There’s nothing I hate more than when someone says “You need to build some self-confidence.”
Here’s the backstory: I’m 19 years old, just finished my freshman year in college. In retrospect, I think I’ve accomplished a decent amount. I made it through my high school years and first year of college with good grades and significant involvement in my community. But here’s the catch: I don’t have much self-confidence. I’ve been overweight for as long as I can remember- I gained about 50 pounds one year in elementary school. As a result, it was hard to make friends, I was shy around girls, and it was tough to make a good impression when the first thing everyone saw was that you were fat.
I lost that weight my freshmen year of high school. I started to run track (I became an athlete, supposedly an socially acceptable role), but little changed about myself. I made more friends, but I had trouble forming relationships and meeting new people. But then, I gained about 60 pounds over the course of my senior year in high school and freshmen year in college. Why did I gain this weight? Because my confidence was shot when I went to college.
My confidence wasn’t shot because everyone I met was better than me, my confidence was shot because many people thought they were better than me. Whether or not they actually were made little difference: I didn’t have the self-confidence to back myself up. Yes, yes, my weight gain was my fault. Nobody is denying that. But ever since I was little, people approached my like they were better than me; many people would condescend me. And because I wasn’t the person I or everyone else wanted me to be, I would more than often shy away. Needless to say, it wasn’t easy for me to build my self-confidence.
Don’t misunderstand me, I have good friends who have always been there for me. Sometimes, though, they say something that really bothers me. “You need to build some self-confidence.” Well, my friend, it isn’t that easy. It just isn’t that easy.
For the most part, people who lack self-confidence don’t lack self-confidence because of something they alone did, it’s because they aren’t who everyone else wants them to be. We live in a culture where a certain type of person is admired and awarded: those who fit the stereotypical profile of a good citizen. In high school, every award ceremony (all 3,567,967 of them) seemed only for those special ten kids who accomplished the great trifecta of perfect grades, varsity athletics and community service. Those people would be showered with awards, admiration, friends and partners because they were perfect.
Those of you who have tons of self-confidence (the ones telling others they need to build theirs) don’t realize that sometimes things like school award ceremonies have a negative impact on someone. Believe me, I’m not trying to say you shouldn’t be the best person you can be or shouldn’t participate in the great trifecta because someone will be hurt. If you want to do those things, then more power to you. I am, however, trying to say that you can’t just tell someone to build their confidence because you have it. Assuming someone can just do that is simply ignorant.
Everybody thinks their way is the best way: intellectuals think they know everything, athletes think they’re the shit. Businessmen think money is the ultimate goal, professors think scholarship is. And whenever you talk to someone in any one of these groups, many of them will condescend you because you don’t have what they have, because you didn’t choose their path. And for someone who hasn’t ever fit any sort of direct societal mold (at least the ones prevalent in a middle-to-upper-class suburban area) and doesn’t have much self-confidence in the first place, it’s very hard to deal with these people. It’s very hard to coincide our dual desire to feel accepted and to be ourselves when everyone thinks everyone else should be like them.
Bottom line, people who lack self-confidence do so because society worked against them, not because they’re sorry losers who have no worth. Encouraging someone to find ways to build their self-confidence is helpful and constructive; condescendingly telling them to “just build some confidence” is ignorant and obnoxious.