Even after the release of my poetry book, I still find difficulty in balancing my confidence, especially during the time of college applications. Rather than state my accomplishments, accept compliments, and then repeat for those around me, I pull the rug out from under my excitement. Applying for college really scrutinizes the fear I have of talking about myself when I’m not venting my problems. It forces me to talk about myself like I love myself, when I am still improving my self-confidence bit by bit. Even after the worst of my mental health struggles, I find that I am thrown back into certain cycles by a creeping behavior pattern known as minimization.
Self-minimizing is, in its nature, a form of denial. It is the product of a cycle that produces guilt and consumes confidence. It is the act of denying the validity of emotions and their causes, the avoidance of opportunities due to beliefs about oneself, and the severe underestimation of one’s abilities. I frequently see it during school, most often after public speaking opportunities or after someone has completed an art project. It’s the act of nervously pointing out perceived flaws in order to have control over the situation. I perceive it as easier to insult myself than have someone else do it. It was also less damaging than personalizing someone else’s criticism, the major source of conflict in my life. They are both mechanisms that incite other cycles and exacerbate already spinning ones.
Minimization is commonly seen as a mechanism for emotional abuse, exercised on the target of the situation. But on the cognitive level, it is a form of self-abuse designed to “cope” with pain. You deny yourself care because of a deep belief that you do not deserve love.
I challenge you to pay attention to what you say about your accomplishments. Say you get into a program or a school you were passionate about. Do you state that it’s not a big deal? Are you thinking of the parts of the application that were lacking? Do you forget to say thank you to compliments in rushing to downplay?
The reason why self-minimizing is a difficult process is because it is a commonplace subtlety. We are all so scared of pride, that we refuse to be proud. The most important action you need to avoid is treating minimization as another reason to dislike yourself.
It’s important not to tell yourself to shut-up, or to stop contributing to conversations over fear of “ruining” them. In the moment, if you feel you can’t stop, don’t ruminate or obsess over the fact that you can’t stop. Habits are better fought when they are weaned — rather than cut — off cold turkey. Find ways to reframe what you are said after the fact, and use that lesson from failure to influence the next moment. In reframing, shift the foundation of the behavior from an insecurity to a “neutral” topic. Instead of talking about opinions or personal stories, talk about impactful stories or articles or tv episodes. Once you get used to comfort in conversation, begin introducing personal elements. Gradually talk about interests and then about events in your life.
I used to minimize my panic attacks as just bursts of nausea because I was worried that someone was going to think I was being too dramatic. Once I confronted that insecurity over the public image I was presenting, It became easier to dignify my emotions. Dignifying my emotions as a rational problem allowed me to take the necessary steps in order to better my situation.
Minimizing your emotions by saying “it’s fine” or “i’m just being overdramatic” prevents you from processing events correctly. The first reaction I have to my anxiety is to say that it’s out of proportion to the source. “Saying” does not require understanding. You need to understand what you are feeling, what is causing you to feel that way (do this even when you’re happy) in order to find the sources of empowerment in your life. You have to analyze the conflict in order to implement the best solution.
Depression is not an on-off light switch, it’s a dimmer. Just as your eyes adjust to increasing levels of light, this process takes time. I did not become confident in a sudden moment. I had to overcome legitimate fears I labeled as stupid, and it was in no way easy. Now that I am in a better place, I am able to feel more of the warmth I thought was gone. There is always hope for you.
-Originally Published at medium.com/tbjwrites