Biblical Answers for Feelings of Inferiority

             Canaan means low or lowland.  As I have stated before, I believe that this stands for problems associated with low self-worth.  This particular area of counseling has been hotly debated in Christian counseling for some time, probably due to the excesses in trying to deal with what is called "self-esteem" in secular psychology.  The second major battle in Canaan was over Ai, which we have already discussed and identified as shame.  Shame is one of the strongest feelings associated with low self-worth.


            Low self-worth is the root problem or at least a contributing factor in most psychological disorders.  According to the genealogy given in the Bible, Canaan was the father of the founders of the other tribes living in this geographical area.  That is why this area was known as the land of Canaan.  Consequently, the Bible suggests that low self-worth is a root cause of the remaining psychological problems that we will discuss.


            Possibly, one of the most well-known psychological problems is that of the “inferiority complex” popularized by Alfred Adler.  (Morris, 1996, p. 459)  There are many reasons why clients might perceive themselves as inferior to those around them.  The core issues involved are those of self-worth and significance.  Many times, it is the result of being put down by others or the experience of not measuring up in some aspect to those around them.  Children treated as inferior will eventually believe that they are inadequate and will become self-conscious.  Others may perceive them as artificial or socially inhibited.  Sometimes, those that feel inferior will try to compensate for these feelings by acting just the opposite of how they feel, develop a strong drive to accomplish things or become great, and may come across as overbearing or arrogant.  In any of these cases, their actions will actually work against the very acceptance that they so desperately seek and they will find themselves increasingly rejected and insecure, fulfilling what they believe about themselves.  Although feeling inferior is characteristic of low self-image and codependency; it can be, in itself, a common, yet significant complex psychological problem.    


The clearest biblical example of this problem is found in the story of Leah, the oldest daughter of Laban.  From the very first references concerning Leah in Genesis Chapter 29, we are told that Leah had a problem.  


            1.  The underlying basis of this problem is that the client is convinced that she is, in some way, inferior to others.  The Bible tells us that Leah was “tender eyed” but that her sister Rachel was beautiful.  In many societies, looks can make all the difference, especially when young women are compared one to another.  The Hebrew word for eye, ayin, can also be interpreted as “how one sees themselves mentally.”  Therefore, we are told that Leah viewed herself as weak, tender, or inferior in some way.  Since we are told that her sister Rachel was beautiful and well favored, we can conclude that the inferiority was one of external looks.  


Ge 29:16  And Laban had two daughters: the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel.  17  Leah was tender eyed; but Rachel was beautiful and well favoured.


             2.  Because she sees herself as inferior, the client protects herself from the possibility of rejection through certain self-defeating behaviors.  Leah’s name in the Hebrew means “to be weary, to be impatient, to be grieved, to be offended, or to be tired of something.”  The root of this word comes from rakak, which means “to be tender, to be soft, to be weak, to be timid, or to be fearful.”  Therefore, we see a picture of a client suffering from an inferiority complex.  Because she sees herself as inferior, she becomes timid and afraid of rejection.  The stress of constant vigilance to determine if she is liked results in weariness, impatience, grief, and becoming easily offended.  As a result, she often becomes tired and weary of life itself. 


            3.  The client who feels inferior usually determines her worth by what others say, how others treat her, and how she compares herself to others.  Inferiority is a matter of comparison.  The same person may feel superior in one situation and inferior in another depending on how she views the evaluations of other people.  When Laban deceived Jacob by giving him Leah instead of Rachel in marriage, Leah clearly understood that Jacob considered her inferior to Rachel.  This virtually guaranteed that Leah would feel inferior, at least in her marriage to Jacob.  Being promoted too rapidly or being hired into a job above ones ability can also lead a client to struggle with feelings of inferiority. 


Ge 29:23  And it came to pass in the evening, that he took Leah his daughter, and brought her to him; and he went in unto her.  25  And it came to pass, that in the morning, behold, it was Leah: and he said to Laban, What is this thou hast done unto me? did not I serve with thee for Rachel? wherefore then hast thou beguiled me? 


           4.  One of the results of feeling inferior is often depression.  Leah was given Zilpah as her handmaid.  Her name means, “to trickle or droop” which is the overall impression one has of a person who believes herself to be inferior in the company of others or is depressed.  The character of relatives and others in a person’s life usually indicate something about her character also.


Ge 29:24  And Laban gave unto his daughter Leah Zilpah his maid for an handmaid. 


            5.  The client may actually be perceived as inferior by others based on the world’s standards.  Without question, the Bible tells us that Jacob loved Rachel more than he loved Leah.  Consequently, she would most certainly feel inferior to Rachel because of Jacob’s demonstrated favoritism. 


Ge 29:30 And he went in also unto Rachel, and he loved also Rachel more than Leah, and served with him yet seven other years.


            6.  God is on the side of the person who is treated as inferior or rejected by others.  Jesus Himself was rejected even though He was perfect in every way.  God values all of His children as equals and never rejects anyone, or treats anyone as inferior. 


Ge 29:31  And when the LORD saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb: but Rachel was barren. 


            7.  The person who feels inferior usually desperately seeks to be loved and accepted, and wants others to see them as worthwhile.  Helping the client find an area in her life in which she can perform competently can help.  Leah named her firstborn son Reuben, which means “behold a son.”  The word translated from the Hebrew as behold means “to perceive, to respect, to regard, to learn, to discern.”  She was hoping that Jacob would now value, love, and accept her as the mother of his oldest son, who was supposed to inherit most of what he had.


Ge 29:32  And Leah conceived, and bare a son, and she called his name Reuben: for she said, Surely the LORD hath looked upon my affliction; now therefore my husband will love me.


            8. One of the keys to overcoming feelings of inferiority is for the client to believe what God says about her—that she is not inferior and is fully accepted and loved—and to praise God that He will make everything turn out for her good (Rom 8:28).  The Bible tells us that the fear of man is a trap and that we cannot seek the approval of man and still serve God.  Judah, the name of Leah’s second son, means “praise.”  This implies that Leah had learned to worship and praise God for what He was doing in her life.  The more the client relies on God; the less she will rely on and be influenced by what men think or say about her. 

Ge 29:35  And she conceived again, and bare a son: and she said, Now will I praise the LORD: therefore she called his name Judah; and left bearing.


Prov 29:25  The fear of man bringeth a snare: but whoso putteth his trust in the LORD shall be safe.

Gal 1:10  For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.


           9.  A person who feels inferior will usually do whatever it takes to win the approval of others.  When Leah did not immediately have more children, she gave Zilpah, her servant, to Jacob as a wife.  Although Leah was probably aware of the problems that this same strategy had caused Sarah, she was still so dominated by feelings of inferiority that she was willing to do almost anything to get Jacob’s approval.  It is actually this inner desperation that makes the client appear to others to be needy and to have a problem. 


Ge 30:9  When Leah saw that she had left bearing, she took Zilpah her maid, and gave her Jacob to wife.  10  And Zilpah Leah's maid bare Jacob a son. 


            10.  The client many times will verbally attack others when they do not feel accepted or blame others for being clickish or arrogant.  Leah named the second son by Zilpah, Gad, which means to attack like a troop of soldiers.


Ge 30:11  And Leah said, A troop cometh: and she called his name Gad.


            11.  A person who feels inferior may waiver between feelings of happiness and depression depending on how she perceives she is being accepted by others.  I call this the emotional roller-coaster.  When a client’s worth is based on the approval of others, she will live a life of emotional highs and lows, and put herself at the mercy of other people’s approval.  Asher means “happiness.”  It comes from a root word which means “to advance or to make progress.” 


Ge 30:12  And Zilpah Leah's maid bare Jacob a second son.  13  And Leah said, Happy am I, for the daughters will call me blessed: and she called his name Asher. 


            12.  An important step in recovering from feelings of inferiority is to move beyond self-focus and begin again to care for others.  Mandrakes were known in that day as love apples, and were supposed to excite sexual desire and favor procreation.  Rachel at this time still did not have children, and Leah could have hoarded the mandrakes for herself.  Instead, she gave some to Rachel in the hope that it would help them both have children.  Of course, we can still clearly see Leah’s bitterness in her answer to Rachel and desire to have another chance to conceive.  Notwithstanding this, she did accept Rachel’s offer, which worked in the best interests of both of them. 


Ge 30:14  And Reuben went in the days of wheat harvest, and found mandrakes in the field, and brought them unto his mother Leah. Then Rachel said to Leah, Give me, I pray thee, of thy son's mandrakes.  15  And she said unto her, is it a small matter that thou hast taken my husband? and wouldest thou take away my son's mandrakes also? And Rachel said, Therefore he shall lie with thee to night for thy son's mandrakes.           


            13.  God honors those who care for others and will meet their needs.  The person who feels inferior usually becomes so self-centered that she will envy and compete with others instead of caring about them.  The paradox of love is that, “Those who seek to be loved never find it, but those who give it liberally receive it back in abundance.”  God honored Leah’s attempt to end the competition and work together with Rachel by giving Leah another son. 


Ge 30:16  And Jacob came out of the field in the evening, and Leah went out to meet him, and said, Thou must come in unto me; for surely I have hired thee with my son's mandrakes. And he lay with her that night.  17  And God hearkened unto Leah, and she conceived, and bare Jacob the fifth son.


          14.  When the client finally focuses on others, they learn by experience that “what goes around, comes around.”  People like people who like and care about them, not those who compete against them.  Issachar means “there is recompense.”  I do not believe Leah was blessed because she gave her maiden to her husband, but because she quit competing with Rachel. 

Ge 30:18  And Leah said, God hath given me my hire, because I have given my maiden to my husband: and she called his name Issachar. 


          15.  The ultimate answer for overcoming feelings of inferiority is faith in God.  When the client finally believes that she is completely acceptable to God, she will be freed from her struggle to compete and compare herself to others.  If she believes this, she will no longer feel so self-conscious.  Zebulun means “exalted.”  By naming her next son “exalted,” Leah was confessing her victory over her own feelings of inferiority in her own words.  She had enough faith to declare to the world that she was okay and that she would eventually be exalted in the eyes of her husband and accepted by him.  Although it should be sufficient for each of us that we are accepted and loved unconditionally by God, God understands that we still desire to be accepted by other people. 


Ge 30:19  And Leah conceived again, and bare Jacob the sixth son.  20  And Leah said, God hath endued me with a good dowry; now will my husband dwell with me, because I have born him six sons: and she called his name Zebulun. 


            16.  When the client finally accepts herself, it is only a matter of time before she will be accepted by others.  Leah had a daughter named Dinah.  Dinah means judgment, based on a root meaning to “plead a cause.”  She had pleaded her cause or had presented evidence to the jury of her soul that she was not inferior, and she had received judgment that she was worthy of the acceptance of others. 


Ge 30:21  And afterwards she bare a daughter, and called her name Dinah.


            17.  Once the client finally is able to accept herself, her new view of herself will be challenged just as any belief based on God’s truth will be challenged.  This is the “good fight of faith.”  Rachel now became pregnant and bore Joseph.  Leah’s envy could easily have been triggered by this event.  Jacob proposed to move away from her father Laban and she had to decide if she was secure enough to follow Jacob, who still loved Rachel more than her, and yet expect a good life with him.  


Ge 30:22  And God remembered Rachel, and God hearkened to her, and opened her womb.  23  And she conceived, and bare a son; and said, God hath taken away my reproach:  24  And she called his name Joseph; and said, The LORD shall add to me another son.  Ge 31:14  And Rachel and Leah answered and said unto him, Is there yet any portion or inheritance for us in our father's house?  15  Are we not counted of him strangers? for he hath sold us, and hath quite devoured also our money.  16    For all the riches which God hath taken from our father, that is ours, and our  children's: now then, whatsoever God hath said unto thee, do. 


            18.  Even though she may now fully accept herself, a person who has previously struggled with feelings of inferiority must still deal with the perceptions of others, and trust God that He will eventually change their views.  When Laban went to search for his stolen idols, he searched Leah’s tent before he searched Rachel’s tent.  And even after Jacob’s wrestling match with God (when God changed his name to Israel), when Jacob feared an attack by Esau; he still put the two concubines and Leah and her children in front of Rachel and Joseph; clearly indicating that he still loved and wanted to protect Rachel more.


Ge 31:33  And Laban went into Jacob's tent, and into Leah's tent, and into the two maidservants' tents; but he found them not. Then went he out of Leah's tent, and entered into Rachel's tent.

Ge 33:1  And Jacob lifted up his eyes, and looked, and, behold, Esau came, and with him four hundred men. And he divided the children unto Leah, and unto Rachel, and unto the two handmaids.  2  And he put the handmaids and their children foremost, and Leah and her children after, and Rachel and Joseph hindermost. 


            19.  The greatest challenge to the faith of someone struggling with inferiority will come when the client’s worth is directly confronted by an abusive person.  This can be a very difficult struggle.  Leah’s faith that she would eventually be “exalted” was challenged when Dinah (exalted) was raped by Shechem, the son of Hamor.  Shechem means “the back or shoulder” and Hamor means “he-ass.”  I believe that this suggests that when the person struggling with feelings of inferiority is confronted (daughter raped) by one who turns his back on her and acts like an “ass,” it is the ultimate challenge of her faith.  She must avoid believing that the “rape” occurred because there was something wrong with her and must correctly perceive that the other person “has a problem” and needs help because of his rude and unacceptable behavior.  Fortunately, Leah did not defend herself and attack Shechem.  Unfortunately, her sons did.  They killed Shechem, all the people of the town, and took all that they had.  


Ge 34:1  And Dinah the daughter of Leah, which she bare unto Jacob, went out to see the daughters of the land.  2  And when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, prince of the country, saw her, he took her, and lay with her, and defiled her.  26  And they slew Hamor and Shechem his son with the edge of the sword, and took Dinah out of Shechem’s house, and went out.  27  The sons of Jacob came upon the slain, and spoiled the city, because they had defiled their sister. 


            20.  Eventually, through faith in God, the one who saw herself as inferior will be vindicated and find the acceptance that she always wanted.  Rachael died during the birth of her second son Benjamin and was buried near Bethlehem.  Leah died in the land of Canaan before Jacob (now Israel) moved to Egypt.  She was buried in the cave of Machpelah (double portion) which is in Mamre (“strength" or "fatness") along with Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, and eventually Jacob.  Jacob, himself, gave the direction that he be buried along side of Leah, not Rachel; probably indicating a change of heart before his death.  Her final victory, however, is this: God chose Leah, through her son Judah, to be the progenitor of Christ; not Rachel! 


Ge 49:29  And he charged them, and said unto them, I am to be gathered unto my people: bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite, 30  In the cave that is in the field of Machpelah, which is before Mamre, in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought with the field of Ephron the Hittite for a possession of a burying place. 31  There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife; there they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife; and there I buried Leah.           


Steps for Overcoming Feelings of Inferiority


1.  Realize that the root of the problem is a perception by the client that she is in someway inferior to those around her. 


2.  Because the client perceives herself as inferior, she becomes self-conscious and depressed, and excessively attempts to obtain the approval of others or withdraws to protect herself from rejection. 


3.  Her excessive attempts to obtain approval result in artificiality and an appearance of neediness that causes others to avoid her.  Withdrawal makes others feel they are not liked or that the client is not friendly.


4.  The client interprets this avoidance as rejection and further proof that she is indeed inferior or unacceptable in some way. 


5.  The client needs to find a place in life where she can become competent and excel in order to take her focus off the perceived areas of inferiority. 


6.  The client must accept God’s evaluation of her and praise God that she is not inferior in God’s eyes, is wonderfully made, and that God will work everything for the client’s good. 


7.  The client must avoid the emotional swings caused by evaluating her worth based on her perceptions and the approval of others. 


8.  She must avoid self-consciousness and self-evaluation, focus on the needs of others, and refuse to compete with or envy others. 


9.  The client should expect that her faith in God that she is acceptable as a person will be challenged. 


10.  She must put her relationship with God first, believing that, as she reaches out to help others; God will eventually exalt her in the eyes of other people. 


Books on Inferiority

Watch the Video on Overcoming Feelings of Inferiority (from the book and course Transformation) Below:

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