Leaving the Prison of Self-Doubt

By Ing Sopheap

wVlfnlTbRtK8eGvbnBZI_VolkanOlmez_005-minPhoto by Volkan Olmez on Unsplash

“Ugh! Why is this essay so lame? Why can’t I come up with more interesting ideas?” This kind of thought echoed in my head every time I wrote an essay for homework.

As I vaguely remember, I was in my first year of Chinese secondary school back then. I participated in an annual writing competition and failed miserably. I started to lose confidence in my writing after this bitter experience.

It was always a pain to reread what I had written because the more I read, the more boring it became. When my friends asked to have a look at my essays, I would come up with any excuse to reject them. I was afraid that they’d know how terrible my writing skills were.

From then, I gave up joining any other writing contest. My motto would be, “Why bother joining a competition that I know I’d fail anyway?” It’d just be showing everyone what a failure I was for the second time.

I am far from alone in having this self-doubt. In fact, a report by the Dove Self-Esteem Fund found that seven in ten teenage girls think that they are not good enough in their academic performances. They also feel unhappy with their physical appearances and feel they are not valuable to their friends and family. Similarly, boys also fall victim to insecurities in their teenage years as found in a study published in the Psychology of Men & Masculinity journal. Being insecure for a long period of time can lead to depression, anxiety, eating disorder and so on.

photo-1505492615488-045f8e889dd3-minPhoto by KEEM IBARRA on Unsplash

In an article for Psychology Today, psychologist Melanie Greenberg  identified failure or rejection, social anxiety and perfectionism as the common causes of insecurity.

When you fail to do something or are rejected by anyone, you are likely to have negative thoughts towards yourself. You would start doubting yourself and let the past failure or rejection define your self-worth.

Social anxiety can also trigger your insecurity. Some people feel uneasy around other people, whether that’s at family gatherings or talking to someone new. They are afraid to be negatively judged by others. People can also become sensitive to how people view them, especially when facing pressures from parents or friends to be popular or successful.

Last but not least, perfectionism. Some of us may expect ourselves to get the top grades, the best jobs, the perfect body, and just literally be the best in everything. But there will always be someone who is smarter, prettier or have a better job than us. So, if we keep comparing ourselves to others, we would grow to hate and blame ourselves for never being good enough.

photo-1518481612222-68bbe828ecd1-minPhoto by Tom Holmes on Unsplash

It wasn’t until I was a year away from graduating that a spark of courage lighted up in me. I had slightly improved my Chinese, so I thought maybe I should grab one last chance to enter the same competition that I failed several years ago.  

I started to read plenty of sample essays to familiarize myself with various topics. A few months before the contest, I regularly attended a training course on writing, where I could practice writing more essays and receive feedback from the teachers.

Writing is not something that you can easily enhance over a short period of time. There were stressful moments where I really wanted to give up. But I’m glad that I chose not to because my hard work did pay off. I won a third prize.

Several years, I’d been the prisoner of self-doubt. Imagine how much more I could have learnt and improved if I hadn’t been afraid to fail and had kept pushing forward. On that day I would probably have won not the third prize, but the first or second prize.

Because of my fear of failure, I let my personal insecurity got in the way of my personal growth. The feeling of insecurity still doesn’t go away completely, but it is just getting better now.

Aren’t you tired of allowing those insecurities to suck all the confidence and energy out of your soul?

So, identify the root cause of your insecurity and deal with it. Shift your focus from dwelling upon your weaknesses to improving them. Don’t let useless negative opinions of others drag you down. Stop being overwhelmed by comparing yourself too much with others.

We cannot compare people; their uniqueness, including their imperfections and strengths, make them different. We should appreciate their strengths or efforts in improving themselves (constructive feedback is acceptable) rather than solely pointing out their flaws (something they have no control over, such as their appearance, their past mistakes or failures).

It’s okay to have insecurity sometimes, but it’s definitely not okay to let it overtake you.


Views expressed here are those of the author’s and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of UNICEF.

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