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13 February, 2018

I Used to Struggle With Confidence & Self-Acceptance—Until I Learned This

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The year was 2006, and we’d loosened our reciprocal grip on the security blankets we attached to one another. Though we remained extremely close throughout high school, we began to shed our shared identity, making room for sports teams, individual passions, and new friend circles. We learned to accept and celebrate our differences, rather than secede from them. But in many ways, the seeds had already been sown—the tendency to underestimate myself wasn’t just an adolescent phase, but it was a belief system hardened over years of repetition.

“From a young age, we all learn who we are and who we should be as reflected in the people around us, and if we find that other people foster social comparison, then that becomes how we see ourselves,” Sherry Benton, Ph.D., a psychologist with more than 20 years of experience in mental health treatment, tells MyDomaine. “The mask that we show the world [becomes] the part of us that’s important, rather than being able to look inside at who we really are, behind that mask, and accept that deeper part of ourselves.”

Another decade would pass before it finally occurred to me that I had attached my sense of self-worth to another person at a young age. For all the ways that this was positive, giving me a built-in confidante and best friend for life, I would struggle to accept the parts of myself that I viewed as inadequate in comparison.

My self-esteem soared throughout the exploratory phases of high school and college. I fully embraced my individuality and grew instrumentally more confident in my own abilities, interests, and personality—dance, writing, and drawing gave me a newfound sense of conviction. But this baseless, self-imposed belief that I was never enough ran just below the surface—a silent undercurrent that quietly cast a shadow of self-doubt on even my greatest triumphs.

“The human tendency is to go out into the world each day and hunt for the evidence that reconfirms the beliefs we already hold,” adds Steve P. Levine, MD, board-certified psychiatrist and founder and CEO of Actify Neurotherapies. “We unconsciously select the information that reconfirms these existing negative core beliefs, which is then a direct barrier to happiness and well-being.”