One thing I have always struggled with is self-confidence. Throughout my life, I have gone through periods where I was filled with self-doubt, self-hatred, or even self-destruction. During my pre-teen years and as a teenager, I experienced bouts of depression and extreme loneliness. For a time I even developed an eating disorder and would intentionally harm my body.
Why am I sharing this with you?
Well, I think it’s valuable to share vulnerability with others: to release fear of judgment and accept the darkest parts of yourself. This is my attempt to share with you, my readers, the deepest part of my soul, in order to show you that I have struggled, just as you have, with living a happy and fulfilling life. My goal with this confession, if you will, is to examine what causes these feelings of self-doubt and self-hatred, how to recognize them when they come into being, and how to rid yourself of them and embrace the true nature of yourself: that you are perfect in every way.
Before we go further, however, we must make some definitions clear in order to differentiate between certain terms I will be using throughout this article.
In relation to self-confidence, the first definition online that fit was “a feeling of self-assurance arising from one’s appreciation of one’s own abilities or qualities.” Nowhere in this definition does it mention the presence of another. That is the main point I want to make about confidence; it does not come from, rely on, or diminish due to others’ perception of you. When you know you can do something, then you just know it, and that is confidence. It also implies that you appreciate and therefore recognize your own abilities and qualities. This is crucial to having self-confidence; for if you are not aware of yourself, then you are fabricating a vision of yourself that comes from the brain, ie the Ego.
Ego is a tricky definition. Perhaps the best one I can find is “the part of the mind that mediates between the conscious and the unconscious and is responsible for reality testing and a sense of personal identity.” This is somewhat long winded, but it’s very important to be clear in this explanation. The ego tells us what is real and what isn’t, it tells us who we are and who we aren’t, and it differentiates us from others. It is centered in the mind, and so is very attached to the physical world. Allowed to function on its own, the ego can completely control a person’s life. It is not attached to confidence; rather it can trick the subject into believing whatever the ego is feeling at that time. We will examine the roles the ego can play and the dangers of only listening to this part of our being.
Humility is even harder to define, probably because so few people actually possess this quality. First off, humility is “the quality or condition of being humble.” So what then, is being humble? Being humble means “having or showing a modest or low estimate of one’s own importance.” Still, we aren’t completely clear. Modesty, then, is defined as “the quality or state of being unassuming or moderate in the estimation of one’s abilities.” From these definitions, it almost seems as though humility and confidence may be contradictory, but when we take a closer look, we will see that they actually go hand in hand.
Ego vs. Humility
We must differentiate between humility and ego in order to really fully understand these qualities, and how confidence fits into both.
Ego, as it originates in the mind, is our perception of self. From previous discussions, we have determined that our self in its entirety is our individual consciousness. This individual consciousness is part of the whole, or the mass consciousness that makes up the entirety of our non-physical Universe. The ego, then, is responsible for our differentiation of our selves from the whole that we all belong. It is our unique perception of the Universe: the analysis of our 5 senses and our own thoughts, feelings, and emotions. It does not generate our feelings or emotions, however, as they originate from our being and the relation of our selves to everything else in existence. The ego can control our thoughts and how we experience our 5 senses though. So, we can view the ego as an incomplete version of ourselves. It separates us from others and paints a picture of our being that does not take into account the Source of our feelings and emotions, which is a very large part of who we are. Therefore, ego is not responsible for self-confidence. As confidence is an appreciation of our abilities and qualities, it cannot be derived from only a fraction of the total picture. Ego instead gives us a more temporary and superficial view of ourselves, and leaves out the permanent, or eternal part of our being. We will explore the purpose and usefulness of ego later in this piece.
Humility can be seen as the opposite of ego, and I will explain why. Humility contradicts ego in that is does not separate us from the whole or give us a false/incomplete image of ourselves. Rather is gives us a moderate view of our abilities and qualities, and does not assume that we are any better, or any worse than anyone else. Moderation is the key word here. We are always in the middle, meaning that our beings contain the ‘best’ and ‘worst’ of all that is. The ego may try to tell us that we are better or worse than another, that we can or cannot achieve our goals, or that we will or will not be happy. Humility, on the other hand, does none of these things. Humility is the acceptance of who we are in our entirety. We possess within us all that is or could ever be; we simply must have the confidence in ourselves that it will be so. This relates to our understanding and ability to create our own reality. When we are humble, we see the whole picture, which is that we exist in eternity. We never cease to exist, and have always existed. This brings us a total self-confidence and removes the ego from the picture, allowing us to connect with the whole of the Universe and tap into the mass consciousness.
So you see, ego creates a false sense of confidence that is based purely on the physical realm and our understanding of it. As we create the physical, we also perceive it, so humility is the understanding of both the physical and the nonphysical, or spiritual realm. Humility gives us the whole picture and with it self-assurance of who we are and how we fit into the entirety of the Universe. This is true self-confidence, and is what we are all capable of if we see the Truth of our existence.
Now that we have distinguished between the Ego and Humility, and how Confidence is formed, let us go back to the original discussion: how self-doubt and self-hatred come about, how to recognize these feelings, and eventually how to rid your life of them once and for all.
The Origins of Self-Doubt
To better illustrate the process of overcoming self-doubt and its origins, I will be sharing more from my personal experience in order to show you how Ego can take control and then of course how Humility can help you to ultimately release the Ego.
I first started struggling with self-doubt when I started comparing myself to others. I became very aware of individual accomplishments, and in a sense was developing into an overachiever. This was allowing my Ego to control my mind. As I performed very well in all my classes, I had a high sense of self, and was overly confident. I began to attach achievement to my own happiness, and was always seeking more opportunities to prove I was ‘the best.’ When it came to sports, I was also seen as a leader and a top performer on my teams in middle school. As I reached high school, however, I changed school districts and was suddenly surrounded by other athletes more talented and skilled than myself. My sense of self-confidence diminished, and I felt incomplete. This is when I fell into my deepest depression. Because I viewed myself as separate from others, and I always had a large group of friends in middle school, being in a school where I didn’t feel popular or well-liked, I began to degrade the image of myself, to doubt my abilities, and to eventually hate the person I had become.
As you can see, my self- doubt formed out of my inability to separate achievement from well-being, and to have humility in my life. I was letting my ego tell me who I was, and what I was capable of doing, instead of having the same confidence that had developed during my younger years and realizing that I could really accomplish whatever I put my mind to, if I did so without the expectation of reward or fame. I allowed my ego to put myself over others, instead of seeing others as myself and that we were all part of a whole (team, class, etc).
How to Recognize the Ego
It took a long time for me to get over my feelings of separation, loneliness, and depression. It wasn’t until I found a passion for fitness and weight lifting that I began to realize a sense of true self-confidence. During this period of my life, I found happiness again by letting go of what others thought of me, and pursuing goals that only developed my personal well-being. Weight lifting had a particularly strong impact on my humility, by making me realize that everything takes time. Every goal we set out to achieve will require baby steps, especially in the beginning. You can’t rush anything with weight lifting, or you risk embarrassing yourself, or great personal injury. Basically, I had finally begun to recognize my ego for what it was, and I started to put it on the sidelines. I allowed myself to be humble and have a moderate assessment of my qualities and abilities, rather than thinking I was better or worse than anyone else. I was just me.
So how do we begin to recognize the ego? We let go of our separation, of loneliness, and we focus on ourselves. We take a complete picture of our being; what drives us, what motivates us, what pleases us, and what we aspire to become. This is a precarious time in our development, however, for if we discover these qualities about ourselves and use them only for self-achievement, we will slip back into the same patterns that existed before. We will just have a more complete sense of self, but with the ego still attached. This can lead to egotism, which is the furthest you can get from humility.
Releasing the Ego
In my late teens and into my mid twenties, I had an overdeveloped sense of self. I viewed myself as intelligent, charming, good looking, physically gifted, and overall as an achiever. I was very aware of the powerful being I was, but without any semblance of humility in place. I was successful at whatever I set my mind to, but I alienated many people due to my arrogance. I wasn’t very conscientious of others’ feelings, and was always focused on my own personal development before all else. My ego ruled my life. I made many friends quickly due to my charm and intellect, but lost them quickly when our paths would separate because I only focused on myself. This is not to say I was a bad person, but rather that I forgot my place in the whole of the Universe. It wasn’t until very recently, actually, that I began to realize the importance of humility and seeing others as myself.
When the ego runs rampant and controls your life, you are usually focusing too much on the physical realm and not enough on your spiritual development. When I say spiritual, I mean the basis of our feelings and emotions, or Source. The ego can shadow this part of your being and trap you inside your own mind. This means that you will be mostly, if not completely self-serving, without empathy or regard for others around you. Even though you may be courteous, friendly, and helpful to others, it is usually to ultimately benefit yourself.
The trick to releasing the ego is to always remember the Truth; that we all exist as one, we are all part of the same whole, and that everyone’s feelings, dreams, and talents are equally as important as your own. You must tell yourself that you are no better or worse than anyone else, and that you can always learn from others. Focus on being humble: on seeing your qualities and abilities with moderation, no matter how much you achieve or how much fame you acquire. Humility brings with it a quiet confidence. Not everyone will see this confidence, but those who do will be inspired and appreciative of it. Ego is the boastful confidence; the outward expression of how great you are, instead of how great we all are. Celebrate the differences you see in others, for that is what makes us unique. Our unique qualities should not be compared, but rather accepted as being perfect for that person at that time. When you embrace this attitude for yourself and for others, you will be on your way to true humility, which will give you the self-confidence you have always hoped for.
It is important to remember that we will not become truly humble overnight. It is not a revelation that occurs to us that suddenly changes our way of being. The ego can be very strong, and will not relinquish its control of your thoughts and perception of reality easily. Humility is a constant, and a very conscious practice. It is however, the path to true happiness and ultimately enlightenment, for it is the acceptance of all that is, that was, and that can be. It sees everything as part of the whole and embraces the individual roles we all play as being equally important. Even after learning the lessons of the origins of self-doubt, recognizing the feelings associated with the ego, and how to release the ego, it can still rear its ugly head from time to time. When this happens, I encourage you to stop what you are doing and meditate on the fullness of being the Universe can bring you when you are humble. Do not focus on personal achievements, but rather accept everything that has happened in your life as being crucial to your development, and be happy with that knowledge. We are all exactly where we are supposed to be, and will continue to be for all eternity. Our paths have shaped us, but we are eternal beings that will continue to learn and grow, both physically and spiritually. Never forget that you are just as important to this cosmic design as myself or anyone else you will ever meet. Love yourself, love one another, be free, be happy, but most of all, be humble. Until next time loved ones; Namaste.
This article was inspired by the teachings of Rama (aka Dr. Frederick Lenz). For more on the importance of Humility, how to practice it in your own life, and what it can do for you and others around you, please listen to this lecture (#94 in this list) by Rama. Enjoy.