Self-Esteem – Self-Perception – Insecurity – Doubt – Over-Sensitive; they are all related
Originally published April 17, 2014
Forward by author March 2, 2016
I write a lot…every day…yes, I am one of those people that keeps a journal. Well over 100,000 pages now as I have been writing for a little over a decade. I can see clearly how my personality has changed over the years just by reading some of my own works. And that’s the point here – I rarely share what I write with others because it truly is for me and me alone but every songwriter knows there is a piece of them in every work…if you’re into the mindless babble of today’s mainstream artists you won’t have any idea what I am relating here…that’s OK, I like to think that my target market is a “higher-functioning” one…you know, people that can actually think for themselves and like to use their own imagination rather than have someone tell them what something should mean to them. Having said that, I am no different than anyone else, I have dark as well as light in me. I write to get both of them out of me.
We hear a great deal about self-esteem. But what is self-esteem, really? Self-esteem is our opinion of our self, based on others’ perceptions. So, how is it that all of us, or at least many of us, have such a distorted and negative self-perception?
In every social interaction that we have – even before we are able to fully engage in those social interactions, (because of our level of development) – we are given instructions. Sometimes those instructions are positive, sometimes negative and sometimes benign.
If you are the last one chosen for kickball during recess, your peers are giving you an instruction that they don’t feel you are athletic. If your artwork is chosen for display in a public gallery, you are receiving the instruction that you’re artistic. If your mother is constantly harping on you to clean up your room, she is giving you the instruction that you’re sloppy. If your supervisor at work “dumbs down” your work assignments, they are giving you the instruction that you’re not so bright.
These may not be the best examples. But they point to a very important idea. Until we come to an authentic and unclouded idea of who we are, we are only a reflection of the opinions of other people; we are a reflection of what others believe about us, as opposed to what we believe about ourselves. People hand us instructions, hold opinions and pass judgment, and we buy in.
Why it is exactly that we buy in to the negative side of things so promptly and willingly rather than the positive is a difficult question to answer; nonetheless, it is what happens. And it is through this negative buy in, and consequent development of a negative self-perception, that we develop a sense of shame about who we are and our place in the world.
Shame can manifest itself in any number of ways from anorexia to frantic overachievement. It is not so much an emotion or a condition or even something that you can put your finger on, it is more a sensibility.
The anorexic, for example, feels so badly about herself that she quite literally wants to disappear. The narcissist, on the other hand, has an unbridled need to be noticed and validated. The habitual addict latches onto a repeated cycle of self-destruction in order to punish himself. The serial adulterer seeks out consistent confirmation that she doesn’t deserve her mate or doesn’t deserve to be loved. We could throw out examples like these, both positive and negative, all day.
Shame is insidious, but it is a sensibility more than a situation. Since it is a sensibility, it is something that can be addressed as a consequence of underlying issues – in particular, issues of self-perception and esteem. But if our self-perception and sense of esteem is driven by a reflection of others’ opinions, then what are we to do?
The idea of what to do is actually quite simple; putting it into action may be somewhat more difficult. What we, in fact, need to do is take a conscious look at who we are, gathering evidence that either confirms or denies the personal belief system that we have put together for ourselves. “Know Thyself”.
Here’s the point – check your premise. Are your issues driven by a negative self-perception that is driven by a reflection of others, or a concrete and tangible truth that you can put your finger on? If it’s the former, get to work revising that premise. If it’s the latter – well, your climb may be more difficult until you can change your behavior.
For example, if my issues are a result of treating people poorly, I need to stop treating people poorly!
Guilt is a wasted emotion because it is an attachment to judgment. In order to divest ourselves of guilt, we need to figure out who it is that is judging us. Shame is a wasted sensibility because it is an attachment to negative self-perception that has been fostered by the perceptions and opinions of others. To divest ourselves of shame we need to start living a life that is not a reflection of others, but a reflection of our authentic-self.
Insecurity is a feeling of general unease or nervousness that may be triggered by perceiving of oneself to be vulnerable in some way, or a sense of vulnerability or instability which threatens one’s self-image or ego.
A person who is insecure lacks confidence in their own value, and one or more of their capabilities, lacks trust in themselves or others, or has fears that a present positive state is temporary, and will let them down and cause them loss or distress by “going wrong” in the future. This is a common trait, which only differs in degree between people.
This is not to be confused with humility, which involves recognizing one’s shortcomings but still maintaining a healthy dose of self-confidence. Insecurity is not an objective evaluation of one’s ability but an emotional interpretation, as two people with the same capabilities may have entirely different levels of insecurity. Insecurity may help to cause shyness, paranoia and social withdrawal, or alternatively it may encourage compensatory behaviors such as appearing confident or outgoing, arrogant, aggressive, or as bullying, in some cases.
The fact that the majority of human beings are emotionally vulnerable, and have the capacity to be hurt, implies that emotional insecurity could merely be a difference in awareness. Insecurity has many effects in a person’s life. There are several levels of it. It nearly always causes some degree of isolation as a typically insecure person withdraws from people to some extent.
The greater the insecurity, the higher the degree of isolation becomes.Insecurity is often rooted in a person’s childhood years. Like bitterness, it grows in layered fashion, often becoming an immobilizing force that sets a limiting factor in the person’s life. Insecurity robs by degrees; the degree to which it is entrenched equals the degree of power it has in the person’s life.
As insecurity can be distressing and feel threatening to the psyche, it can often be accompanied by a controlling personality type or avoidance, as psychological defense mechanisms such as, suppressing emotions so as to avoid heart-felt interactions with others. The insecure person will not expose themselves to vulnerability, even though, they really are more vulnerable than they realize because they don’t open up and as a result, will go through life having never created intimacy or forming bonds with others, they live a ‘Lone Wolf’ life. In large part, they live a life without passion in their relationships.
Insecurity can be overcome. It takes time, patience and a gradual realization that one’s own worth is purely a matter of perspective (or subjective opinion of oneself), and so while it may be true that insecurity can follow from concerns relating to objective reality, this is by no means a necessity, but more a tendency.
The challenge is finding security and learning to trust oneself and one’s environment.
Self-doubt is not always low self-esteem. As we go through each childhood stage of growth and development with our reality tested by negative messages from our parents, teachers, siblings, and boyfriends/girlfriends, we learn at an early age to question ourselves.
When we are raised to conscript to a certain mold… interesting things happen. One of those things is that you grow up with a continual and nagging self-doubt. Does this mean you have low self-esteem? Not always. But, self-doubt and low self-esteem seem to get mixed together as the same thing.
It makes sense that if others continually told you that your thoughts and feelings were wrong, that you were too sensitive, that you should not question, that you are not good enough no matter how hard you try… you might still be somewhat haunted by self-doubt. This does not mean you are necessarily a person with low self-esteem.
Self-esteem is a continuum that ranges from very low to very high and many levels in between. While everyone may suffer from intermittent self-doubt, how we are raised can result in being pre-programmed to question ourselves.
Even people who take the message of “I’m not good enough,” from childhood can appear strong, independent, high achieving and may have accomplished amazing things. These people, once they work through their issues with self-esteem and self-doubt really begin to blossom, even if it is late in life.
Self-esteem can be defined as someone who has a decent opinion of self without grandiosity. One who sees them self as a good person, hardworking, reliable, honest, friendly, and able to like and love him or herself for who they are. This does not mean that self-doubt will never crop up.”
A successful person is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks that others throw at him or her.”
~ David Brinkley.
Here are a couple of examples to consider: (1) the inability to give oneself credit, and (2) sometimes feeling like an impostor.
I think these issues are caused from the self-doubt and perhaps negative childhood messages.
Inability to Give Oneself Credit
You have/are raising children. This is an accomplishment. You have purchased and fixed up a home. This is an accomplishment. You manage your finances to the best of your ability, paid off several cars, saved for retirement – these are all accomplishments! If you have accomplishments and have worked hard in life, it is real and you can give yourself credit for this. You don’t need to brag, but you can give yourself credit where credit is due. It is an internal kind of caring for self.
“People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is light from within.”
~ Elizabeth Kubler-Ross
Learn to plant your own gardens in your soul with light, trust, and fresh blooming wild-flowers. Learn that when you are told, “You can’t do it,” that it might mean you have to do it, to truly take care of yourself and chase the enemy from your self-doubting head. And then when you do…you can give yourself credit for believing in yourself. In the end, it’s your dream and it belongs to no one but you.
The Impostor Syndrome (cite)
The impostor syndrome is the inability to accept and claim accomplishments no matter what level of success, even with hard-won achievements because there is an irrational fear that you don’t deserve the success or maybe you are just a fraud.
Outward signs of accomplishment are seen as just good luck or good timing. An “impostor” feels as if she or he has been deceptive and has made others think he or she is more intelligent or skilled than they really are but this is not true for hard-won successes.
Deep down your self-esteem is there. Fight the demons of self-doubt and embrace your path and climb your mountain. Believing in yourself when it seems no one else believes in you is a challenge you can overcome.
Don’t wait for someone else to praise you and bring you red roses. Give it to yourself when you earn it. It is possible to pat yourself on the back. God did not design us to kick ourselves in the butt. Try it…it’s physically impossible to do.
Being sensitive is a great characteristic. As a songwriter, I had to learn how to take comments less seriously. Generally, overly-sensitive people get hurt easily when they feel someone said something to them in a “wrong way”. Most of the time, whatever is said is not really rude or critical or even directly towards you, the person could be having a bad day, or their words are taken out of context.
Raise your level of confidence to express yourself. Having confidence does not happen overnight as it takes time, maturity and practice to be sure of oneself and properly express yourself.
If someone makes a comment about you and you’re either ready to burst into tears or feel incredibly sad, don’t over-analyze it. Even if it is intended to be personal and hurtful you have the choice to believe that it is not anything personal against you and take it in stride.
For starters, knock-off the “I care so much about what everyone thinks of me” attitude. A caring attitude is a great quality and definitely needed in this world, but putting everyone else’s opinion of you above your own creates problems. You have to build self-value in yourself and do not let a person’s words ruin your whole day. Look at it this way, their words fly out of their mouth, so in the end, they probably would not even remember what they said. So if they don’t care, why should you?
When we properly express (not too much, not too little) ourselves we will know immediately because we will receive positive feedback. Reflections of our own selves tend to bounce back from others so if you are super-sensitive about everything in life, there will be people who will seem “critical” of you.
When we truly know who we are, and realize that nothing that someone says, thinks, or does to us can harm us in even the slightest way, we can express our sensitive nature openly, develop this God-given talent and not worry about what others may think, do, or say about us. We are only concerned with being who God wants us to be and how He wants us to live.
Embrace your sensitivity. There is nothing wrong with being sensitive, it shows you have concern for others but learn how to balance your sensitivity and have a thicker skin.
Remember, every human who once lived on this Earth and those living on it presently has experienced others that were not pleasant with their words, or had the tendency to say things without regard for other people feelings. While you cannot change these people’s way of thinking, take control of your own feelings and the way you express it.
When you know yourself fully, you instinctively begin to trust yourself and your intuitions. These instincts and intuitions are built in safe-guards that have evolved to literally protect us and save our lives. Being able to trust others opens pathways to living a full life. Learn to discern other people’s intentions and ability to be trusted, before placing your life in their hands. This is how we find balance and learn how to properly extend trust to others. When you meet someone, your intuition will tell you, if you listen.