How to Deal With Zero-Sum People Part II

Beloved readers, I started my series about people with this mentality with this post.

Part II of this series is about how to identify people with this mentality who may have taken up residence in your  life.

Identifying people with this mentality is half the battle. Why?

You cannot effectively engage what you cannot see.

One of the hardest things about identifying Zero-sum people is that it requires–surprise!–taking a good, introspective look at yourself.

This could bring up things you simply do not like about yourself. That’s okay.

This could bring up things abut your self that you know, deep down, you must change. Change can be hard. It can hurt. It can be ugly. It can be scary. It can be costly. That’s okay, too.


This could bring up things about your family, marriage, religious institution, career, co-workers, social circle, job, and so forth that you don’t like. That too, is okay.

The point here is not to focus on, or to become emotionally paralyzed by what you may find–the point is to be willing to take an objective, hard look at yourself.

Identifying Zero Sum People

The best way to identify Zero-sum people in your life requires being aware of three things:

  • Actions             

  • Speech             

  • Results

Zero-Sum Actions

Zero-sum actions, or “behaviors” can take a variety of forms. Forgive me, beloved readers, but I cannot list every single one you may come across, but I can share with you general trends I have noticed.

There are three “classic” behaviors I’ll focus on:

1. The One Up 

If he or she must constantly join in everything you do–and then surpass you in it, compare something they have done to any and everything you do, or always have the “upper hand,” you may have a Zero-sum individual on your hands.

Note: This could be a sign of insecurity as well. Zero-sum people tend to be very insecure, deep-down (they often have a confident facade); however, not all insecure people have a Zero-sum Mentality.

2. Belittling Behavior

He or she may belittle or trivialize your successes, resources, blessings, talents, etc. This is often done with words, but can happen with actions, too.

For example: Your time is not as valuable as his or her’s, which they demonstrate by not taking your schedule seriously or by not making important events in your life a priority (when realistic and possible for them to do so, of course).

3. Sabotage

This can be passive or overt sabotage. This can be emotional, psychological, financial, even physical. Unfortunately, because of its hurtful and embarrassing implications–you’ve let people who mean to do you harm close to you–this is the easiest one to rationalize away.

Don’t. Ever. (Please!)

Zero-Sum Speech

This can take many forms.

The most important thing to note is that it can be extremely subtle depending on how adept the Zero-sum people in your life are at duping you. (There’s no shame in being duped–it happens to the best of us, more than once in our lives.)

I want to revisit belittling again in this section. Belittling in its verbal form is not always a cruel or snarky remark. Belittling can come in the form of normalizing your accomplishment to make it seem less worthy of validation, or by having what you did twisted into a story about how the Zero-sum person in your life did not get the same opportunities, talents, etc. as you–otherwise they would be in your place, of course. (Insert eye-roll here, beloved readers.)

Belittling can also come in the form of a refusal to enjoy the glow of your success with you. She or he may hear it, acknowledge it as little as possible, and move on as if it happened ten years ago, rather than recently.

My point here is be aware (not overly-sensitive) of patterns of speech that have the overall effect of minimizing the good that occurs in your life.

Zero-Sum Results

Zero-sum results are essentially the combined effect on you: your self-esteem, self-worth, self-image, finances, career, relationships, physical health, and emotional health of having Zero-sum people in your life.

They leave you off-balance, confused, less motivated, hopeless, defeated, weak, feeling helpless, stuck in a rut, lost, and ultimately: DEFEATED.

This isn’t good.

I can promise you this will not get better–it’ll only get worse, because in the Zero-sum world, there MUST be winners and there MUST be losers. Individuals with a Zero-sum Mentality will “win” whatever the cost.

Even if what they “win” is asinine or ultimately worthless they still want to “win.”

You may be thinking: Ugh. Now that I know about this kind of person how do I get rid of them, ASAP? I’m glad you asked!

I explain that in PART III of this series.