In the end, the only problem a person with confidence issues has their inability to accept themselves as they are.
This is no secret. Yet, despite humans seemingly knowing this issue for decades, if not centuries, the recipe to achieving such acceptance appears to be difficult to master. As we look around, we see that mental health issues that can easily be translated as an absence of self-acceptance – depression, anxiety, even schizophrenia – are as prevalent and untreated as they’ve ever been.
Furthermore, when you observe people behaving in ways that indirectly indicate self-acceptance issues, such as being greedy, needy, self-harming (e.g. alcohol abuse), hedonistic, violent, fake and attention seeking, we must arrive at the conclusion that a vast majority of the human race are struggling with loving or even liking themselves.
While I’ve already covered how to achieve self-acceptance in various pieces of content (listed at the end of this post), today I want to address why it’s so fucking hard to do, so that you might have some insight as to why you keep struggling with this.
In my opinion, it comes down to the 5 following barriers:
There is no self to accept.
Might as well get the biggest hurdle out of the way first, as it basically eliminates the possibility of “self” acceptance right out of the gate. No matter which angle you approach it from, there is no way of locating a consistent “self” in any human being: an identity, entity, structure, or any other permanence that you can always point to and say “That’s me”.
From a biological viewpoint, we are all clumps of atoms that don’t even touch each other, but somehow communicate in a way to create consciousness: a space where we are somehow able to convince ourselves that we exist as a set person. Your cells die and are replaced in terms of months and years, but never in terms of decades, meaning that if you’re an adult then the body you now have is completely different from the one you were born with. Not a single particle remains.
From a psychological standpoint, “you” are chemical signals triggered by electrical impulses in the brain. Billions of neurons firing along both familiar and occasionally new pathways create things like beliefs, thoughts, emotions, and decisions. No single thought or emotion ever lasts for more than a moment, and even when it’s “repeated” it is a newer, older “you” who’s doing it. In other words, no single part of you, psychologically speaking, ever remains the same for your entire life, or for even a few minutes.
All these things set apart, the one factor you cannot argue against is time. Every second, you are a second older. This means every experience you have is had by a progressively older, hopefully wiser person.
For a “self” to exist (and then be accepted), at least something about you would need to remain constant. Yet the only thing that remains constant is the delusion that you remain constant. It’s a Ponzi scheme played on your own mind by itself, using memories and third-party verifications to validation that yes, “you” exist, and have always existed since the day you were born. Yet there is no evidence to support this. Each new version of you convinces the next one that you haven’t changed.
Whoever you are right now, in this moment reading this post, is about to die, never to live again. The future you, say the you who exists after completing this post, is essentially a newborn baby in an adult’s body with inherited memories from your past self. So even if you achieve self-acceptance, you’d have to start all over again the very next moment because there’s a whole new self to accept.
There is no free will.
A more controversial point that is debated ad nauseum among scholars, theologists and academics, the idea that you consciously make decisions and that you are somehow able to make these decisions without being affected in any way by your external circumstances or internal drivers is what is known as “free will”. In other words, you are to blame for your actions. Often, self-acceptance is dependent on considering yourself to have made “good” choices and having taken “successful” actions. Yet, if free will does not exist, it’s completely delusional to be proud of yourself or self-loathing.
One definition of free will is that if you could travel back in time to a specific moment, you would – without any new variables being introduced – be able to make a different decision to the one you made. Sure, we can imagine doing this with hindsight, but that includes the wisdom of hindsight. Free will means no hindsight – you’re exactly the same person in each repeat of the decision: same amount of wisdom, knowledge, problem-solving skills, beliefs etc. and yet somehow able to choose differently. It implies the existence of something like a soul; an entity that is completely free from anything biological in the body (including the brain and the mind it creates), that is able to make decisions as it sees fit while riding along inside the meat skeleton of your body.
I think the only reason we believe in free will is because we so badly want to. If there is no free will, people think, then we’re just pre-destined machines who cannot help what we do and are therefore slaves to our brains and not responsible for our actions. We’d prefer that not be the case, and one of the main drivers for self-acceptance issues is to believe that you chose whatever “bad” decisions were made in your life; that you’re at fault for whatever suffering you experience. And if you make consistently bad decisions, then you’re a “bad person” (a.k.a. the Not Good Enough story).
Notice how we make exceptions when it comes to the mentally ill or intellectually handicapped. In Courts of Law and even in general conversation, we’ll excuse “bad” behaviour from someone we judge as being below a certain cognitive level. We say, “They couldn’t help it”. We’ll sometimes even extend this courtesy to someone who is drunk, or grieving, or recently betrayed. Yet this line is arbitrarily drawn. Why is someone with Downs Syndrome considered to have less free will than someone with an IQ of 190? There is absolutely no scientific backing for this differentiation. In fact, there’s no scientific backing for free will at all. If any person, at any time, in any situation, is not to blame for their decision making, then none of us are… ever. Free will can’t dip in and out – it either exists, or it doesn’t.
The plain truth is that every decision you’ve ever made in your entire life has been the conclusion of a vast pool of variables arising at the same time. From physical sensations like temperature, mood and emotion, through to cognitive patterns and schema like beliefs and prejudices and biases, through to external phenomena like audience, culture and location, all of these come together at any given time like a mathematical equation to produce a single conclusion: your next decision. You do not need to inject a soul or free will or any other variable into this equation to make sense of it.
In simple terms: you’ve never consciously made a decision.
Rather, the decision-making process is something you’re only able to observe – and only a small portion of it at that. To punish yourself for your decisions makes no more sense than punishing a person with Downs Syndrome for failing to solve complex mathematics equations. You couldn’t help it. It was the best you were capable of at the time, even if you could imagine better. This does not absolve you of responsibility – in fact, your observation of your behaviour is the key feedback tool to improving it. But what’s done is done, and you couldn’t have done better. Time machines don’t exist.
The human condition is to be unsatisfied.
Mark Manson first made me aware of this. One of the main reasons that human beings dominate the planet is because of our relentless need for more. Unlike most other mammals, we struggle to achieve equilibrium with our environment, and as pointed out rather accurately in The Matrix, humans behave much more like a virus than a mammal: we consume and we multiply, without pausing to consider the cost or the lunacy of this approach.
In other words: we’re never satisfied.
This problem continues when we go to look at ourselves. When you achieve a goal, the result quickly becomes just the expected norm, the new baseline, and we demand more yet again. Things you would have been proud of 10 years ago give you no thrills at all anymore. And I’m not just referring to materialistic goals – the least satisfying of all – like saving up to buy a car. I’m talking about every dream you’ve ever had for yourself. One thing is certain: once you achieve it, it loses its value.
You will never reach a point where you look at yourself and say, with any kind of permanence, “Now I’m enough, forever.” Sure, you might occasionally have periods of feeling satisfied with yourself, particularly after big achievements or insightful perspective breakthroughs, but unfortunately your human nature will eventually arise once again and ask for more.
This is why body builders never stop increasing their weights. It’s why millionaires keep trying to make more money. It’s why self-development enthusiasts keep finding more books to read. No matter what you achieve, you’ll always be able to imagine a “better” version of yourself that is possible, and suddenly it’s that new dream that makes you unsatisfied.
Comparison is never accurate or balanced.
Usually, self-acceptance is dependent on a comparison with other people or imagined standards of achievement. We have these vague, unwritten rules in our head – programmed into us from early childhood by society – about what is acceptable within our immediate family, culture and country. These are almost always comparative measures, a kind of competition with our neighbours.
You must make x amount of money (more than some but less than others) – you can’t be too poor or too rich. You must look more attractive than most, but not so attractive as to draw jealousy and resentment. You must be popular and likeable but not famous because that’s egotistical. And so on. This leaves you to attempt an unenviable mountain of a task: trying to meet the standards without overly exceeding them. You must stay within the lines.
Oh, and these standards constantly change without warning or explanation. First your father says, “Get a job, any job”, but then you get a job and he says, “Is that all they’re paying you?” You finally get married to shut your family up, but now they want you to have a kid. And after that first kid, now they’re pestering you to have another – “Your sister had three kids by your age”. You finally start looking ripped at the gym but then this new guy shows up and he’s benching almost twice what you are, so you better up your game you pussy.
Of course, while you’re busily competing with anyone you can identify as “better” than you, you conveniently overlook a few little factors. Like how you’re doing better than most people around the world and nearly everyone from human history. Like how “better” is a totally subjective term that has no reason or logic behind it, such as how being rich is not in any way correlative to more enjoyment in life, or how being good-looking comes with extra issues that hurt your self-esteem more than being average-looking. Like how that person who’s doing better than you financially is doing worse than you socially. Like how we’re all different genetically, psychologically and culturally, to the point where comparing two humans is about as helpful as comparing a wolf with a sausage dog.
Your measurement of others is skewed, unhelpful and most often just plain old wrong. And even if it were accurate, what’s the point of doing it? What is gained from me looking at Michael Jordan and saying “Aw, he’s way better at basketball than me.” What do I get from that comparison that improves my life? So your friend makes more money than you… and what? What are you supposed to do with that information? It certainly isn’t very inspirational. If anything, it puts you off going for your goals more often than not.
Some people know this and instead compare to their past self. While this looks like a better idea, it’s still equally as flawed. You are not who you were in the past. Back then you were younger, in a different external situation, knew less than you know now, and had a different amount of good/bad luck. In other words, comparing your current self to your past self is really no different or any more reasonable than comparing to another person entirely. And again, nothing is gained. “I used to be able to do more pushups than this”… So?! You can’t now, so what’s the point of that comparison?
It must be earned.
People who believe in (or at least sell) positive affirmations and Law of Attraction style approaches will have you thinking that you can just look at yourself in the mirror and repeat “I am an excellent person” and you’ll end up believing it. There seems to be a distinct lack of valid scientific evidence to support this idea… I wonder why?
You can’t lie to your own brain. If you haven’t earned your own respect or admiration, you won’t be able to just tell yourself that you’re a good person. Imagine someone else trying to do that to you. I used to work with dangerous criminal offenders, and I can’t tell you the number of times I’d have a serial rapist, paedophile or psychopathic murderer trying to convince me that they’re a good person. Their words just simply weren’t enough, and for good reason: their behaviour was too compellingly evil.
If you’ve been consistently disappointing yourself with behaviour that doesn’t align with your core values or meet other standards you have, you’re not going to be able to trick yourself into thinking that you’re acceptable. If you wouldn’t accept it from another person, be prepared to dislike yourself for the same thing. Acceptance isn’t really about what other people think of you; it’s about what you think of you.
Sure, most people look to others to essentially as the question: “Am I good enough?” or, as I would phrase it, “Have I earned it?” But you only look to others because you don’t trust yourself to answer the question on your own. This means your key issue is self-doubt – you’re unsure if your standards are worth measuring against, or whether you can be trusted to measure them accurately. So you turn to other people, as if they somehow know what you should be doing (why we’d ever think this is beyond me). If you get approval, you feel like you’ve “earned it” for another few hours (or more likely, seconds), and can relax until the doubt creeps back in and you have to check again.
So, those are my thoughts on why it’s difficult to achieve self-acceptance. To now move on and actually achieve it, these resources might help:
Redefining self-confidence: https://theinspirationallifestyle.com/what-is-confidence/
Book: The Naked Truth https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08L893C2L/
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