Dear Neil: I’m a 24 year old male in my final year of university. Sometimes I can be extremely confident, with high self-esteem. But sometimes, I plunge into the darkest of places, looking for affection, recognition, praise and love, and I can be very afraid of what other people think of me. I lack confidence so much that sometimes I can’t make eye contact with anyone, and I avoid socializing with others. I am full of insecurity and tend to care for others more than myself. I need to escape from this nervous wreck I have become.
My dad has always bragged of his own accomplishments and how good he is, and he often talks about his sacrifices for his family. He is arrogant and prideful. He has never asked me how I am doing, and I have never expressed my feelings to him—it is always about his emotions.
What is my problem, and what solutions can I work on?
Insecure in the United Kingdom
Dear Insecure: I would not be so persuaded by someone who is boastful and arrogant. Very often those people actually feel low self-esteem, and because they wish to camouflage those feelings, they act extremely sure of themselves and confident. It may be that this is a performance your dad puts on because he’s defending against feeling small, powerless or disempowered. Or it could be that your dad has narcissistic tendencies, so the only person he actually thinks of is himself.
Regardless, you could tell your dad about how you feel and about how you’re doing. You could contrast his seemingly endless amount of confidence with your lack of confidence, and tell him it is painful for you to be around him because you feel you can’t measure up to his self-assuredness. You could then ask him about when he was lacking in self-confidence and a belief in himself—everyone has had those feelings, including him.
In regard to your own self-esteem, here’s what you can do to begin improving your feelings about yourself: You’re going to have to look at what you like about yourself, what you do well, what you’re proud of, what you’ve experienced or accomplished in your life so far, what you think is good about you and what you think your most attractive qualities are.
What do you like, love, admire and respect about yourself? Where have you gained your own approval? Include everything you can think of about your honesty, humility, integrity, empathy, your life skills and your appearance. Make a list with all your answers to the above questions, and refer to that list often. It will remind you about what’s right about you, and as you focus on that, your mind will automatically be taken off of what you think is wrong about you.
Then, answer the following questions, posed by Nathaniel Branden in his book The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem: “If I were to pay closer attention to my insecurities…” (fill in as many answers as you can). “If I were to bring a higher level of self-esteem to my dealings with other people…; If I were more accepting of my mistakes…; If I were to take more responsibility for my life and well-being…; If I were to take more responsibility for the attainment of my goals…; If I were to take more responsibility for the success of my relationships…; If I were to treat my thoughts and feelings with respect…; If I were to treat my wants and desires with respect…; If I were to express 5% more of who I am…; If I were to take more responsibility for my personal happiness…; If I wanted to raise my self-esteem today, I could….”
Whether or not the problem is related to your dad, the solution lies with you.