Embracing Equality: How to Stop Putting People on Pedestals

“The most common ego identifications have to do with possessions, the work you do, social status and recognition, knowledge and education, physical appearance, special abilities, relationships, personal and family history, belief systems, and often also political, nationalistic, racial, religious, and other collective identifications. None of these is you.” ~Eckhart Tolle

Growing up in a patriarchal and hierarchical society, I learned to see certain people as superior to me and therefore placed them on pedestals: teachers, authority figures, managers… This behavior transformed me into a quite reserved, almost submissive version of myself, in contrast to my outspoken feminist persona outside of those circles.

I noticed a shift even in interactions with peers who had previously been of “equal rank.” Once they assumed higher positions, I would adopt a quiet, subordinate demeanor. This left me feeling frustrated with myself and diminished, unable to express myself freely in their presence.

Sadly, this tendency to idolize some people isn’t unique to me. It’s a societal phenomenon I’ve observed not only within myself but also among clients and peers. Especially women. We often elevate individuals, attributing to them qualities we admire or perceive as superior to our own.

This hierarchical mindset is deeply entrenched in our society’s values, which prioritize certain external things such as wealth, success, gender, ethnicity, fame, and appearance. Hierarchies rank individuals according to certain criteria, perpetuating inequality and often leading to abuse and trauma.

We see echoes of this in racial and gender discrimination, religious abuse scandals, and instances of power abuse in various fields like the field I love and teach, yoga.

It’s imperative to dismantle this hierarchical ranking of human worth. Every individual, regardless of title, gender, race, or ability, is inherently deserving of love and respect simply by virtue of being human. This seems obvious and a bit silly to write really, but we’ve yet to truly understand and embody this as a collective. And until we internalize this truth on an individual level, systemic change will remain elusive.

Today, I rarely feel invisible or submissive in front of anyone. I don’t see anyone as better or worse than me. We’re all just humans living different life experiences. And if I find myself going back to feeling inadequate or superior to someone, I am able to observe my bias and release that judgment. This is an empowering, loving way to live.

It took a bit of effort, studying and applying neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), and practicing yoga not just as an exercise but as a way of living, but I now know it is possible, with patience, awareness, and practice.

Here are some key steps to start unlearning this hierarchical model and embrace the truth of your inherent worthiness.

1. Recognize hierarchical thinking and be curious.

Begin by identifying any limiting beliefs or assumptions related to hierarchy or judgment of others. These beliefs may include ideas such as “some people are inherently better or worse than others.” Ask yourself with radical honesty: Who do I see as better or worse than me?

When you catch yourself judging others negatively, replace it with curiosity. Explore why you perceive their behaviors as unacceptable, where this belief of yours is coming from, and consider their perspective.

When you catch yourself putting others on a pedestal, be curious. Explore why you perceive them as “better” than you. What about what they have or do makes them better? Where is this belief of yours coming from? What is the limiting belief you hold about yourself?

Recognize that both ends of judgment come from a place of hurt or insecurity within yourself.

In my formative years, I put on a pedestal individuals who held roles as educators and those who belonged to families with greater financial means than my own. Subconsciously, there was also a strong tendency to put men on that pedestal.

As I transitioned into adulthood, this pattern persisted in the workplace, where I found myself placing male superiors on pedestals, and in my early relationships, where I did the same with romantic partners and forgot myself in the process. It required a significant amount of introspection and self-awareness to recognize and address these deeply ingrained hierarchical biases, particularly those operating at an unconscious level.

To bring awareness to your own beliefs, simply observe those moments when you feel small, invisible, or incapable of speaking out or being authentically yourself because you are in front of a specific person or group of persons. Those are the people you put on pedestal.

2. Explore and address unconscious bias.

It’s important to investigate our unconscious biases, especially those toward specific races, genders, disabilities, ages, and other identities. These biases often lurk beneath the surface, making them challenging to identify.

Engage in discussions with friends from diverse backgrounds to gain insight into their experiences and perspectives. Listen attentively to their stories of bias, discrimination, and the barriers they face.

For example, challenge your assumptions by questioning who you perceive as capable professionals or leaders. If your mental image primarily consists of tall white men, it’s a sign of an unconscious bias that needs addressing. Similarly, if your workplace lacks diversity at the top and claims to be unbiased, it’s essential to recognize the discrepancy. Approach this exploration with curiosity and kindness toward yourself. Don’t hesitate to seek assistance along the way.

After becoming aware of my biases, I felt compelled to engage in difficult conversations, particularly with the men in my life. I vividly recall a discomforting dialogue with a high-ranking manager at a large corporation, during which I highlighted the noticeable lack of diversity in the upper echelons, consisting predominantly of tall white men. I confronted the inherent bias within the company’s structure, particularly its disposition toward women.

These are the hard but necessary conversations you can have when you reestablish your connection to yourself and a non-hierarchical mindset. These conversations can be uncomfortable, especially when you are in front of people who have not uncovered their unconscious bias, but they are seeds of change. Choose discomfort over staying small.

3. Humanize those on pedestals.

If you find yourself placing someone on a pedestal, remind yourself that they are human too, prone to mistakes and vulnerabilities. Reflect on the qualities you admire in them and recognize that you possess those qualities too.

Perhaps you find yourself admiring someone for their confidence and outspokenness, their beautiful home, or the loving family they’ve built. Consider this a message to introspect: why do these aspects hold value for you? It could be a learned belief that no longer serves you, which you can reframe or release. Alternatively, it might represent a genuine longing within your heart. In that case, view it as an intention—something to nurture within yourself, such as confidence—rather than a cause for feeling inferior.

Or, if you’ve always seen authority figures as infallible, challenge this notion by recalling instances of their fallibility or unjust actions. Similarly, if you tend to idealise a partner or someone else in your life, reflect on whether this pattern echoes a past relationship dynamic, possibly with a parental figure. Question the reasons behind this pedestal and consider releasing any outdated beliefs associated with it.

Keep in mind that liberating someone from the burden of unrealistic expectations can be empowering for both parties. Embrace their humanity, allowing room for growth and imperfection within the relationship.

However, be prepared for the possibility that a shift in your belief might alter or even end the relationship—and that’s okay. Relationships evolve, and sometimes letting go is necessary for personal and mutual growth.

Moreover, if you encounter inappropriate behaviour from someone in authority, refuse to normalize such conduct.

Lastly, challenge any notions of superiority based on personality types, such as extroversion over introversion. Remind yourself that everyone experiences moments of insecurity and doubt. Whether you’re an extrovert or introvert, recognize your inherent worth and value as a unique individual.

4. Reconnect with self-love.

Once you find within yourself a place of love and acceptance, despite your differences, quirks, and the challenges you face, you will be able to be loving and accepting of others’ differences.

Many mindfulness or somatic practices have supported my journey to acknowledge my innate worth and lovability.

Here is one of my favorite ones: place one hand on your heart and the other on your belly, breathe deeply, and remember the warmth and love you experienced in your mother’s womb. Acknowledge the truth that you are deserving of love and respect, regardless of external measures of success or worth.

If this is hard for you because you have been lost in the trance of unworthiness for a long time, it is okay. Maybe start modeling the behavior of someone who embodies equality, empowerment, and self-love. Spend time in nature; nature is healing and non-judgmental.

I know from personal and coaching experience that this is not the easiest step. It is a daily practice. It is a daily remembrance. This is how I found true liberation. And some days are easier than others. On the hard days, I come back to my heart space, to my center, reminding myself that I am loved, with conviction, sincerity, and compassion.

Once you truly embody that knowing, not much can shake you to the core and make you feel invisible. You can see yourself for who you are, and you can see people where they are, at their level of consciousness. No more getting lost in the trance of unworthiness when certain people show up.

5. Rewire your mind. 

Choose a new set of beliefs regarding yourself and others. Like the belief that everyone is worthy of love, respect, and compassion. Visualize yourself interacting confidently and assertively with others in situations where hierarchical thinking may have previously held you back.

One potent technique from NLP that I frequently practice myself and with my clients involves creating positive anchors associated with certain states of being or feelings—for this specific example, feelings of equality, empowerment, and self-worth.

An anchor can be as simple as taking a deep breath, adopting an empowering posture such as standing tall with hands on hips, using a discreet point on your body (like pressing a point on your hand or using a finger) while remembering or imagining and feeling the sensation in your body of a time with you felt loved and empowered. Amplify that feeling as much as you can while you activate that posture, breath, point in your body.

Since the body retains these associations, whenever hierarchical thinking creeps in, triggering these anchors can serve as a powerful reminder of your inherent value and equality with others.

You can also use a mantra in combination to those anchors (an affirmation you repeat to yourself). A few examples: I am worthy of love, I deserve to be here, I am loved….

Let’s envision a new system of horizontal hierarchy—one where each individual’s unique gifts and strengths are celebrated, and differences are embraced. By dismantling hierarchical systems and embracing equality, we can create a more just, fulfilling world for all.

**Image generated by AI


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