A woman in her mid-thirties looks self-confident depicting growing from living in someone else's shadow.

How to Stop Living in Someone’s Shadow

Maja Winteler, born November 1881 in Munich

Stop Living In Someone’s Shadow and Take Your Place in the Sun

Do you know who this is? Her name was Maja Winteler, born November 1881 in Munich. She was a remarkable woman for her time, an intellectual who studied romance languages and literature in Berlin and Paris. She received her doctorate from the University of Bern in 1909, a decade before American women won the right to vote. She was also the sister of a guy named Albert Einstein.

As a therapist and a life coach, I meet many people like Maja. No matter how hard they work or how remarkable they are, they still feel like they’re living in someone’s shadow.

You don’t have to have a famous physicist for a brother to have this experience. Maybe you’re living in the shadow of a charismatic friend, a talented coworker, or even a successful partner. This feeling is often fueled by a habit of comparing yourself to others. It also doesn’t help when you’re also receiving external messages from friends, family, and society that you don’t quite measure up to your counterpart. 


In this article, we’ll discuss why you feel like you’re living in someone’s shadow, and how strengthening your self-identity and your self-esteem can help you step out of the shadows and start to inhabit your own unique brilliance.

Comparing Yourself to Others: A Recipe for Insecurity

You know you’re not supposed to compare yourself to others, but it can be hard to resist. Relentless comparison can fuel the belief that your worth is tethered to someone else’s achievements. You start to doubt yourself and believe that you’re not good enough. You may play small and avoid challenges so you don’t have to experience failure. 

This insecurity not only makes you feel like crap, it undermines your personal growth. Making mistakes and falling short of perfection is not only expected, but it’s necessary. It’s how we learn and evolve into better versions of ourselves. 

The first step in overcoming the feeling that you’re living in someone’s shadow is to stop comparing yourself to others. There is no external standard of success that you’re supposed to be meeting. What matters is whether you are living up to your own values and standards. 

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Discover the Light Within

Our culture sells us a myth that we have to be exceptional to be valuable. In reality, you have intrinsic value as a human being, and nothing you accomplish or fail to accomplish can change that. You are worthy of love and respect, just as you are. Even when you make mistakes, and even when you feel overshadowed by others. 

Additionally, it’s important to realize how feeling like you don’t measure up can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. It can drive behaviors in relationships that push people away. It can lead to perfectionism, which ultimately will keep you from accomplishing at your full potential. 

You can break free from the cycle by recognizing and appreciating your unique gifts. You bring talents and perspectives to the world that no one else can offer. You have a light inside of you that can’t be dimmed by anyone else’s achievements. True self-worth flourishes when you accept yourself and embrace your strengths, not when you beat yourself up over your supposed “flaws.” 

Shaping a New Narrative

If you feel like you’re living in someone else’s shadow, it’s time to write a new narrative for yourself. Instead of defining your worth through external comparisons, or accepting the way that other people categorize you based on their own value standards, create a story for yourself that celebrates the things that make you you. 

This story doesn’t depend on what anyone else does. You can embrace a narrative that is comforting, encouraging, and that motivates you to persevere. Or you can tell yourself stories that limit what’s possible for you, steal your joy, and make it more difficult for you to continue working toward your goals. 

If you would like support in writing a new story for yourself and overcoming the feeling that you’re living in someone else’s shadow, this is an area where you could really benefit from working with a good life coach. Make sure you choose a coach who also has a license to practice psychology, not just a self-anointed life coach with a TikTok following. The right professional will use evidence-based practices to help you clarify your goals and stay motivated to achieve them. 

And if you would like to do this valuable work with a coach or therapist on my team, I invite you to schedule a free consultation

With love, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby 

P.S. — For more advice on feeling better about yourself and achieving your goals, check out my “Cultivating Self Confidence” collection of articles and podcasts. 

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