Fullmetal (not her real name)
Fullmetal writes everything that's on her mind. That's peace
Self-Doubt and Worldly Expectations
Last year, I happened to read and watch extensively about mental health through fictional works. The pieces that stood out for me were a Pulitzer-Prize winning book called Less and an anime show called Fruits Basket. They explored various themes; however, the issue of self-esteem drew my attention the most. After all, most of us have been struck with a jolt of self-doubt at some point in time.
This lack of affirmation may or may not be rooted in our histories; however, the present determines how this self-doubt or low self-esteem evolves over time. In both of these works, the protagonists, as well as many supporting characters, suffered from an acute lack of self-affirmation, only to be proven by their present circumstances that impermanence is the nature of living, and one can, most of the time, “master their circumstances” (a quote from A Gentleman in Moscow I absolutely respect).
When I read about Less’ experiences of low self-esteem that inhibited his confidence in himself, his writing, and his choices, as well as Tohru Honda’s similar experiences, it made me realize that there are parallels in real life.
I remember an incident of a friend who aced her mid-terms in college and was still asked to get better grades. She had been climbing up her way to the top for three years now. Much of her motivation was driven by the fact that the ultimate result would draw appreciation from her parents. In the past, they told her that she wasn’t doing enough, and now that she was achieving so much, she was told that it wasn’t still enough. On one cool evening when we met, she sipped orange juice from a paper glass and laughed at her circumstances. She said, “If only they had told me that it was enough, I would have been excited for my future. Now this doubt that I had been carrying for long shall stay with me longer.”
I almost thought that she would give in, but she didn’t. After a few years, she called me and told me about a big academic accomplishment. However, the difference this time was that she didn’t go to her family to seek their approval. She said, “I just straight up went to the bathroom, looked at myself in the mirror, and fist-bumped myself.” In other words, she mastered her circumstances and didn’t let anyone else be in control of them. This is a lesson for all of us reeling under mental pressure.
I believe that people around us will never stop expecting from us. If any of their expectations, even the more minor ones, do not get fulfilled, they will ask us to improve. To them, there is no turning back because if we did we’d lose all prestige. Of course, there are hopefully well-wishers in our life as well, but well-wishers do not impose; they encourage, and their encouragement is not hindered by their own standards of what we should be doing.
As humans, we often fail to appreciate the differences in what is and what is not important to others. We superimpose our understanding on others, make them do what we feel is right, and push them into a state of doubt. Those people, as a result, often fail to acknowledge their own efforts, their own discretion, and feel weakened in their resolve to do things for themselves. Self-doubt is harmful, and as it piles up, you become incapable of identifying the good and bad for yourself. This is exactly what Less and Fruits Basket taught me. Learn to rely on yourself first before anything else, and at the same time, act responsibly towards others.
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