Last week at U of T, on multiple occasions, I let others walk all over me and make me feel small to avoid confrontation. I let my colleague talk over me and take over my project. I let the girls in class purposely ignore me three times and position themselves in a way to deny my existence. I let the classmate down the row call me an airhead. What was missing in all of these scenarios was my voice.
I’m not saying I am to blame here; I am saying that I let them get away with it by consciously preventing myself from addressing the issue. Each time I crawled more and more back into my shell and had a mini breakdown on the weekend. I felt a kind of pain I haven’t felt since first year: the pain of feeling inadequate; the pain of not belonging; the pain of not being seen.
In first year I used to practise the comment I would make in class before I went to bed, in the shower, on the commute to school and right before class. I was scared that I would stutter, that I would pronounce my Ws as Vs, that I would reveal how stupid I am or that they would perceive me in a negative way based on one thing I say. Second year I only spoke in class unless I was 100 per cent sure I had something valuable to say—so rarely. Once in my POL208 tutorial my nerves turned an insightful comment into the most absurd, fragmented and non-coherent statement full of jumbled words, stammers and like, ums and you know what I means.
My biggest fear was actualized and to make sure it never happened again I took a proactive step to work on my public speaking skills. So in third year, I forced myself to become Chatty Cathy! I made sure to make at least one comment in each class. And as terrifying as it was I came out of third year with a new-found confidence. My odd comments are now fully appreciated in fourth year because of my ability to present my ideas without exploding on the inside with nervousness. One of my comments about Hegelian jurisprudence even sparked class discussion for a whole hour!
It took me years to build my self-esteem to be confident enough to speak in class without having an anxiety attack and now here I am back at level 1. This is all because I keep allowing people to make me feel small. I feel intimidated by others whenever my sense of self-worth is low. Ever notice how whenever you feel intimidated by others or insecure, your sense of self-worth is usually low? For me, there is definitely a correlation between how I feel about myself and how great I perceive others to be. And whenever my I feel intimidated, I withdraw. My mannerisms, my class participation and my energy levels all contract. I think to myself things like: “Oh they are ignoring you because you aren’t cool enough, pretty enough, smart enough, tall enough or witty enough to be their friend” or “the pitch of your voice and the way you talk makes you look really stupid and that’s why its okay for them to think that”. Self-destructive, I know.
In all of my feelings of inadequacy, there’s a yearning to belong and to be enough. And I can satisfy both needs simply by believing in myself more and standing up for myself. I need to relearn how to be confident….but until then I am going to fake it till I make it. Just like I did in third year.
PS. Last week, I also witnessed a group of students make fun of a mature student’s comments in lecture and a guy make fun of another student’s comments in tutorial. I’m pretty sure its safe to say that there is an unfortunate amount of verbal bullying on campus. NOT COOL!!! I hope reading this post has helped some of you realize how hard it is for some students to speak in class and that, everyone has their own stuff to deal with. So take your kindergarten teacher’s advice:
If you don’t have anything nice to say about someone then please refrain from saying anything at all.