Why Life Is So Difficult For People With Low Self-Esteem

Speaking a language (and another), playing a piece of music on an instrument, standing up to a bully, talking to someone you find attractive, standing on stage in front of a lot of people, feeling empathy, jumping off a roof into a pool, playing a video game, being curious… All these things and many others are skills or character traits we have or don’t have. Some are learned, others are innate, but feeling bad because you cannot do something that your best friend can is energy badly spent.

Every single person has both confidence and fear; certain things they can do and others they cannot; things they have spent time learning and other things they haven’t spent time learning. The things we talk about, show off, put up on Facebook, advertise to the world, are the ones we can do – the ones we are proud of. Others think highly of us because we can do this ‘amazing’ thing (especially if they cannot do it themselves). They make up the base of our abilities and way of being, no matter whether we believe they are amazing or not. One thing you must never forget is that even if you don’t believe it, there are things you are good at.

The path towards losing self-esteem and confidence is developing an imbalance in how much attention we pay to the things we can and cannot do. As the Indian saying goes, there are two wolves fighting inside us: one bad and one good. The wolf that wins the fight is the one we feed. If we concentrate on how much better other people are than us, how much more they have than us, how much more they are than us, we lose self-confidence. If we concentrate on how much more we have than them, how much more we are than them, we become arrogant. Confidence lies in knowing your worth and accepting the difference in others.

The secret to this, is understanding that there are four subdivisions in terms of what we know and don’t know:


A is what we know we know, like I know I can move my arm, speak English, walk, jump…

B is what we know we don’t know, like I know I don’t know how to speak Arabic, dive off a high cliff and survive, how to program a computer…

C is what we don’t know we know, like when I try something and I can do it, much to my surprise. These are hard to find, because as soon as I realise that I know it, it becomes an A.

D is what I don’t know I don’t know. Hard to give an example of this, because as soon as I realize that I don’t know it, it becomes a B… These include unconscious decisions that we make on a daily basis that rule our lives without us realising it.

It is easy to concentrate on what we know we don’t know. But concentrating on what we know we don’t know leads to low self-esteem, especially when we compare ourselves to others.

On the other hand, if we concentrate on what we know that we know, then we can easily become arrogant.

The trick is to be aware of all four areas and accept the size of the relative areas.

When I work with shy teenagers, I show them how to look into themselves so they categorise all their skills and knowledge into those 4 areas, then decide on what they want to spend their time doing. Which skills do they want to learn? What do they want to move from one area into another?

For some people, speaking in public is outside their comfort zone. It belongs in the area B: They know they don’t know how to do it. They don’t like it, they don’t enjoy it. They could start wishing they could be like their friend Elsa, who DOES like it and is really good at it. But that leads to dwindling confidence. Instead, I show people how to chose what they want to do and develop the confidence to do it.

My personal barrier is not speaking in public. Mine is organising a seminar for a bunch of teenagers and their parents as an introduction to my 4-week course on overcoming the B.S. (Big Shyness). Despite having all the tools at my disposal, I am still coming up against personal blocks: fears, procrastination, inner demons – everything in me seems to be pushing away actually doing anything to organise this course and I don’t know why. No matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to convince myself to do what it takes. Don’t judge your teenagers (or yourself) by what you see or hear. Learn to balance the things you concentrate on and if you have shy teenagers in your life, ask the right questions, then sit back and listen to them and they will let you know what their fears are. No matter how hard you want to, you cannot make anyone do something. They have to choose it themselves. And confidence is a choice.


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