Humility vs arrogance

Young girl superhero mask and cape

Where are you on the modesty scale?

Humility is often described as a virtue (especially within certain religions) but like many things in life it’s not as black and white as that. There’s a big difference for instance between accepting an award or compliment graciously and dismissing one’s achievements as ‘nothing’ or ‘nothing special’.

I don’t know about you, but when I was a child, I was discouraged from talking about what I was good at or getting ‘too big for my boots’. No explanation was given as to why this was taboo, but I ‘knew’ from a young age that it was unacceptable to express self-satisfaction. Those who ‘bragged’ needed pulling down a peg or two according to those around me. I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s when childrearing styles were very different to now, and I know I wasn’t alone in being raised to believe that being ‘too pleased with myself’ was unattractive or vulgar. Thankfully, this was not every child’s experience ‘back in the day’.

Whether well-intentioned or not, this parenting approach often results in young people routinely putting themselves down. They often have lower aspirations than those who have been encouraged to acknowledge their accomplishments, whether they be academic, artistic, or in other areas. I remember noticing school friends whose parents encouraged them to celebrate their achievements, appeared more confident. These parents were also far more likely to praise their children for their efforts and successes. Unsurprisingly, these students tended to take praise and criticism in their stride, rather than squirming at well-deserved accolades or losing sleep over negative feedback.

As a therapist who regularly sees clients with low self-esteem, I truly believe that conditioning your children to be ‘modest’ is one of the most unhelpful traits a parent can instil in their children. Minimising their achievements and playing down their successes will undermine the confidence of all but the most self-assured children. It is especially detrimental to girls who still experience societal pressure to be compliant, even-tempered, and ‘nice’. What does that even mean?

Is this approach the only reason children lack confidence and don’t feel good enough? No, of course not, but it is often a contributory factor. The effects of ‘playing small’ often continue throughout a person’s life and are not jettisoned along with their school uniform. Sadly, those who underplay their attainments are more likely to accept unfair criticism in the workplace and at home. They are likely to treat it as if it were irrefutably true, instead of one person’s opinion. They may also demonstrate a tendency to read something negative into a neutral (or positive) statement, because their default position (whether they are consciously aware of it or not) is ‘I’m not good enough’.

In addition to the effects on a person’s well-being, self-deprecation can negatively affect an individual’s career progression and earning potential. They may question their ability, get anxious about expressing their opinion to colleagues or bosses, and be reluctant to ask for a pay rise or promotion. This can develop into a pattern of deferring to colleagues who may not be more accomplished than them, but who speak (and act) with more confidence. Resentment often ensues, their stress levels increase, and their self-esteem deteriorates.

Let’s be clear, I’m not a parenting coach and neither do I provide hypnotherapy for children, but I have worked with hundreds of adults who are terrified of speaking in meetings, asking for a raise, or applying for jobs (for which they were suitably qualified) as a consequence of their home or school life.

The great news is that our internal messaging, and the behaviour that emanates from it, can be changed. As a hypnotherapist, I’m in the privileged position of having watched hundreds of clients ditching old, unhelpful patterns so that they can reach their true potential. If you are ready to unlearn old habits, improve your self-esteem and enjoy greater confidence, book a free phone consultation to find out how I could help. And if you experience anxiety, or know someone who does, download my ‘No-nonsense guide to managing anxiety’.

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