On a hot afternoon in May I stood on the outside of the fence at the Elementary School and watched the children play in the schoolyard. For 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the afternoon, they were allowed to go outside and play. This was in addition to their lunchtime.
When I attended Elementary School on this Caribbean island that period of time was called, recess. It’s probably still called recess. There was no adult close by to ask. As children, we looked forward to recess because it gave us an opportunity to play ring games and jacks, and the boys always had marbles ready. We had fun with our classmates. I was happy to see that children, who did not have access to as many electronic devices and distractions as their counterparts in developed countries, still enjoyed playing with each other, enjoyed simple games, and just have pure clean fun.
None of the children turned and invited her to join them. Perhaps they’d done so many times before and she just refused. I wondered what was going through her mind. I knew that I was staring but couldn’t seem to take my eyes off of her.
As I observed more intently, there was one little girl who caught my attention. Amid all the laughter and fun the other children were having, she sat by herself on a large rock, sucking her thumb. She looked so sad, almost broken, and seemed to be locked in a world of her own with only her thumb for comfort. None of the children turned and invited her to join them. Perhaps they’d done so many times before and she just refused. I wondered what was going through her mind. I knew that I was staring but couldn’t seem to take my eyes off of her. I felt a tremor run through me as I wondered what could have happened in this little girl’s life, a child of 9 or 10 years, to make her seem so sad and hopeless. Her eyes looked old. They looked as if they belonged in the face of an older woman who had seen too much and been hurt too many times. Unbidden, I felt tears welling up in my eyes. I had heard so many stories of abuse over the past few months! I couldn’t help but wonder if I was looking at another victim. This little girl looked as if every ounce of joy had been sucked out of her.
I would never know her story, but the thoughts flew through my mind as if on wings looking for a safe place to land. What was her home environment like? Did she have parents and siblings who loved her? Did her mother hold her close and tell her she was beautiful? Did she have someone to go home to who would help her with her homework and tell her she could be anyone or anything she wanted to be when she grew up?
“Children live what they learn; children learn what they live.” ~ Unknown
At the moment, it was clear that this little girl was as far removed from being confident as the north was from the south. Because she appeared to be quiet and withdrawn, she either got picked on by other schoolmates or ignored completely. She probably experienced being berated by teachers that she did not pay attention and she was a slow learner. Either way, her self-esteem would be almost non-existent.
In a society where you’re either “bright” or you’re considered “stupid” and not worth spending money on, I felt that if something did not change in this little girl’s life, she would be discarded and treated as one of the “stupid” ones. My eyes and heart burned for her.
Forcing my eyes away from her, I looked at some of the other children close by, especially the little girls. Two of them stood out! Yes, they were neatly dressed in their school uniform, brown shoes, and white socks. Their hair was combed neatly and for the most part, they looked like most children who were well-dressed.
But there was a difference! While some children could speak “proper” English, the majority spoke Patois (Jamaican Creole) in informal settings. These little girls were laughing and squealing, but when they spoke, they spoke in proper English. They each had an invisible sign that said, I am a Leader, and the other children seem to recognize it. They were not rude or aggressive. They just seemed to command respect and the children in that area of the playing field paid attention to what they said. It was easy to see that these two girls were from homes where they were encouraged to be confident about themselves and how they showed up. They already displayed that they had a lot of self-esteem without putting anyone else down.
As I walked away from the fence, I could not help but reflect on where a lack of confidence or poor self-esteem starts. Most times it starts in childhood. The experiences one has in childhood can either enhance their level of confidence or rob them of it altogether.
When authority figures, such as parents, teachers, other family members, and even older siblings constantly speak down to you, they make you feel worthless by the names they call you and the way they treat you. What’s worse, when every vestige of personal dignity is taken away by molestation and sexual abuse, it compounds the issue. It starts a vicious cycle where the victim feels that this predator is the only one who loves her until he takes what he wants and leaves her more vulnerable than before.
Today I came across this video and it brought me much joy as I saw how confident and self-assured this little nine-year-old girl is. I couldn’t help comparing her to the little girl I spoke of at the beginning of this article.
It can be hard for persons who have been fed negativity most of their life to suddenly see themselves as worthy. They grow up lacking in self-confidence, poor or no self-esteem or self-worth and feed themselves on negativity. All is not lost. Some people are able to do it on their own, while others need someone to support them.
How do you recognize lack of self-confidence?
- One way is by negative self-talk. You say things to yourself that you’d never dream of saying or probably think of about someone else.
- You treat yourself severely when you don’t measure up to your own high expectations while giving regards for other people.
- You laugh at our own mistakes while contemplating on how stupid you are.
- You believe that other people can perform better than you can.
- You tell yourself you’re ugly or fat, or other negative descriptors and that you’re incapable of doing things right.
The irony though is that other people think otherwise. They view you as a wonderful person who is worthy of admiration. But when you hear that, you probably think they’re lying and just giving you platitudes. It is obvious that low self-confidence can hinder us from our growth. It will always pull us down into the realms of mediocre life and dullness. It will make ways so that we would fit in the gaps of the non-achievers, the humiliated and the lowly people.
Tips to Overcome Lack of Confidence and Build Self-Esteem
- Question Your Inner Critic: To help combat your inner critic, look for evidence to support or deny the things that it is saying to you. Find opportunities to compliment, congratulate, and reward yourself, even for your smallest accomplishments.
- Do Something Every Day That Scares You: The best way for you to overcome fear is to face it head-on. Getting out of your comfort zone and facing your fears will help you to gain more confidence. By doing something that scares you every day, you’ll start to gain confidence from those experiences and will get a boost in your self-confidence.
- Visualize Yourself as You Want to Be: Visualization is a powerful technique that requires you to see a picture of yourself that you are proud of, in your mind. When struggling with low self-esteem, we often have a poor perception of ourselves that tends to be inaccurate. Practice visualizing a beautiful version of yourself achieving your goals
- Set Realistic Goals: Setting unrealistic goals that are difficult to achieve will only cause you to become discouraged about your abilities. Start by setting small goals for yourself that you can reach quickly. Once you’ve achieved some success, you can move on to harder or more challenging goals.
Journalist, Deborah Ward, gives some additional tips to overcome lack of confidence and poor self-esteem that are worthy of consideration. Taking action to implement these to the extent possible will definitely help to give you the boost you really need.
In conclusion, it’s important to remember that while a large number of people can trace their low self-esteem and lack of confidence to their childhood, events can happen in the lives of adults that make these qualities of self-confidence and strong self-worth falter. If they do not immediately seek ways to restore the confidence they lost, it can gradually create immeasurable harm on a long-term basis.