Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The whole "confidence" thing. (a story)

I have struggled with my self-confidence and sense of self-worth my entire life.

As an elementary- and junior high-aged child and preteen, I could count on half of one hand the number of actual friends that I had, but had to use both hands and feet and borrow a few more to name all the kids that I knew who made me feel miserable. Not a pleasant period of my life by any stretch of the imagination.

At the time, I couldn't understand what was wrong with me, what I did to warrant being treated the way I was... looking back, it's a lot easier for me to see what elements of my personality and my home life put me in such stark contrast to my peers and influenced it. I was little, smart, very precocious and didn't really have much in the way of social perception. It's taken me a long time to realize that the way I was (it wasn't a matter of "acting" for me, I couldn't for the life of me do anything that wasn't true to myself) made a lot of people-- both children and adults alike-- very uncomfortable.

Me, circa 9th grade. This picture would have been
right around my 15th birthday.
As a result of my personality and my home life-- a mixed race child in a low-income family living at the edge of a very affluent neighborhood, most of my peers being caucasian children from very wealthy families-- I was socially ostracized, and treated quite cruelly by many classmates for years and years. And since I went to the same small school for elementary and junior high, I was with many of these selfsame classmates for a full ten years.

I'd be lying if I said that it didn't screw me up quite badly for a long time. I spent a lot of time as a child completely miserable and very lonely, and had no confidence whatsoever in myself. I was convinced that I was repulsively ugly (which I wasn't... I was definitely an awkward-looking preteen, but I sure as heck wasn't "ugly"-- and really, I've looked pretty close to the same since I was about 13!), that I was a complete loser and that I would never have any friends, that I was doomed to a life alone. Needless to say, my confidence levels were completely nonexistent.

It wasn't until I started high school (having deliberately chosen a high school that would be attended by only eight students from my junior high) that I made any actual friends. Even then, I had to force myself out of my comfort zone (which scared the living daylights out of me) and throw myself headfirst into a new social group. Thank the gods that I did, though, because that social group -- the performing arts / advanced acting program -- completely saved my life. Little did I realize that this group of classmates and teachers would provide a strong foundation and safe place for me to finally feel comfortable and take refuge from the impending catastrophe that was my familial relationships as a teenager (although that is something that I will go into another day).

That's not to say, though, that all of the people I called my friends were great relationships for me to have. I did end up becoming close to some people who I would later realize had been horribly emotionally toxic for me to know, and would cut myself off from them as means of self-preservation.

Nonetheless, high school was a place for me to absolutely flourish, and became a refuge for me when things just got to be too much in other areas of my life.

Problem is, I still didn't really fix any of my self-confidence issues. My social life was a mask for everything, and I was more than happy to stick my head in the sand and not acknowledge that I still hated my face, my body, my hair... everything.

I graduated high school and started university the fall immediately afterwards. I was in a program that I thought I would love (and ended up hating), was finally figuring out my personality and my needs as a person, and had a lot of contention going on at home. To say that I was dealing with some upheaval was a slight (read: major) understatement.

In the spring of the next year, things ended between myself and the boyfriend that I had dated for most of my grade 12 year and most of that first year of university. I was a wreck. I had seen it coming for a while but was terrified, didn't know how to handle all of that change all at once, and ended up making a lot of very unhealthy (and emotionally unsafe) decisions while searching for some form of validation. Not a good period of my life at all.

A couple months later, April of 2009, I was introduced to Rory by a friend that I had met while in university. He was living in a different city about three hours away at the time, and talking to him was an incredibly good thing for me. We didn't meet in-person until a month or two after we had been introduced, and by that point I had finally unwound some of the total yarn-tangle that was my emotional state and was finally starting to calm down. I had also decided that I would not return to the university for the next school year, instead wanting to take some time to re-evaluate and figure out my life.

We started dating at the end of that July. In the nearly three years since then, I feel like I've completely transformed as a person. I still don't have much in the way of confidence (as a matter of fact, my insecurities and self-loathing caused me to get upset with Rory for little to no reason yesterday and it was a small catastrophe), but I've finally started to accept my imperfections... and doing so has given me a lot more control over my life.

I've learned that I need to surround myself with people who will support me-- and they don't have to exist in my physical "real life", either. I've met a lot of awesome people through my travels on the internet (if you're one of those people, hello!!) and they've made a huge difference to me. And to be quite honest, they've also helped me to work up the courage to banish all the toxic so-called friends that I've had in the past, and many have also been part of the reason why I've decided that I really need to rebuild myself from the ground up.

Rather than the perpetual denial and self-hatred, I'm making a conscious effort to overcome my weaknesses and turn them into strengths. Sometimes it causes me to sit down and just pick apart everything I hate about myself until I'm left miserable and emotionally empty, but nowadays it more often than not forces me to say "okay, you can do this, just acknowledge the imperfection and find a way to turn it into an asset."

It's a constant struggle. A lot of days I still play the "ignore it until it goes away" game, but it still catches up with me and takes me by surprise-- which will often turn into me binging on all the wrong foods and drinking a couple glasses of wine and overall wallowing in self-pity.

Not a healthy coping mechanism by any stretch.

And to be quite honest, I've run face-first smack into that "you're not good enough and you'll never be good enough" wall more times than I care to admit over the past two weeks. I need to start letting. it. go. I'm a good person. I know I am. I've worked hard at being a good person, and while I still make mistakes, it doesn't undermine my value. (The more times I repeat this to myself, the more likely I am to believe it... right?)
So when it comes right down to it, I'm a work in progress. But really... aren't we all? I think the moral of this story, the way I see it, is that the confidence you have is entirely within your control... I've finally figured that out and have started to seek out ways in which I can build it and as such give myself that much-needed boost.

What have you struggled with? Is it something that you've found a way to overcome? Please share if you have!


  1. Andraea, I can definitely relate.
    I was bullied for much of elementary school and junior high. We moved constantly so I was always the new kid, and being shy, people assumed I just wasn't friendly. I got picked on for god knows what reasons, and it definitely took a toll on my self-esteem. Nearing high school (at a new school in a new city) things got better, but I didn't really reach my "peak" until university, where I was able to branch out and form true friendships. It still affects me to this day though. I sometimes assume that people (even those I consider my friends) don't like me and are just pretending to, and I take small things (like someone not paying much attention to me in conversation) very personally. It's a fight every day, but every day gets slightly better.


    1. I've done some serious thinking about this subject in the past few months, and in retrospect I've come to learn so much about myself in the past three years ago that I do understand "why" I never really fit in for so long-- and honestly I really love the parts of me that make me unique, even if those selfsame traits make it harder for me to get along with other people.

      I think that I'm just a really overwhelming person for a lot of people, and when I was younger it was difficult for me to get along with anyone because none of my peers really understood that or could relate to me.

      Doesn't make it any easier to remember, but it has helped me to not be quite so bitter about things. I actually saw a couple of the girls I've known since kindergarten at West Ed the other day and despite everything I still said hi to them and was glad that I'd seen them.

      I'm finally learning to let things go! :)

  2. You know, voicing these kinds of things is the best thing to do when you're feeling worthless or awful, because then other people tend to tell you that the same thing happened to them, and you realize that you aren't the only one who feels worthless and ugly and terrible lots of the time.
    I have so many of the same experiences! Elementary school and Jr. High SUCKED. High school was better, but only because I found my best friend there! I'm still not great at making friends because just like journeytonursey, I have this feeling that people who I call friends (even my best friend of almost 10 years!!) don't ACTUALLY like me and are only being my "friend" because they pity me!
    When you say it out loud, sometimes it just sounds ridiculous. You get better at telling your brain to just shut up and then go do something fun with the people who like you best ;)

    1. You're very right-- even if other people don't relate in the same way, sometimes just getting it all out is the important (read:therapeutic) part. At least for me, anyways =P And once I've done that I can usually read it over and see "okay, I was upset and being a bit irrational... this is somewhat accurate but I was being a bit overblown about it"

      I also think that I tend to be closer to people now who went through similar things when they were younger-- whether I know them through forums, or met them years ago... like attracts like in so many ways. Even if that similarity is social isolation (ha).

      Which has ended up being a huge comfort to me. Even if I still do think from time to time that people only talk to me because they pity me ;)