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Along with being the firstborn in my family came a few perks and many responsibilities, one of which was babysitting my younger sisters. I got pretty good at being in charge. I liked being the boss, telling my siblings what to do. From my perch on the family tree, I honed a number of natural leadership skills and around the same time got stuck (like for the next four decades) thinking I always knew better than my sisters.

From time to time, in my adult life, I would hear from someone that I was intimidating. This was perplexing. Internally, I felt way more timid than intimidating. I had low self-esteem. How could I be overbearing?


Then I married David, who was ultra confident and, in his younger years, outright cocky. Like most of us who marry, we leaned into each other’s strengths in hopes of a better balance. I leaned on David’s confidence and he drew from my intuition. That worked for us for a long time…until it didn’t.

In most relationships, there seems to be a power dance.  Whether it’s in families, friendships or with co-workers we find ourselves, at different times, in a “one-up” or “one-down” position.

Those of us in the one-down position often suffer from internal shame ( “I’m not enough.”)

Those of us in the one-up position suffer from grandiosity (“I’m better than you.”)

And, some of us, flip back and forth between both: covering our not-enoughness with grandiose comments and behaviors.

So, how do these damage relationships?

Sooner or later the balance of power tips over. That “knight in shining armor” (one-up) starts to resent the damsel (one-down) who always seems in distress. That responsible “parent” (one-up) in a relationship ultimately wearies of caring for the one they see as a “child” (one-down.) And that quiet, subservient “mouse” (one-down) has enough of the in-your-face bully.(one-up)

How can an unbalanced relationship be saved?

Each person must fully claim their own sacred sense of intrinsic worth.

They must right-size their self-esteem.

No one is above and

    no one is below the other.

The feeling is mutual.

Stamped with the imago dei, (the image of God) from the beginning our True Self can never be tampered with, improved on or diminished. We are all solidly whole, and valuable at our sacred core. But, early family circumstances cause most of us to adapt an “over” or “under” self-perception.

A healthy friendship or working relationship is most successful when each person respects the other’s inherent value.

A marriage flourishes when each spouse holds themselves AND the other in equally high esteem. If either spouse feels superior or inferior to the other there will be failure to bond at a deep level. 

In her book The Intimacy Factor: the ground rules for overcoming obstacles to truth, respect & lasting love, Pia Mellody writes: 

 “The two grand lies children hear from parents are that they are “better than” or “less than.” The truth is that a child, as well as every other human on the planet, has inherent worth. It is not a quality that bears comparison. It is an absolute value, and we all have it. We differ from one another, but not in terms of inherent worth…

 Dysfunctional, immature parents abuse children when they give them the message that they are “better than” or “less than.” When the message is that they are “less than,” this disempowering abuse shames them. If it is falsely empowering abuse, children become exalted above their parents. They exercise more power than the parents within the dysfunctional family system and literally take care of them…

 The damage results in extremes: “less than,” “better than”; no boundaries, creating walls; “I am a good person,” “I am a bad person”; “I want others to help me,” “I don’t want any help”; “I am rigid,” (healthy) Recovery lies at the center of these extremes. 

If we don’t esteem ourselves, we can’t believe another can love or esteem us. If we believe we are worthless, nobody is going to be able to convince us that we are lovable and have inherent worth, because what another would tell us is in too great a conflict with the bad stuff we believe about ourselves.”

Most of us do our relational life from either a one up or a one down position. And sometimes, depending on the situation, we fluctuate between the two. Neither way works if we want truly close, replenishing relationships.

  • Do you most often feel inferior or superior to others? 
  • In what ways do you feel (& or) act superior to your spouse? Children? Siblings? Co-workers? Friends? Strangers? Groups of people you don’t know?  
  • If the people closest to you could be totally honest with you, do you think they would say they feel one-up or one-down from you or would they say they always feel your respect for your own AND their inherent worth?
  • What do you think is standing in the way of being able to fully esteem and honor the significant value God originally graced you with?

We all want healthy, intimate relationships. But it could almost seem counterintuitive to hang the first movement to achieving healthy, intimate relationships on the quality of esteem we hold for ourselves.

And then there’s this…

Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”


 Mark ‪12: 30

Healthy mutual esteem.

!!! This week on the LiveTrue Podcast we’ll be talking about how a one-up / one-down relationship became disastrous for us.  

Also, if you’d like to look at a copy of the book that was referenced: The Intimacy Factor,  Click HERE.

***And if you want to make more progress in letting go of superior or inferior thinking, we get the journey from both sides and we’re here to help.

Contact us : caron@youlivetrue.com or david@youlivetrue.com

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Caron Loveless
Caron Loveless is a bestselling author, artist and teacher. She is a compassionate, intuitive advisor, a certified Enneagram specialist and for over 25 years she used her strategic, leadership, and artistic gifts to serve on the executive staff at Discovery Church, Orlando, FL. She is a conference speaker and retreat leader with a passion to see women, couples and leaders identify the hidden, internal issues that hinder them from experiencing the maximum joy, grace and fulfillment God has available for them. Caron and her husband David are parents of three sons and are the grandparents of their seven delightfully energized children.

Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Misty Burton says:

    Loved it. It seems when I feel I may be “helping” I really may be acting or giving off a I’m better than you so I must step in & help. Interesting & this is definitely something I will be working on this year. Letting go & listening instead of jumping in & doing. Thank you!?

    • Thanks for letting us know your thoughts Misty-

      Helping may not necessarily mean you think you’re better than someone else. It’s all in the attitude in which we carry out the helping – if it’s with resentment or a “you should do this yourself” mentality that might be a “better than ” approach. Or if you feel someone isn’t capable of doing something ( and maybe they really are) & you keep rescuing them that may seem like it’s helping but it may be enabling more of a victim mentality. If so, helping them gain more self confidence & esteem might be the best way to serve them.

      We are encouraged to serve one another. And figuring out if we have unhealthy enabling going on takes humility & self awareness. It’s all in what’s really driving us.

      Thanks again !