The Uncertainty Curse

The Uncertainty Curse

Few states of mind are more synonymous with low self-esteem than uncertainty.

People with medium or high self-esteem are confident and secure. This confidence and security might wane a bit under stress, but it bounces back eventually: a basic, taken-for-granted assumption that one is okay, that one is capable and, often as not, correct.

That's what differentiates us from them.

In my book Unworthy: How to Stop Hating Yourself, I describe the loss of self-esteem as a wicked spell in which innocent people are told terrible lies about themselves by trusted figures: Parents or teachers, say, or so-called friends. Maybe even society itself.

Sometimes these lies are told on purpose because the tellers are cruel, sometimes by accident because the tellers are unwitting, ignorant or struggling with self-loathing themselves.

Choosing to believe such lies leaves some of us chronically confused. Those selves we thought we knew -- our skills and flaws, likes and dislikes -- are occluded by the false versions of ourselves that were described in the lies. Henceforth our every thought and emotion we question, doubt, debate, deride.

I call this the Uncertainty Curse.

In the state of unknowing, we wander the world feeling strange in our flesh and wobbly on our feet, our eyes never quite clear, guessing and second-guessing everything, especially ourselves. The curse makes us adopt strange habits and form strange alliances that we hope might maybe, miraculously bring matters into sharper focus for us, might relieve that endless nausea of never-knowing.

Sometimes we fake certainty because we believe that seeming sure makes us seem more adult. I have walked city streets in grown-up outfits, looking every bit as if I knew where I was going and with whom and why, while at my core swirled doubt and fear.

The Uncertainty Curse drives us, in our desperation, to display exponentially ever more bizarre versions of ourselves as we wonder: What must I say, do or be right this minute to evade the much-merited rage and punishment that others are eager to heap upon me? What must I say, do or be right this minute in order to lessen my well-deserved humiliation, pain and shame? What must I wear, eat, drink or take?

I will do anything, even if "anything" means nothing, means becoming frozen and small and practically invisible.

Ask someone with low self-esteem a question, any question, and he or she will ask in return: How should I know?

This is no mere figure of speech for those of us with low self-esteem. We really want to know how we should know.

Imagine always wondering: not in a positive I-wonder-as-I-wander way but with a sense of dread. Of course we envy the assertive. But imagine also envying the naïve for the fluffy blanket of their false security. Imagine envying even the ignorant who do not know how much they do not know.

The Uncertainty Curse is one of the hardest for our kind to break. Start by striving to still the constant questioning, the ever-present doubt. Imagine your heart and mind as snow-globes in which the particles, swirling wildly at first, settle gently into stillness. Sit with that stillness. Savor it. When fear and doubt surge again, picture placing those snow-globes firmly onto stable surfaces, and watch their contents slow down, then grow spectacularly still again.

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