Creative Prose: On Low Self-Esteem

The following paragraphs are something I wrote impulsively following a Humanities discussion in which I felt I contributed successfully:

I’d like to talk about the stupid nagging voice that is low self-esteem. This voice, if you hear it, is constant and inescapable in its message. And its message is simply that everybody you’ve ever met hates you, or thinks you’re stupid, or thinks you’re creepy, and any evidence to the contrary is just them humoring you. It tells you, after every interaction you have, that what you said was stupid and wrong and now the person you talked to thinks you’re stupid and wrong.

The crazy thing about this voice is that, when you think about it, it makes no sense. After all, you don’t usually craft an opinion of someone from a single interaction with them. You certainly don’t think about the little mistakes they make – if you even regard them as mistakes. It would be ridiculous to assume that you are the only person who doesn’t do this. And for that matter, why would everyone be so polite to you? If you’re as bad as the voice tells you you are, surely someone would’ve called you out by now. The voice’s message just doesn’t hold up.

So you argue with the voice. You tell it it’s wrong. You tell it that people like you, and they say they like you, and they can’t all be lying. You tell it that what you say isn’t stupid, and others have said as much, and they have no reason to lie. You tell it that nobody thinks about when you misspoke, that nobody even remembers.

But that’s where it gets tricky. Because the voice isn’t a devil on your shoulder, it isn’t a phantom whispering in your ear. The voice is you. You’re the one saying all those horrible things about yourself. And that means that no matter how much you argue with the voice, how often you remind yourself that none of what it says is true, you still believe it some level.

And because you believe it, even though it’s wrong and you know it’s wrong, you start changing your behaviors to match. You believe everyone hates you no matter what, so you stop interacting with people. You believe that people will hate your interests and opinions, so you never bring them up. You believe that what you say is stupid, so you stop speaking. You do this to protect yourself, even though you know there’s actually nothing to protect yourself from.

And you look at people who go through life saying and doing and interacting with others easily, and you wonder what they have that you don’t. But the truth is they don’t have anything special. The way they talk is the way you talk. The way they act is the way you act. The only difference between them and you is that they don’t hear the voice that you hear. Or they do, but they can hide it enough to where it seems like they don’t hear it. Even as you know that you can’t be alone in hearing the voice, that people have even made it clear that they hear it too, you still hear voice say that there must be something wrong with you for being the only one affected by it. The voice of low self-esteem is a very selfish voice, after all.

But every time you try to act like you don’t hear the voice, it just gets louder and more insistent. At a certain point it can be too much to ignore. And here I’d like to say that I know a way to block out the voice, completely and permanently. But I don’t. I know how to at least somewhat hide it in public, how to speak with at least some confidence. But I don’t know how to block out the voice.