How People’s Words Impact Our Confidence
January 16, 2021
The other day I was reflecting on the areas of my life where I’ve had lower self-esteem over the years. I was able to come up with a few, and then I started to think about how that came to be. I remember the negative things I used to say to myself, the doubts that would creep up, and the defeat I felt when my fears were confirmed. Then I had a realization…the lies I used to tell myself did not usually start with me. Instead, they were often seeds that were planted by someone else’s words.
I think about the below quote from Maya Angelou. I wholeheartedly believe it and use it as a reminder to treat people with kindness and respect. I also recognize, however, that many times our feelings are impacted by what others say and do. We may not remember conversations and actions verbatim, but we definitely remember the feeling it gave us.
In my case, there is a strong connection between what others said to me or thought of me that left a deep impression and charted the trajectory of my self-love journey. Here are the areas where my confidence has been most impacted.
“You’re not Black, you’re Jamaican!”
“You don’t sound Black.”
“You’re like an Oreo – Black on the outside and White on the inside.”
These are just a few of the many things I’ve been told about my race. I get it, just from looking at me it’s hard to tell exactly what my racial makeup is. I understand that now as an adult, but back then I was very confused and critical of myself.
As a kid, I would come home and ask my parents what my race was or what I was mixed with. I always got the same answer, “You’re Black.” But I didn’t feel like I fit in, I didn’t look like the kids I went to school with, and I didn’t grow up with the same cultural experiences as many of my current peers had. In fact, they often tease me about not having my Black card.
I’ve come to learn more about my family lineage and cultural heritage, and I’ve also come to accept that my experience as a Black woman is not the same as other Black women, but I can still be proud of who I am and celebrate the diversity within our beautiful race. My racial journey is my truth and no one else’s. I own my story and no longer let others define it for me.
“You got a good test score for a Black student. But it’s not that good compared to a White student.”
I don’t even need to list more quotes here because this one alone did enough damage that made me question my intelligence throughout college and into adulthood. Before that, I didn’t worry about whether or not I was smart. I loved to learn and always had good grades. But once this was said to me in high school, the doubts started creeping in.
What made it even more challenging was that it made me question my level of intelligence compared to a peers of different races. In college I would look around the lecture hall and worry that I wasn’t as smart as the other students and wonder if I deserved to be there. Those fears began to subside as the years went on, but they came back in the workplace when I was surrounded by so many type A colleagues who had a different working style than I did.
I have to constantly remind myself that just because I’m a different race, it doesn’t mean that I am less intelligent. Unfortunately, those of us who are minorities are constantly having to prove that to the majority. Their unconscious bias won’t let them believe otherwise until they see that we are just as smart and capable. I’ve now reached the place where I know that I’ve had a great education, I’m confident in my intelligence, and I will stand up to anyone who questions it.
“You are big-boned.”
“You should try to lose weight. Men don’t like overweight women.”
“You’ve got a big head.”
Again, these are all other people’s opinions, but they’ve all had the same impact. I grew up very self-conscious of my body and the fact that I was bigger than most girls my age. I can’t remember the last time my pant size was even in the single digits. I used to beat myself up so much about being fat and it was hard to lose weight. I even convinced myself that I wasn’t attractive because I was bigger and I might never find love because of it.
I’m happy to report that it ended up not being true. There were men who found me attractive. I did find love, and I’m still a bigger woman. Nowadays, I view my body size from a health perspective. Back then I wanted to be skinny so guys would like me. Now, I want to be healthy so I can live a long life and feel good.
“Guys may not like you because you’re too _____ or not enough _____.”
“Guys like it when you ______.”
I kept these quotes open ended because there are sooooo many things that can go in the blank, and I’ve heard them all before (as I’m sure you have too). Dealing with love and relationships as a teenager was tough for all of us, I would imagine. For me, it has led me down so many roads that I never wanted to go on.
I wanted so badly to be loved that I was forever trying to figure out what I needed to do or who I needed to be to get a guy to like me. It didn’t help that I had all those other insecurities that I was battling. Needless to say, I had to go through many heartbreaks before I finally realized that self-love was the answer. I’m on that journey now and working to have a much more healthy relationship.
The purpose of this post is not only to tell parts of my story, but also to remind you of the power of your words. Words can hurt and have a lasting impact on others. Yes, we will mess up many times and say things we don’t mean. We might also say something out of the intent to protect someone we love, but it ends up having the opposite effect. None of us will ever be perfect, but I want to encourage everyone to be mindful of the things we say and to reflect on the messages we send to others, especially to our children.
Also, if you’re someone who was hurt be something someone said to you, I encourage you to do the inner work to heal and move past it. Don’t let your past pain disrupt your present peace. 💛
Comment Below: What is something that was said to you that impacted your confidence?
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