Self belief – it’s not something that has come easily to me, despite having achieved a lot of amazing things in my life I’m proud of. There’s always been a little voice telling me I’ve somehow fluked it, that what I’ve done is not good enough.
I’m no psychologist but a lot of it stems back to a habit of being self-deprecating at school because of a misplaced belief that it would get people to like me (which doesn’t even remotely work!)
I was quite shy, quiet, self conscious and studious at school and I desperately wanted people to like me. I hated any form of confrontation and would do whatever possible to avoid it, even if that meant downplaying myself and minimising myself to be accepted by certain people.
I was certainly never a genius, but I was good at a few particular subjects and I was very single minded and driven in my goal to become a journalist from quite a young age and so I applied myself in every way I needed to in order to get into university and realise that dream.
For whatever reason this caused conflict with me and some of the girls at school, including some who I believed at the time were my best friends.
I’m a chronic perfectionist and certainly never thought I was better than anyone but for whatever reason they felt like I did and I found that really hard to deal with.
Whenever we got essays back they’d want to know what I got and I began dreading telling them I got an A. When we had a meeting about university choices they taunted me from the row behind saying “I think I’m so clever” and then making jibes about my weight and the size of my boobs (what that had to do with it who knows but when you are a developing self-conscious teenager that cuts deep).
The tension between me and this group of girls got so bad they split up our A-Level English class. I was suffering from an eating disorder, trying to strap my boobs down and going home crying every night. Doing well, it seemed to me, made people hate you and so I started to try and fit in by putting myself down.
This became a lifelong habit and one I’ve struggled to overcome up until fairly recently when I got sick of feeling like that and started to look at why I didn’t like myself very much and felt the need to put myself down.
Being a teenager is hard and our experiences during those sensitive years of wanting to fit in shape who we become in adult life. But those beliefs are just false stories that we don’t have to keep telling ourselves.
What happened to me at school is just my perception of what happened, based on my reality. For the others involved the story may be quite different. Memories lie to us. They keep alive our version of events and the version of events that most confirm our own (usually negative) beliefs. I certainly was not full of self confidence anyway so I clung on to the things that proved me right.
I really do believe today that every direction life takes, takes us there for a reason. Yes I lost some of my friends at the time who were important to me, but friends who put you down and make you feel like you need to minimise yourself in order to be accepted are not really friends at all and, as sad as that is, what it brought into my life was better friendships with another group of girls I hung out with at school. Those girls have turned into a group of women who I’m blessed to call my friends 20+ years later. We never put one another down – we always build each other up, encourage and support one another and that’s why our friendships have lasted through three decades.
I’ve worked hard over the last few years at finding my voice again; at not being afraid to say thank you rather than say something self-deprecating when someone gives me a compliment; to be proud of the things I’m good at and to accept not being so good at other things, but giving them a go anyway.
I’m going through a phase at the moment where fear and lack of self belief are raising their ugly little heads again and it’s hard work to counteract those thoughts, but it’s not impossible because today I do believe in myself. Meditation helps. Positive affirmations help. Reading books that help me change my mindset helps. Having faith helps. Surrounding myself with people I love and who love me no matter what helps.
I’m not afraid to stand up and be seen today. I still hate it when people don’t like me but there is no one in the world who everyone likes all the time. What’s important is if I like me, and I like me a lot more when I believe in myself, when I don’t put myself down and when I don’t feel the need to put anyone else down to build myself up. That’s a much more peaceful way to live.