For years, I described myself as someone with no real insecurity issues. In other words I was persuaded I loved myself. “Of course I love myself”, I thought. This conviction was largely due to my personality—I had no reason to have low self-esteem, I was mindful of who I was and always acted on that knowledge. It’s easy to misconstrue one’s love of self as one’s exorbitant confidence, as the two go hand in hand for the most part; they are often used interchangeably when talking about how you feel about yourself. So why was I so convinced I loved myself when in reality that wasn’t the case?
I’ve often found myself in situations in which I forced behavior—turning me into an almost new persona—just to fit into a certain situation. It wasn’t that I consciously switched to that persona every time I was surrounded with different people, it’s as if my mind made use of this character as a defense mechanism. But what could I possibly defend myself against? Was it against judgment? Was it to avoid awkward social situations? One thing is for sure, that trait isn’t one of a self-esteemed individual. Different people exude different energies, and it’s certainly impossible to be compatible with all of them. So why, instead of accepting my incompatibility with certain individuals, did I force a connection that is non-existent?
Of course I was aware that I was faking my behavior sometimes, but it never occurred to me that it was the wrong thing to do. And why would it? When I was brought up in a diplomatic household and I mastered the art of the “fake smile” over the years. When I grew up seeing my parents invite some of their “friends” over just to gossip and criticize everything about them once they left. When my occasional brutal honesty was always, and I mean ALWAYS, discouraged and criticized wherever I went, by teachers and older people. Over time my character was sculpted to just simply conform to a certain person’s energy. So why was I convinced I wasn’t lacking self-esteem? It’s not like I was a shy natured boy. If anything my confidence levels should have had to be decent enough for me to have started music and shared my art for the world to openly criticize. The fact that self-confidence and self-esteem are so often associated with each other explains this blind conviction.
In a country like Rwanda or any African country for that matter – I assume – honesty is extremely vilified. It’s almost as if “respect” for others, and mostly elders, is translated to abiding to everything they do or say without even having a thought of resistance. What I mean by that is that you, as an African child, are expected to accept whatever verbal abuse coming from your elder without flinching. Any riposte from your part is seen as a rebellious and disrespectful act. If a child is raised to take verbal hits from others without opposition, how do you expect that child not to consequently struggle with loving him or herself? Many African parents would argue that this way of raising someone is to simply teach respect for elders, and that this is the best way to do it. I understand they have been raised that way and consequently raise their own offspring the same, but is it the right way? A child raised that way will “respect” elders, but will also grow up without being aware of their self-worth as a person.
“There is a distinct difference between respect and fear. Our parents raise us to think that if you are to respect your elder, you will in no way, shape, or form defy any word that is uttered from their mouth. You will not try to level with them simply because you know that nothing positive could come from it. As a young African child, you are taught to practice these ways among many others without fail. Respect on the other hand is being capable of listening and coexisting with someone despite they’re different mindset and perspective on different aspects of life. Out of sheer compassion and a desire to understand, put your differences aside to help each other reach your respective common goals. If you think about it, we aren’t taught to respect our elders, we are taught to fear them.”- Irebe Kassy (2018)
Every time I witnessed someone verbally stepped-over by an older person, I was told that this was the way it was supposed to be. That contradicting an elder was the most insolent of acts an African child could do, even if the elder was completely wrong. You simply could not express your unhappiness. For instance, when an elder comes over to you and tells you, “ko wabyibushye?” (Why did you get so fat?), you’re simply supposed to accept that without replying or for some of us that have been subject to this more than once, smile awkwardly and chuckle nervously hoping they’ll go away. God knows how many times I heard it and got beat for giving an angry reply under the pretext that I hurt the family’s reputation by not accepting criticism on my body. Our African culture puts so much importance into maintaining reputation that it causes us to put our relationships with people ahead of our relationship with ourselves. Self-love is about knowing your values as a person and learning to put them before anyone else’s because your values and beliefs are what contribute to your authenticity. When you’re educated to diminish yourself just to save your “reputation”, it’s almost impossible to know your worth.
“Your values aren’t yours anymore; they slowly turn into fraudulent and foreign coping mechanisms that you’ve instilled in yourself for other’s pleasure and comfort. Pleasing others at the expense of your being.” – Irebe Kassy (2018)
Self-love, or in this case self-esteem, refers to how you feel about yourself overall, how much positive regard and appreciation you have for yourself. Self-confidence on the other hand is rather how you feel about your abilities. These vary, as you can have extraordinary self-confidence when it comes to sports, but low esteem in your professional or social life, and vice versa. Distinguishing the two was a big step forward for me towards self-love, but getting there was another challenge in its own right. There really isn’t a guide to follow when it comes to loving yourself, so how would I go about completing this hardly documented task?
For as early as I could remember, I had trouble saying ‘No’. I chose this example because it is a common weakness. Many times, not being able to say no translates into putting other people’s needs before yours. It can be seen as a very generous and selfless act, but it also translates to low self-love. It’s one thing to do someone a favor willingly, but it’s another to be pushed to say yes to every request, because your lack of self-love demands it from you. I know that every time I got asked for something – whether it be for some money, an errand or to just go out- I was too afraid to vex the person by just saying ‘No’. More than vexing, I was self-conscious about hurting my ties with people that I didn’t want to refuse them anything. You find that people are good at telling whether you’re weak-willed, and more often than not take advantage of that. I’m not saying that you should stop trusting people, on the contrary, if you feel reluctant to doing something for someone, saying no is part of loving yourself enough to put yourself first. If anything, this social aspect of self-love is the hardest to conquer, and it was definitely the case for me.
“It is seen as disrespectful and rude when you listen to yourself. It is seen as disrespectful and rude when you don’t want to tolerate something you don’t align with. It is seen as disrespectful and rude when you grow into a mindful and happy individual.”- Irebe Kassy (2018)
Part of having self-worth is knowing when something isn’t right for you – whether it’s turning down nights out with people you don’t feel, or just generally saying ‘no’ to someone’s request when your conscious speaks against it. The reason for this illustration is to show how society has the ability to disconnect us from ourselves to such an extent that we don’t even trust our own emotions anymore. If you don’t “fuck” with something, then not doing it, participating in it or contributing to it is key to trusting and loving yourself.
I’m still nowhere near achieving absolute self-love. However I’ve been on this lifelong journey for a while and I’ve learned some ways to accomplish this goal. The most obvious is to recognize and steer clear of negative energy. Letting bad energy into your space will only affect your own personal energy. It is detrimental to you as a person.
“(…) some people are just potholes. And after too many potholes you’re not going to be able to go anywhere (…)” – Tyler, The Creator. (2018)
Negative people are the biggest threat to your self-esteem, and it doesn’t mean that negative people are necessarily evil or intentionally have a damaging effect on you, but that they hinder your growth as a person. Growth of self and spirit has a tremendous amount to do with your mindset and the mindset of people surrounding you. As Russ said, elevating someone’s mind is the greatest gift you could give to a person, and vice versa. It really is tough, and it creates a lot of tension with the people concerned, but that is indubitably the most imperative step to take for the simple fact that it’s the heftiest weight on your shoulder.
“Dwell in a place to help you in your most vulnerable state. Talk about your freedom; shed the weight off your shoulders. Growth is learning. It has no limits, no time frame. It stretches out infinitely. It never stops” – Irebe Kassy (2018)
The best of therapies to get you out of self-doubt is conversation—fruitful, intelligent conversation—because there is no growth without learning. The worst thing to do is to be married to your opinion. What I mean by that is to refuse to unlearn something when you know it is wrong. Not everyone is born with ample open-mindedness, but acquiring that trait only requires to not being afraid of “the new” and that includes not being afraid to engage into uncomfortable conversation. These types of discussions are a perfect means to learn and unlearn things and most importantly help in self-discovery and growth.