren’t old enough to understand the dangers that can be associated with fireworks if they aren’t used in a safe manner. But that doesn’t keep them from screaming at you and crying when you don’t give them what they want.
With the example that I gave above, of someone calling me a big baby, I could easily continue to fall into the trap of feeling like I have to lay out all of the reasons why I’m actually NOT a big baby, and why the feelings they are putting down are actually justified. But if someone is acting unconsciously, and I just happen to be who they are lashing out at in that moment, my words are going to fall on deaf ears. I could lay out a Nobel Prize winning argument, and they will just find another way to make fun of it.
In the end, my best advice to you is this:
If you find yourself feeling like you constantly need to prove yourself, begin to challenge those feelings by questioning why it is you’re feeling the need to do so. And don’t be afraid to find a good therapist who can help you explore these feelings a little deeper.
Don’t just settle for always being the butt of the joke, or the scapegoat for things that go wrong. You are enough. You are not too much for the right people. And you deserve the best that life has to offer.