Dare to Begin Articles

Articles written by our specialists and the community

The Shadow 
By: Despina Nicola

Never in my wildest dreams had I thought that I would be getting an acceptance letter from the University of Auckland for teacher-training. School had always been a struggle for me, and here I was about to make teaching a career. Because of learning difficulties. education had always triggered my insecurities. Tests tended to terrify me and my mind would go blank. My poor grades would shame me next to my elder siblings, who excelled academically and received countless academic awards. It seemed unfair that they could effortlessly remember material while I struggled. I felt like an outsider in my own family, and the expectation that I would also reach the university intellectual benchmark added to my insecurities.

Along with my family’s unwavering support and my own self-reflection, discipline and determination, I somehow improved my performance in class, got some just about acceptable grades, and subsequently managed to convince the university panel that I was capable of being a teacher. However, after the interview, I began to doubt myself again. One of the interviewers had mentioned my relatively disappointing grades, suggesting that my academic ability didn’t seem match my apparent self-confidence. I could not help but wonder whether I was capable in educating others at a time when I was struggling to become educated myself.

Nonetheless, I was accepted on the teacher training course but the months to follow were nightmarish. I felt exposed as academically inadequate, constantly looking over my shoulder and expecting to be judged and demoralized. My ability to connect with people, which is essentially what helped me get into the program, was seriously compromised by insecurity issues. One day, a fellow student asked me about my grades. My mouth went dry and my mind froze, like a deer caught in the headlights. To protect myself from similar incidents, I tried to do self-therapy and visualize myself as more intelligent and successful than I thought I was. But insecurities still held me back, and on one occasion, when I was asked to write something on the board, I struggled with spelling. I felt like a fraud.

Exhausted by my strange behaviour, my classmates called for an intervention. I had no choice but to open up and tell them about my low grades, and about suspicions that I might have a learning disability, such as dyslexia, which I had heard about but failed to recognise it as such, especially as such conditions were seen as taboo at the time. To my pleasant surprise, they were incredibly supportive and sympathetic. I was even given helpful tips and techniques for retaining information and spelling of words.

Having opened my heart and been honest about what was troubling me, my now friends and classmates in turn opened up about their own issues. I learned that everyone has their own insecurities and struggles. As we all shared our vulnerabilities, we were able to build closer relationships and all of us felt accepted and more confident. Now, as a teacher, I use my own past experiences with insecurity to connect with students and help them feel understood and supported. I have learned that ultimately, it is our imperfections that make us human and relatable, and that it is through accepting and embracing our vulnerabilities that we can grow and become the best versions of ourselves. Whether at school teaching or in my social life, I now use a combination of the insecure part of me as a former ‘weak student’ to openly expose my vulnerabilities, and a confident disciplined part of me to be strong and support my relationships. Both parts are needed for me to bond and belong. However, I do frequently use a tool to release me from falling into a downward spiral when those feelings of insecurity take hold. I acquired it from, “The Tools, Transform Your Problems into Courage Confidence and Creativity, by Phil Stutz and Barry Michels.” It involves the following 5 stage process:

  • Close your eyes and imagine you’re in front of someone or a group who may have triggered or aggravated your insecurities. For example, classmates who bullied you or laughed at you when you struggled academically.
  • Engage with the feelings that come up. Mine are a sense of inferiority, inadequacy and insecurity.
  • Push those feelings out in front of you and visualise them. Imagine projecting them onto a screen. Give them a face and a body. I saw an 11-year-old short top-heavy girl, who was shabby, depressed and run down. This was how I depicted a traumatic incident at school when I was beaten up because of my cultural and cognitive differences. This figure is my shadow. And within this, the fearful child that houses all my insecurities.
  • Turn to this child or shadow and give her love and compassion. Accept and embrace her. Integrate this insecure and vulnerable part of you to an existing stronger, protective part of you. Allow them to transition into an all-encompassing feeling of resilience, strength and love.
  • Gently gain control of these two bonded parts to listen to you as you face the audience - the person or people you are interacting with.

Now, by fully accepting yourself as a new whole, you will become more confident and able to express who you are and what you need with more conviction. You will no longer need other people’s approval and validation. In my case, even if I still struggle with spelling, or with recalling information easily, my self-worth is no longer buried under shame. I use this tool when I have to face an audience during public speaking, when appearing on TV/radio, when I do lives on social media, in job interviews, or when I need to confront someone. Instead of burying myself in past shame, I feel excited that I now have a tool that tackles any anxiety. We all have insecurities. These could be rooted in our education, environment, financial status, or even in our appearance. However, there is a way to deal with such issues which may still be haunting us. We do not need to hide our self-doubt anymore. Insecurity can be transformed into a super-power that provides us with the self-esteem and confidence needed to connect us to others without past inhibitions.