In our lives we get the opportunity to interact with so many people. Some of these individuals bring great benefit into our lives, while others may try to drag us down. 

It is by clearly seeing even the most negative or detrimental qualities in ourselves and others that we can move out from interacting from a place of pain and wounding. This world is like a play (and yes, all of us players on stage). When we are unaware, we participate in our this play unknowingly and unwillingly, looping through (repeating again and again) the role we have been cast in. 

This role has primarily been placed on us through childhood, and most of us are unconsciously repeating the beliefs and realities of our childhood again and again throughout our lives. Spiritual awakening is the opportunity to take responsibility for ourselves, to become a spiritual adult, and to move beyond the insecurities, belief systems (ignorances) and wounding of childhood.

This allows us to free ourselves from the conditioning and “role” of child, and to take responsibility for our own suffering. By looking towards our own suffering and seeing it compassionately, we can learn to face it, and ultimately take responsibility for it. To take back the suffering that we have put out into the world (and onto others) is the ultimate task of the conscious individual.

By clearly seeing the suffering within ourselves, and one another, we can free ourselves from this cycle. We can also prevent ourselves from being dragged down by others’ pain and reject the role in their play (seeking to displace their own suffering or play out their childhood wounds again and again) that they are seeking to cast us in.

There are a few ways to tell that you are dealing with an insecure and petty person:

  • They continually need to tell you how worthy they are. This can be degrees, vacations, salary, information about career or family, who they know/have studied under, what organizations or groups they are in, or other accomplishments. 
  • A history of negativity and pettiness. This person will find fault with everything and everyone, and spend their lives gossiping and tearing down others.
  • A lack of contribution. It is difficult to contribute when there is tremendous insecurity, and so this type of person will steal the ideas of others (or take credit for them), or will complain and tear down the work of others with nothing of benefit to contribute themselves.
  • A need to be the center of attention. Others gaining recognition or being the center of attention will result in negativity towards that person, envy/jealousy, and a purposeful effort to regain the position of authority.
  • A need to be superior to all those around them.
  • A continual need for approval from authority figures, but also a push-pull of separation. A deep longing for connection and belonging to feel worthy and approved of, but outward behavior will prevent them from connecting and cause for them to remain separate.

There are complex energetics with that last one, and it is all about understanding how we protect ourselves. If we feel unworthy, that is an immense form of suffering. It involves energies of shame, anger, fear, grief, and overwhelm.

When we cannot face our suffering (it is too overwhelming, or we lack the awareness and emotional intelligence/tools to do so) we close ourselves off within ourselves. 

We deny reality because we have been hurt by reality– Nietzsche.

We energetically seal the part of ourselves off that cannot face a reality in which we are not found worthwhile. That part of us deeply desires to belong and to be accepted but feels separate, and will create (and re-create) a reality in which the trauma of childhood– in which we were deemed not worthy– to continue. A cycle of seeking approval, seeking belonging, resulting in a defense mechanism of isolation and pushing others away. We can only be told or shown that we are unworthy or inadequate so many times before this defense mechanism– this push-pull– develops. 

We begin to reject others first so they cannot reject us.  

In our childhood, we ideally would experience unconditional loving regard. Carl Rogers introduced the concept of conditions of worth, which is what happens when we do not receive unconditional love, support, and acceptance from our parents.

If we do not grow up with this type of unconditional love, we quickly learn that we must play a role. We must learn what our parents deem “worthy”: how to behave, who to be, and what to believe to feel approved of and accepted in their eyes.

This easily turns into a reality in which the child (and the subsequent adult) cannot simply be, they need to accomplish or to wear a mask in order to be worthy. They need to prove their worth again and again, or to be something other than who they truly are.

This also means that the child cannot be themselves. If they are a cheerful and social extrovert whose parents are intellectual introverts, the child learns that who they are is incorrect. If they are a creative introvert born into a family of extroverted accountants, they learn that who they are is wrong.

These conditions of worth can cause for the child to completely hide who they are and to feel deep shame regarding who they are. They can also cause for the child to act a role, to play a part, in which they are continually acting how the parents would like them to act in order to prove themselves worthy.

The playing of this role has disastrous consequences, and in adulthood the person continues this cycle of shame and inadequacy, never fully being able to be who they are, as who they are is incongruent with the conditions of worth that they learned as a child.

Attempting to play a role or chase after accomplishments never prove worth, they never allow the individual to simply be. There is always another accomplishment necessary, always the outer need to state accomplishments to others, as the inner, unresolved child that has hidden itself from reality cannot ever truly absorb those accomplishments.

This is because the inner child craves unconditional love and regard, not conditional approval.

Playing a role leads to deep shame, even if successful, as the role clashes with the true self, the authentic self seeking to freely express itself. If the true self does appear, it does so with shame, as it knows that to be who it is is to defy conditions of worth, the childhood programming that teaches us who we need to be to be considered worthy or good.

Any accomplishments remain unembodied, as the child was seeking unconditional love, and accomplishments are simply something achieved, not something that would allow for the child to feel inherently worthy… or put more simply, worthy even if they never accomplished another thing in their lives. 

Worthy for being who they are, not for what they can do.

When we feel inherent worth, we can simply be who we are and say what we need to say. A large part of the task of spiritual awakening is to take back all of the energy we have thrust outwards– through unrequited pain that we need to tend to within, as well as through our desire to be approved of and worthy through the reflection of others.

We take back our suffering by tending to it within, and by recognizing the humanity in one another. If we cannot see the humanity in one another, or are energetically triggered or emotionally reactive to one another, that is a good sign to do discernment: to see what is truly at the root of our Othering, dislike, hatred, or emotional reactivity. 

This is the true result of shadow work, to recapitulate all of the suffering we place outwards because we cannot face it within.

By recognizing that we are inherently worthy, and reconciling childhood wounds, we can take back our energy and power that we have given others to determine our worth and have it become an inner process. Basically, as spiritual adults we can determine our own self-worth. 

For example, if I do three paintings, I can evaluate clearly that one of those paintings I truly love, one is pretty good, and one I can paint over. This reaction is coming from my own standards and from knowing that even if all of my paintings are terrible, I am still worthy.

We do not need to have our self-worth reflected back to us through damaged prisms; we can move fully into who we are by recognizing that our worth is inherent, and not to be determined by others.

Further recognition can allow for us to understand that no matter how “good” we are, no matter how accomplished or loving, that others will find us problematic.

This is because others are stuck in this cycle as well, endlessly seeking to place their unhealed suffering onto others, and never satisfying the deep neediness within themselves. This neediness can only be resolved by offering the inner child the unconditional love that they lacked in childhood (My book, The Body Deva, can help you work with your inner children to offer them this).

In this pattern, people suffering under the weight of feeling inadequate are wanting to see their inadequacy reflected in you. Put more simply, they are looking to drag you down to their level.

Any reminder of success, of power, of achievement is a shadow part to them. It is something that they cannot achieve within, something they cannot see in themselves, and so to see it without (in another person) is painful, leading to jealousy, insecurity, and bad behavior.

Energetically, the insecure individual is continually scanning, continually placing their energy outwards. They are doing this to hopefully see it reflected back to them that they are worthy (they are superior, accepted, the best, etc). They are also doing this to deflect their inadequacies, to protect their inner child who feels incredibly insecure from further harm.

They cannot celebrate with others, and so any accomplishments that others achieve will be seen as a threat– something to be envious of, as well as something to tear down.

By clearly seeing this energetic mechanism we can do discernment. We can evaluate if:

  • What they are saying to us (or about us) has nothing to do with us
  • What they are saying to us (or about us) has something to do with us
  • What they are saying to us (or about us) has everything to do with us

In this discernment, we may desire to pick the first option– to believe that what they are saying to us has nothing to do with us. Many times this is the truth. What people say and think about us has very little to do with us, or is a mere fraction of who we are.

Often what people think of us has to do with what they can see reflected in us, meaning their struggles and pains reflected. This can result in great empathy… or it can result in hatred or desire to demean or dehumanize.

Other times it is simply that we are a convenient target, and it truly has nothing to do with us. Think of celebrities who receive so much energy and emotion from others, and the type of adoration as well as the unfortunate hatred and othering they experience aimed at them.

Sometimes what people are saying to us (or about us) engages with our own egoic defense systems. We have shielded ourselves from critique due to our own feelings of inadequacy or needs to see ourselves a certain way.

We can often see clearly the type of healthy critique coming our way in that it is balanced by the positive and by the other individual seeing our humanity. It is much different to be torn down, despised, dehumanized, and hated out of the issues and ignorance of another than to have someone graciously and conversationally offer information that we may simply wish to ignore. 

In the latter, we can check our own egoic defense mechanisms. If we deny the humanity of the other person, or start projecting hatred or our own inadequacies onto them, we can take that energy back, and sit with the information offered to us.

This offers clarity and the ability for growth, even through sources that we may dislike. Our greatest growth can come from interacting with people that we have difficulty seeing with compassion.

We also may receive information that we simply do not wish to hear, that is healthy and normal critique, and our own inadequacies launch into attack mode.

How to Deal

There are many ways to deal with insecure and petty individuals:

  • See them clearly. See exactly what they are doing and why
  • Understand where it comes from. Nobody walks around like this feeling good about themselves. This is a vicious and unfortunate cycle, and hopefully they find some healing or respite some day.
  • Do clear discernment. Discussed above, but basically questioning our own reactions and what we see in the other person reflected. We can see our remaining need to work on our own self-worth, the parts of ourselves that once acted this way, and energetically be shown how we can reclaim the energy that we still place outward, desiring approval from outer sources.
  • Do not engage. Engagement with someone like this means being pulled down to their level, engaging in their play and the role they have cast for you.
  • Find a backbone and determine when someone crosses a line. In some cases, there is a need to document, to go to HR, to bring in authorities, but even that can be done from a place of non-engagement, of realizing that this is an unfortunate person who is suffering… and not getting wrapped up in that suffering. To be compassionate does not mean allowing others to abuse you, or run you over energetically (steal, lie, cheat, make you an energetic dumping ground for their pain) and there is an art and skill in learning how to approach conflict diplomatically. Many individuals I encounter are struggling with passivity, and use compassion or “being a bigger person” as a shield to avoid dealing with difficult situations and conflict. Learn to stand up for yourself when necessary, and when the situation calls for it.   

Advanced Dealing

By remaining energetically neutral (not accepting the energies coming your way from the other person, or only accepting what is valid and reasonable) you can remain in a state of compassionate non-engagement. 

This means a neutralization of the energies coming your way. Put more simply, if you do not accept the role they are placing you in, or the energies, they naturally dissipate. More likely, the person will find another person to cast in that role– someone who will respond and give them the engagement that they desire to perpetuate their cycle of suffering.

This person will naturally want engagement, even negative engagement. By seeing them clearly and reacting neutrally, they will move elsewhere to find the drama and attention that they crave.

Turn the energies into something positive. This is something I teach my advanced students. This is transmuting even the most negative energies coming your way into something of worth, value, and energy. Consider it a sort of fuel coming your way. 

By being neutral (first step) energies like this can be worked with and transmuted into an insight that propels your further self-realization. Energetically emotional energy like this can also be transmuted into light and fuel to propel workings, business, creative work, and other areas of your life (an advanced teacher would be required to teach you how to correctly do this).

Also, see it as a positive. You are a target for a reason. Some success, power, achievement, or role has caused for this person to attempt to bring you down. When you remain neutral but also inwardly compliment yourself on the qualities that make you a target you can get a wonderful opportunity to turn this negativity into a way to offer yourself self-regard for what you have achieved, who you are, and what you know.

Do Self-Inqury (ask yourself questions inwardly):

Use this as an opportunity to reflect on what you have healed, what you have still left to heal, and how you have reacted to the situation.

What parts of you do you see reflected in this person? What parts of you still need approval? What child parts of you still need to feel worthy from outer sources? What parts of you want to engage in this cycle (to be brought down to their level?)

Finally, practice Mudita. I love this concept. The antidote to jealousy and insecurity is sympathetic joy. Allowing ourselves to feel love and joy when others accomplish something can truly heal our own remaining envy, jealousy, and insecurity. 

This is a practice, and one that doesn’t happen overnight. Allow yourself to recognize and feel pride, hope, and joy at the accomplishments of others.

If this feels too far-fetched for you, you can see this reflected in someone you know. Find someone who emanates joy, who is able to feel mudita, and you can see this disowned aspect of yourself (positively) reflected in them. Through that, you can grow this quality within yourself.

Mary Mueller Shutan is the author of several books, including The Spiritual Awakening Guide, Managing Psychic Abilities, and The Body Deva (a method of self-inquiry that can allow for you to work with what you see reflected in others).

She teaches several courses, including The Meditation Course.