June 25, 2014
5 signs that you might be prejudiced against yourself!
My blog and I are dedicated to fighting prejudice, intolerance, and ignorance. Yet I recently had an experience that made me look at prejudice from an entirely different perspective—the mirror. It made me ask:
Am I prejudiced…against myself?
I am extremely sensitive to prejudice in any form. I get upset when I hear about prejudicial behavior against anyone because of race, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, religion or any other way that people penalize our uniqueness. One might even say that I overreact to references that differentiate one person from another. After all, we are all different (Look at the “Am I the Only One?” post) and it can be good to recognize this fact. Yet I believe prejudice is the scourge of modern life, leading to disastrous consequences like violence, profiling, and even “stand your ground” laws that encourage people to act on their prejudices.
Even “benign” prejudice is dangerous. I recently spoke with a friend who was very upset after she had met with her son’s teacher. The teacher showed my friend an assignment that her son had previously submitted. It was very poorly organized, badly written, and used terrible grammar and spelling. Why did the teacher accept this poorly completed assignment? She believes that the teacher suffers from the “soft bigotry of low expectations.” She did not expect the child to do good work in her class so, surprise, she got her expectations: poor work. The teacher was not a bad or racist person; she was just suffering from “soft bigot” disease.
Before I criticize her, I was forced to ask myself how often am I my own bigot. Am I prejudiced against myself?
After much soul-searching and observations, I have discovered seven signs that a person is prejudiced against himself or herself.
Self-prejudice Sign #1: You decide that you are not good enough.
- Do you often feel inadequate?
- Do you often feel that you are just not good enough?
This is a big one. Prejudices usually convince one person that another person (or race, gender, etc.) is not smart enough, fast enough, pretty enough, thin enough, rich enough, or generally just “not enough” of those qualities that make a person acceptable.
There are numerous examples of self-bigotry of inadequacy. Many women are convinced that they are not thin or pretty enough to feel good about themselves, wear a bikini, or sadly, to be loved or feel loveable. Many men feel that they are not successful or rich enough to find a partner. Students often feel that they are not good enough in math, smart enough to do well in school or to get into a good college, or to enjoy school.
These types of self-prejudices are undoubtedly rooted in external stimuli (advertising, movies, mean-spirited people. etc.), but they become deeply internalized in an individual’s core belief system.
Self-prejudice Sign #2: You limit your opportunities
- Do you often refuse to try something because you’re afraid to fail?
This self-prejudicial sign is partly connected to the previous sign of feeling inadequate. In the past, opportunities for women were limited to caring for the home and children. Opportunities for African Americans in certain jobs or careers were restricted. Almost every group has faced this type of societal, religious or other type of limitation. I’m not naïve enough to believe that all these types of “glass boxes” have been forever shattered. But I do know that there are times when every person refuses (for whatever reason) to approach the glass. We just back away from the glass box or ceiling with the feeling that we would have failed anyway. This is not a good feeling.
It’s terrible when it comes from another person, your job, a recruiter, a school, a friend, or a family member. But it is a worse feeling when it comes from you. Do you remember your teacher asking a question in class but you were too afraid to raise your hand? (And it turned out that you actually had the right answer!) Have you ever seen a job advertisement but didn’t apply because you just assumed that they would select someone else? Have you ever been too afraid to approach an attractive person at a party because you thought that you would just be rejected?
These just might be signs of the self-prejudice of limiting your own opportunities.
Remember that a large part of success is showing up. You might not “show up” if you are prejudiced against yourself.
Self-prejudice Sign #3: Fear of trying new things or having new experiences
- Have you ever wanted to live or study in a different country but were too afraid to do it?
- Have you wanted to learn a new skill like a new language, musical instrument, or sport, but were too embarrassed to try?
- Have you wanted to go return to school, go sky diving, deep sea diving, or other “extreme” activity but were too scared to try?
New experiences take courage. They take resilience. They require confidence and self-assurance. Do you believe that you have the character to try new things, have new experiences? If not, then you might be prejudiced against yourself.
Trying something new or having new experiences—whether mainstream or extreme—is not easy. Fear is a natural response. But refusing to try something new might be a sign that you don’t feel that you can trust yourself to handle the consequences. You might be prejudiced against yourself?
Self-prejudice Sign #4: Refusing or failing to do your best
- Do you try your best?
- Do you “give it your all?”
You might think that your best is not good enough. So, you do just enough to get by. If you don’t get the highest grade or the best result, you know that you really didn’t try anyway. So, it doesn’t matter. But perhaps sometimes, you do your best and still don’t get the best result. It happens to everyone. But it is not a reflection on you or your skills or your worth as a person. It is simply a part of life.
I recently attended the final round of the Queen Elizabeth Vocal Competition in Belgium. Vocalists from around world were competing for the coveted first prize. I heard amazing vocalists sing and perform for the audience. Everyone was trained, gifted, skilled, and had devoted years of their lives to compete in this competition. Every one was amazing. But only one could win with the first prize. Yet they had all given their all.
Failing to do your best is a sign that you might be prejudiced against yourself. You don’t think that your best will be good enough. So, you don’t give your best. Only you can decide to give your best. No one can stop you from giving your all. But if you don’t “go for it”, you have biased the outcome against yourself. Ouch!
Self-prejudice Sign #5: Failure to Stand Up for yourself
- Do you let other people mistreat you?
- Do you accept bad treatment or service?
- Are you afraid to stand up for yourself?
- Do you fear confronting someone who is treating you badly?
If so, you could be prejudiced against yourself. I am not thinking of occasional impolite behavior like cutting in front of another car while driving, slow service in a café, or your partner coming home late without calling. These behaviors annoy everyone. I am thinking about a pattern of accepting actions or behavior that you find unacceptable—and a fear of speaking up about them.
I have a friend who will routinely accept horrible behavior from boyfriends, partners, or colleagues. She sometimes even smiles or giggles about it when it happens. (Yes, I have seen it.) Then she spends the rest of the day complaining about it and saying what a terrible person that he or she must be to treat her in such a manner. But she never says anything to the wrongdoer. Not at the time of the infraction. Never. When I ask her why she does not complain to the offender, she says, “oh, what good would it do?” Needless to say, she continues to have these bad experiences.
Her failure to confront the “offender” or complain to the “wrongdoer” might be a sign that she fears confrontation or that she does not feel that she deserves better treatment. She might be prejudiced against herself. Are you?
There are many signs that we can be prejudiced against ourselves. Any kind of prejudice is intolerable. Prejudice based on race, sex, orientation, or other factors is both illegal and unacceptable. Although self-prejudice is not illegal, it is equally unacceptable and has many of the same detrimental effects. It limits opportunities and access. It affects self-esteem and confidence. It lowers expectations and depresses growth. It diminishes the “victim” on innumerable levels.