Self confidence is a foundation of healthy self esteem. Without it, we tend to feel bad about ourselves.

sexism and medical school

Equality in need of Resuscitation

Self esteem story about sexism, issues with parents and society’s expectations

I am a fourth year female medical student in Pakistan. Growing up, my parents never actually said that I was lesser than anyone else. They just never let me forget that I was a girl and that I was expected to dress, talk, behave a certain way; the way society expected me to. And if I didn’t, well, what would people say?

I never understood it and found it annoying. Why the emphasis on other people’s opinions? It was my life, wasn’t it?

“Its just the way it is,” I was told. “This is your community. You’re expected to behave a certain way.”

As I grew older, I learned that society expected me to be quiet. They expected me to be subdued, polite, helpful but not assertive. In short, they expected me to behave the way a traditional Pakistani woman should. Everything, I realized, was about my gender. It didn’t matter what kind of a person I was, it didn’t matter that I’d been accepted into medical college; my gender was the first thing people considered, and treated me accordingly. An aunt pointed out that I didn’t have to worry about my grades, as my husband would eventually support me. My teachers kept pointing out that I was ’just a girl,’ ‘too emotional’ and ‘I should pick a job that I could handle with my housework’. It was infuriating, because no matter how well I did something, it was assumed that a man would be better at it. I was always seen as inferior, second-rate to a man. My annoyance grew into frustration; my frustration into anger. Each time I heard their words, I wanted to lash out, point out that I was more than just my gender. But other girls told me not to make a big deal out of it. “They’re joking”, they explained. “Just smile and change the subject, that’s what you’re supposed to do.” So that’s what I did. I hid my anger behind fake smiles and clenched fists, walked away and told myself it didn’t effect me. But I was only lying to myself.

When I started my third year of medical school, I was partnered on a project with a guy named Rashid. I’d seen him, but had never spoken to him before. A friend assured me he was one of the smartest med-students in our year.

When we first ‘met’, he didn’t even look at me to start with, fiddling with his phone instead. He finally glanced at me and said, “I’ve never seen you in class before.”
I stared at him. ‘We’ve been studying together for two years,’ I thought, ‘how could you not have seen me?’

But I didn’t want to get off on the wrong foot or cause trouble. So I meekly said, “I’m pretty quiet. Most people don’t notice me.”

He smiled and nodded. “Well, you should learn to talk more,” he said. “Maybe smile a little too. You’re too serious; it can creep a guy out.” He laughed. ‘He’s just joking,’ I told myself and smiled weakly.

Rashid was definitely not serious, or quiet. When we worked, he talked, laughed, made jokes, and persistently disregarded all of my suggestions. I tried to get him to take me seriously, but he brushed me off, telling me: “You don’t get it, but I know what I’m doing. Don’t worry.”
His dismissive behavior was irritating; it made me feel menial. I felt confused. I didn’t want to work in such an unequal partnership; even if there were flaws in his ideas, Rashid still wouldn’t listen to me. These weren’t just words I could ignore; I was actively being suppressed by someone. But no one seemed to understand that. My friends told me I was being ridiculous—“he’s doing all the work,” “You don’t have anything to worry about,” and “give his ideas a chance.” My mother told me I should try being nicer to him. Again and again I was reminded: ‘He’s a guy, he knows best. You should be thankful.’

I felt trapped, confused, with no one to help me. I knew I was a good student; I wasn’t an idiot, and we were supposed to be working as equals. So why, I asked myself, shouldn’t I have an equal voice? Yet, I took their advice; I shut up, and followed Rashid, because I didn’t know what else to do. It was relieving, in a way, because as long as I listened to him we didn’t argue. But internally, I grew more frustrated, wanting to speak up, but held back by my own self-doubt. I became depressed with my inability to assert myself, and as time passed my inner turmoil grew.
Then one day, a few weeks before the project ended, we hit a snag. Rashid couldn’t think of a solution to a particular problem, so I offered some suggestions.

“Be quiet,” he told me, “I’m trying to think here.”

And suddenly I was furious. I’d been quiet for too long. He was out of options and he still wouldn’t listen to me. I was tired and so angry that all of a sudden that I didn’t care anymore. I didn’t shut up. Instead I told him that for once, he needed to listen to me. He didn’t take it well. We started arguing again, and it got heated to the point where we were sitting across a table, yelling, both equally frustrated with each other.

“You don’t trust me!” he accused, jabbing a finger in my face. “You’ve had a problem with me every step of the way!”

“What does this have to do with trust?” I pointed out. “I’m not questioning your judgment; I have a
right to state my opinion.”

“You’re never happy with anything,” he fumed. “Your problem is that you don’t respect me and what I’m doing here!”

This was too much to take; I laughed disbelievingly. “And what the hell should I respect you for anyway?” I demanded.

We both went home angry, our problem unresolved.

When I arrived at college the next day, I found myself summoned to the professor’s office. Rashid had complained about me. After a discussion which lasted for an hour, I was deemed to be the problem and was officially taken off the project.

It was a shock. I was angry and upset at everyone and at myself. But at the same time, I felt relieved. I wouldn’t have anyone bossing me around.

My friends were horrified; they wanted me to talk to Rashid and ask him to take me back, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I didn’t want to be subjugated anymore; didn’t want to stand at his side in silent frustration. And for the first time I realized that that was enough. My anger had given me a sort of clarity, making me see that by listening to the others, I had been suppressing myself. They had made me feel inferior, made me doubt my own instincts, and I’d let them. Listening to myself had made me happy, released me from something that had only caused me grief. I realized that I didn’t have to listen to others; my own instincts were good enough. I recognized I am enough. It was a liberating and oddly comforting thought; just thinking it made me feel better about myself.

Now, when people try to put me down, I don’t let them. I look them in the eye and talk back. Because I know my worth; I’m not lesser than anyone.

homosexuality and self esteem

How We Learned to Love Me

Self esteem story about a boy coming out of the closet and fighting for his parents acceptance

My first attempt at coming out of the closet was traumatic. My mother overheard me talking on the phone with a guy and told my dad about it. That night, my parents made one of my biggest life decisions: I was not going to be gay. I wrote my dad a letter to help him understand. He ripped it up and said, “Let’s forget about this and pretend it never happened”. From that moment on, I fought the most important battle of my life; my fight for self-acceptance; my war against depression.

In retrospect, I am sure my parents always knew about my orientation from a young age. I remember they took me to therapy when I was about 8 years old. However, the psychologist looked obviously gay, so that only lasted a couple of sessions. Also, I recall having blood tests every now and then for apparently no reason. I’ve since learned these were hormone tests, which my parents and doctor ordered in an attempt to figure out what was going on with me even before I had any clue I was ‘different’.

And me? Well, by the time it hit me, I was already a very awkward and very sad 12-year-old boy. My years in middle school were surrounded by constant bullying because of, well … a lot of things. My skin, my weight, my awkwardness, and, starting in tenth grade, my sexual orientation.

In response, I ate. I could spend a whole day eating because food was comforting and made me feel better. I was judged for being fat. So I felt worse and ate more. I hated being fat, but I didn’t see an alternative way to protect myself. Food gave me comfort, a form of love and acceptance; I found shelter in it.

My parents tried everything they could to help me with my ‘problem’. They tried to change the way I dressed, the music I liked and the people I hung out with. They transferred me to a private school just to be away from a couple of gay kids at my old school.

During this time, I developed my first boyhood crush. I fell for an older guy, who lived a few doors down. I don’t know if he noticed, but I think it’s hard for a boy to hide his infatuation when you’re just entering puberty. I never told anyone about my feelings. As it happened, as fast as I fell in, I fell out of love with him. Even though I realized I was attracted to a man, the thought of being gay never crossed my mind. Maybe it was because I didn’t know any gay people to that point, or at least I didn’t pay that much attention to them.

Growing up in the 90’s in rural Mexico, a gay man was pretty much a stereotype and I didn’t really identify with that—I still don’t. My parents, on the other hand, saw these flamboyant men and thought that was what was in store for me, a life of ridiculous behavior, sexual depravation and probably AIDS. That is what they knew of gay people and they were scared of having a son like this.

Unfortunately for them, I always preferred arts over sports. My dad had this saying: “A man has to be ugly, strong and formal”, and even though I didn’t know what he meant by ‘formal’, I certainly qualified as ugly, as those around me would reminded me. My dad insisted on me doing manly stuff (which I did, and some of it I actually enjoyed), while my mom’s heart was slowly crushed by fear. Seeing my mother cry, I compartmentalized the pain and tried to change. I tried to be attracted to girls but it didn’t work. I just hated myself more. I hated myself for being fat, for being lonely, for making my mom cry, for not standing up to my dad, and for not having a single redeeming quality. I was a bag of flaws, a pile of nothing. Sadly, no one appeared to notice how miserable I was. I was the little, chubby, ugly, gay boy who would not talk to people. I had arrived at a truly dark, depressed place in life.

With all these things going on at home, I managed to finish middle school (barely, I must say), and when I entered high school, I knew something had to change. In the beginning, it was just introducing myself by my middle name instead of my first. I don’t know if this triggered everything else, but high school was definitely a big transition for me. I was being liked by my schoolmates and even by the teachers for the first time.

Not everything was perfect: one of the bullies from middle school was in my class again, but I developed a way to keep her at bay. First, I discovered that I could fight back. But that didn’t feel right; why would I want to say something hurtful when I very well knew how it felt to be bullied? So I found a new strategy: compliments. I realized that when you say nice things to others, they are more likely to like and trust you; so I learned how to be a good friend. I founded my school’s theater company, I was part of the band and I represented the school in regional science contests. My life was turning around and a lot of it happened because I decided the challenging things I had endured before wouldn’t define me. I could be happy, I could be proactive and I could create beauty. I discovered I wasn’t dumb as I had previously been led to believe. And while I am still clumsy when compared to a jock, I like to think this is just part of my charm. In my dark days of middle school, I couldn’t conceive of any of this.

Things at home, however, were not going as well. My parents were still trying hard to change me and introducing me to girls. I could barely talk to either the girls or my parents before I had to escape, locking myself in my room. And when I looked in the mirror, all I saw was flaws. My skin was too dark, my body was too big and fat and my face was too ugly. On top of that, I felt really guilty for caring about such things because they were ‘girly’ worries. Why would a man care about how he looks? But how I looked was important to me. I wanted to be attractive and I thought that if I could just change my appearance, then everything in my life would find its proper place.

I started to write. I created songs, poems, stories, all to express myself and what I thought about the world. I was very political for a 15 year old. I guess, my ideas were something I could rely on and that could keep me away from feelings. Even when I liked art, I was more interested in the intellectual part of it, rather than the emotions within it. Ideas were safe, whereas feelings made me feel vulnerable.

I developed a good sense of humor and I found I could sing. I was, you may say, blooming. But all this growth was completely hidden from my parents. The moment I re-entered our home each day, I went back to being quiet and miserable. I knew my parents would not like who I was becoming, so not telling them seemed like the best choice.

High school was almost over when I first kissed another teenager. And it was a game changer. Not because of the guy, but because it made me feel powerful as opposed to powerless. I was, for the first time, in touch with my sexuality after years of watching other people trying to define it for me. I now had the first taste of really living my own life; finally I was the protagonist. From that moment on, I started to believe I could be the one who defined my life. Before that, I found comfort in being the listener, because I assumed I had nothing interesting to say. Now it was about finding someone who’d listen.

With time I found my first boyfriend. We were two sad people, desperate to be held by someone else. But it was deeply validating for me. I thought that if I could be attractive to one person, then it was not that crazy to think other people may like me also. My idea that I was unlovable was uplifting. My parents found out (I’ve never been good with lies) and stopped talking to me for a short while. I was scared to become someone they would not recognize. I feared becoming a stranger to my own parents, and that was very painful. When they finally spoke to me again, all my mom said was “be discrete”. Apparently, being gay was O.K. now as long as no one knew. Later, my dad told me we needed to talk. When I approached him he asked, “Are you still my son?” I said, “yes.” He paused and my heart raced a million miles an hour. “Then I love you,” he finally said, no big displays of affection, just the right words at the right moment. That is all we each needed to know at the end of the day, that is all that mattered.

From then on, my parents started to accept me rather than trying to change me. Looking back, I realize what they did was because they love me and they thought it was the right thing to do at the time; they just wanted me to have a normal and happy life, how could I reproach that? Today, my mom is very open and supportive of my lifestyle, while my dad tries to not talk about it yet still shows me his love and supports me. And I am conscious I have been lucky. I have a wonderful family and now, an amazing boyfriend whom they also love.

I now know I have the right to be loved and some people actually love me for who I am, despite my differences. And most important of all, I have learned how to love myself, beyond looks, ideas and abilities. I love myself because I choose to, and that power has pushed me forward ever since. I am now also capable of loving someone else, accepting them for who they are, differences and all. My dad was right, love is all that matters.

Purple colour for sensory depravation disorder

Coming to Your Senses

Self esteem story about growing up with undiagnosed sensory processing disorder

By Sharon Heller, Ph.D

I have a PhD in developmental psychology, taught college for many years, and have published four books with New York publishers. Yet, growing up I always thought I was dumb and my family constantly confirmed this. It took years before I perceived myself as otherwise.

I would often say or do stupid things that my family found hilarious. For instance, I had a tummy ache and my mother gave me a bottle of Alka Selzer which dissolves in water. I put a capsule in a glass of water and waited and waited but it didn’t fizzle. I complained to my parents. They looked at the glass and broke into hysterics. In place of the Alka Selzer, I had placed the Styrofoam cap on the bottom of the bottle into the glass. In home economics we were taught how to make an apron. Once I had my apron cut out, the teacher told me to cut out the pocket to sew on top of the apron. I cut out the pocket from my apron which now had a gaping hole!

As a child, I loved school but typically averaged only C’s, except in math which I routinely failed. It seemed to take me longer to understand and complete my work than other students. And when people spoke to me, I often responded with a question about something they had already told me. “Hi, I’m Susie, I live a couple blocks from here.” “Hello Susie, do you live close by?” I froze when the teacher asked me a question and often had to ask friends to repeat what the teacher had said. My family and friends thought I was out of it — spacey! Stupid. A dreamer.

I was good in athletics. Yet, I lost every tennis match and later, in my 20’s when I took up racquetball, lost virtually every time I played that as well. I assumed that unconsciously I must want to fail. What else could explain my constant confusion?

How did all this affect my self-esteem? At grammar school graduation, I signed my best friend’s autographic book “goofy.” Goofy! I was 14 years old and had just read Dostoevsky’s grand novel, The Brother’s Karamazov. In fact, I never had a book out of my hands and by 15 had read most of Freud’s works. Goofy! Hardly. But this is how I perceived myself.

So what was wrong with me? Well I did eventually find out, but not until age 50. Until then I just felt smart but dumb. And this was terrifically confusing and made me feel incredibly inferior to my peers. Why would anyone even want me for a friend except the losers like me? Indeed, the few friends I had were those even more inept than I.

I have sensory processing disorder, a common condition in which sensory messages get scrambled in the brain. This causes a “traffic jam” on the sensory highway, and you cannot make sense of or respond appropriately to your world.

In my case, I had slow auditory processing and it took me awhile to process auditory information. This is why I froze when a teacher asked me a question, why it took me longer than others to understand oral directions and, at times what was being said to me.

And I had visual processing problems. My eyes didn’t work together which made it difficult to accurately perceive my world. I saw the world as a haze. This created a delay in reading comprehension and difficulty in making sense of what I saw – the Alka Seltzer and the apron! And it explained why I lost every tennis match — I wasn’t seeing the ball!

I also had mild sensitivities to noise, smell and light and this, on top of the visual and auditory issues created anxiety and stress.

Fortunately, I am now an expert in sensory processing disorder and have largely overcome my issues.

* * *

If you are facing similarly confusing thinking patterns, you may wish to get an evaluation from a pediatrics occupational therapist trained in sensory integration.

Writing a self esteem story

A Writer’s Perspective on Self-Esteem

Self esteem story looking at an english teacher’s self doubt about whether his writing is good enough

By Andy Rugg

On paper things seem to add up: I have a degree, I read widely, I sit down on my computer for hours on end. I type words on the keyboard, which form sentences which combine into paragraphs and paragraphs are the building blocks to my stories. Hence, literally speaking, I am a writer. The thing is, no one’s read my work. People don’t know my name. You won’t find any of my work in bookstores and I’ve never been close to a book deal. So really, am I writer or just someone who’s trying to be?

The answer is obvious to me: I am trying to be a writer, I’m just not a successful one. A successful writer, by definition, is someone who is read by others. People take pleasure in reading his/her work and devote hours of their lives to it. They often pay to read it. Clearly then, in order to be a real writer, you need to actually be read, family aside. This leads me easily to the conclusion that I’m not a real writer as no one’s read my work.

If I sit still and listen carefully, I can hear the truth echoing in my head. It’s spoken in a soft, calm voice. You’re no good at this. It’s time to admit it. Your words just don’t flow together right. Your ideas have been done, your characters aren’t realistic and the structure is all wrong. Please, finally admit it so you can find something else to do. There’s no point sitting at your computer anymore typing. It’s a waste of time. If you were a good writer you’d have a book published by now. You’ve been at it for years already and what have you got to show for it? There are people out there who are published and half your age. You. Need. To. Move. On.

Even now, as I read over what I’ve just written, the truth of the words weigh on me like a lead weight. I can’t ignore them. I’ve tried everything. For a while, I used to drink cheap white wine while writing. Although the words were sloppy and the ideas half-baked, I could churn out page after page without agonising over every word. The wine pushed the voice into the background for a while and I actually enjoyed it. I had fun writing for a change. I soon realised though that I’d become a hopeless alcoholic if I kept writing that way and decided it wasn’t worth it.

I often think about confident people. Even though many aren’t particularly skilled in what they do, they seem to carry it off anyway. Artists, bankers, policemen, whatever. If they think they’re good at it, they somehow become good. I wonder what I would be like if I thought this way. If I believed in myself, would I then be able to write more easily, not burdened by the constant battle with the voice? I’m sure I would, but it’s not that easy.

There are times when I’ve sat for an hour or more, trying to write, and then given up in frustration. The voice is too strong and the self-criticism too scathing to get out more than a couple of sentences. Sometimes I’ve just had to walk away and leave it until I feel better about myself. With no faith in my writing, each word becomes an interrogation (are you sure you want to use that term?). With no self-esteem, each letter becomes a struggle, each word a marathon (only a crap writer would use a metaphor like that).

So how do I go on? And why do I bother? Some of those slogans help. ‘If you think you’re a writer, you probably are…’, etc. It’s also nice to think of big authors who were refused by publishers and then became best sellers. J.K Rowling is the obvious example. Mostly though, I go on because I don’t know who I’d be if I didn’t. Trying to be a writer is now so entrenched into my perception of myself, that I’d be lost without it. I want to be a writer so I need to keep writing.

I’ve come to learn that battling the voice is everything. It’s helpful to run a parallel dialogue. When the voice hits me with one of its sly remarks—that sounds like something a thirteen year old would write—I try not to let the emotion of the comment affect me. I try to come up with something more rational and helpful. I takie the gist of the comment and turn it into something more constructive—The first part of that paragraph sounds a bit rushed, but the idea is OK. Try re-writing it. It doesn’t always work, but it sometimes does and usually lightens my load so I can continue. When I can push through it and keep going and produce something decent, I know I’m heading in the right direction.

I don’t think the voice will ever go away, and I find it hard to imagine ever having complete faith in myself as a writer. I think what’s important is realising that the courage it takes to fight the voice is in itself an achievement. To continue, when it’s so much easier to quit is its own kind of victory. I’ll keep trying my best. Really, that’s all we can do.

Just write your self esteem story