I can’t even order a coffee!

A 16-year-old letter writer is overcome with anxiety. 

Our elder has some tips on how to deal with self-rejection.


Dear EWC

I am 16 years old and I am concerned about my future. I am a very anxious person and that has taken a big toll on my life. Sometimes I even think I have GAD because I get anxious about almost everything every day. I cannot even call a taxi or order a drink in a coffee shop. The most normal situations to me seem like a hard thing to do or experience. To make matters worse, this has also affected the relationships with my friends and now, I do not even have a friend with whom I can talk about this problem. When I am in a class, I am afraid to raise a hand even if I know the answer to the question. There are also things that I find interesting when it comes to hobbies and more, but I never tried anything because of the anxiety. I am really worried about my future. You can help by telling me what can I do about this concern, why do I have it in the first place (there wasn’t any traumatic experience or anything like that, it started from a young age) and if there is a chance that this might change. I am looking forward to your response. 


Grandpa-Matt replies

You have described correctly the symptoms that present themselves when fear takes over your mind and your body. To find out what is behind the fear that drives the negative behavior is our challenge. Since I don’t know you, I’ll be guessing that what has happened to other folks and me in such circumstances also applies here. Your fear is likely saying to you that there is something wrong with me. I think what happened to you, and many of us are that we covered our hearts up with the fear that we are not enough, good enough, smart enough, valuable enough, acceptable enough, likable enough, for those folks who influenced us as youngsters.

The question is good enough for whom? I believe you made up specific ideas about how you should be, act, look, or behave as an acceptable person. Then you judged yourself as somehow lacking the things you feel you need to be OK with yourself. This could erode your self-worth. Then I think that what goes on is that our mind makes up the assumption that others will view you the same way as you see yourself. So, the negative image you have for yourself gets in your way of going forward with clarity and joy.

It was the opinion of parents, teachers, siblings, clergy, neighbors, etc. which shaped our image of ourselves. So, we view ourselves resulting from the views of others. An opinion is something we make up. Mostly what we think of ourselves is a collection of what other people make up about us that we have accepted. Beginning to judge ourselves and believing the negativity leads to low self-esteem. 

You haven’t said anything about the circumstances that convinced you that you were less than others in any way, so I’ll speculate what has happened to you. In growing up, I think you have attempted to measure up to others’ expectations (and of yourself) where you have experienced failures. Because of these, you have been subject to negative judgments. Instead of taking failures and mistakes as very human and merely opportunities to learn, you used these events to punish yourself.

What you have done can be called self-rejection. We all have this little judge inside our head, which blames, condemns, and invalidates us for not living up to those opinions about us that others made up. Opinions are not real evidence. Most likely, it was their attempt to have your behavior conform to their standards of what they think is best for you. 

It is hurtful when we take our other people’s opinions about us to influence how we feel about ourselves. The problems that other people create for you result from their interpretations of what they think or think about you, or what you are doing. Look at it this way. If they were writing for a newspaper, what they say about you will be on the opinion page, not in the news section. Doubting yourself brings up the fear of rejection when you don’t think that you live up to other people’s expectations or standards. 

The fear of rejection is one of our deepest fears which goes back at least 200,000 years. When people lived in tight groups and depended upon each other for food and protection, it was life-threatening to be rejected and kicked out of the community. Wild animals and hostile individuals from different tribes would jeopardize the survival of that person separated from the “family.” Our ancestors learned to seek acceptance by their group. They have passed this need down in our DNA. In modern times, the thought of rejection is still alive within us, but the consequences are not as physically harmful, but the negative emotion still feels threatening. 

I believe the fear and self-doubt is often compounded by the thought that you had to be perfect in your behavior. This quest for perfection sabotages those who think they have to live up to that “ideal” standard. We are not robots. We can fail from time to time and still be acceptable.

One of the best female tennis players in modern times, Serena Williams, won multiple championships. She is a most excellent performer. Does Ms. Williams lose any points or games? For sure, as she is not perfect! Yet we consider her the best. I am suggesting that you give up the idea of expecting perfection and trade it in for the standard of excellence. Being excellent, one can fail from time to time and still be acceptable.

The bottom line is that you have to choose to have things different for yourself. If your past behavior gives you the idea that you aren’t good enough or able enough to have success, then I suggest you devote some time to raising your self-esteem. Start by reading this article on the internet. There you will find many tips to assist you. Also, look at this website about handling social anxiety.

Your willingness to risk gives you the key to unlocking the prison that you voluntarily entered. Don’t wait for the courage to show up. You could remain forever. The Wizard of OZ said it best. “Courage to act shows up to support you as soon as you take action.” Trust your heart and take the risk to move forward. 

When something we buy doesn’t work for us, we have the option to return the item. If the reason is that it is the wrong price, size, color, or not needed anymore, the merchant can replace the order or give you a refund. Unfortunately, you can’t cancel the story you bought based on others’ opinions as to your value and worthiness. But you can trash it!

The only person that you must satisfy is you. In the book, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, author Brené Brown said: “When we can let go of what other people think … we gain access to our worthiness – the feeling that we are enough just as we are and that we are worthy of love and belonging.” 

“When I let go of trying to be everything to everyone, I had much more time, attention, love, and connection for the important people in my life.” 

As a youngster, without real evidence, you decided that you were not OK. Today, without actual evidence, you can determine that you are OK. Similarly, you will begin to see “evidence” out in the world that would tend to prove you right about this choice or decision, because the mind likes to prove itself right about any decision you make, either positive or negative. 

I believe that all you need to do to have a better life is to appreciate and love yourself more. You can do it because you do not need anyone else’s permission to claim your value. This will have a significant impact on you. We could line up 1,000 people who would declare that you are a valuable, worthy, and lovable human being, and it would make absolutely no difference if you believed that it is untrue. A zero score would go next to your name because you have the only real vote about you. As the ruler in your own universe, your word is the law! Conversely, if you thought that you were OK, a thousand folks could say that you were a worthless piece of junk in the universe, you would still be OK. Again, you have the only vote about you.

Ivana, you are unique and relevant! The truth is that there is no one exactly like you. That is a blessing! Virginia Satir, an American author, and therapist, wrote a piece, “I am Me,” which I encourage you to read.

Write back and let me know if this advice worked for you. If you find our advice useful, please consider sharing EWC with your friends, either in person, through e-mail or social media. 

Article #: 465575

Category: Self-Improvement

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