Those of us who struggle with low self-esteem tend to shun whatever activities might conceivably make us lose, drool or look ridiculous. This avoidance is not entirely conscious. We might not realize how seldom we feel safe. We might not say out loud: The less I do, the less I can do wrong. But this is our default response to invitations, obligations, opportunities and life itself.
It keeps us sitting very still.
Passivity spawns passivity. And we confuse our inactivity for inability.
In our passivity, others see peace. Stillness can be holy. Stillness can heal. Passivity evokes serenity. And if we choose it for that reason, so it is.
But where do those of us with low self-esteem draw the line between serene stillness and frozen-faced passivity?
Low self-esteem turns life into hard labor. Just getting out of bed, getting dressed, and going outside takes courage, given the ferocity of our fears. Deeming our spontaneous, authentic selves unacceptable, we lock into performance mode around others, doing and saying whatever we hope will help us escape mockery or worse. Ironic as it sounds, passivity exhausts us—spawning more passivity.
In a "Just Do It" society, we're the ones who chant: "Don't Do It."
We're passive because we assume that we will lose all arguments, disputes and debates. We're passive because we assume that we can only make things worse. Pondering the very prospect of a before-and-after, cause-and-effect arc, we retreat. Why even pretend to spar? Our white surrender flags are permanently raised. At the first whiff of conflict, we go slack and/or silent and/or say Okay okay okay with a sad or falsely cheery sigh—and/or we send our self-abasing minds a million miles away.
That's what we do when facing the everyday: the ordinary but unknown. When facing fun or even potential fun, we affix virtual chains to our own ankles and lock ourselves up in tiny, tight virtual cells because we're so sure that we don't belong wherever good things are occurring or might occur. We're convinced that we could only ever have fun by mistake or theft—thus, if we were discovered having fun, we would be scolded, branded, thrown out on our ears. And even on the faint chance that a momentary pleasure could be ours to keep, we curl up into balls and close our eyes because we're so afraid of spoiling that moment, so sure of losing it.
Which, in our passivity, we've just done.
When pleasure takes us by surprise, its sweetness lulls and lures and lofts and even animates us until—bang. I call this stealth-bliss overkill. Pleasure collides with our conviction that we do not merit it, must not feel it and will be punished if we do. The verve that follows that first spark of fun we quell, we quash in frozen fear. This leaves us looking listless. Distant. Dull, while in our hearts we invisibly wage all-out war against our own urges to laugh and love and sing.
Start small. Just do it, even if this means just picking up a book, a brush, a fork. Just do something out of the ordinary once today. Twice tomorrow. Henceforth, even if you do it only twice a day, most every day, the things you'll do will magnify—in number and breadth—exponentially.
Easier said than done, you say. But that's the point. The same delusion that makes us believe we're not also makes us believe we can't.