People keep underestimating me and I know it

By Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

Q. I have noticed that throughout my entire life, people have been underestimating me. Even prior to meeting me, people seem to have this idea that I am talentless, utterly worthless, and unproductive with my life. As far back into my childhood as I can remember, I have been excluded by my peers, and it has always been assumed by the large majority that I posses no real abilities. Even in the instances when few people discover that, in actuality, I am a talented writer and musician, they praise my abilities — but soon after will still exclude me from activities and occasions that cater to the very things that they themselves praised me for.

I have always had to work double the amount of most people. I work hard to achieve things, and even harder because I more recently discovered that I have to prove people wrong. Still, it seems to make little impact. I still have no idea how it is possible for people to jump to such drastic conclusions about me by simply seeing me, without even having any discussion. I could dismiss these underestimations, but the fact that nearly 95% of the people that I encounter come to the same conclusions, it is a serious concern of mine. I watch other people walk around with great talents and skills, and I see how everybody else simply accepts them and never once questions their abilities.

I am so clueless as to how to handle these situations, I always end up letting people get the best of me. More recently, I have tried to break out of my rind. I’ve tried to take a hold of this, because it really does affect me negatively and I have always had serious self-esteem issues because of this. Until I was about 7 or so, I was very outspoken, friendly, and completely oblivious to the way others were treating me. After that, as I became older and more perceptive, I began realizing the obvious signs from my peers and it progressively diminished my self-esteem and confidence non-stop all through school, and even after high school.As I mentioned, I have made it a priority to break out of my rind by, upon meeting people, being friendly and open about my interests. They find out I am in a band, and they always smirk at me patronizingly. After I give them my CD and they have a listen, I receive some remark like “Wow, I thought you were going to suck, but you’re actually good.” Remarks like that make me really wonder. What is it about me that could have given you the impression that I would suck as a musician? How is it possible to simply meet me and immediately conclude that I will suck? I have never seen any other musicians with this problem.

Instances such as that span across more than just my invovlement in music, it’s everything else, too. I figured that it had something to do with my behavior, but I’ve tried being friendly, and I’ve even done a decent job at exuding confidence, but it seems to make little difference. I should mention, I was diagnosed with occular albinism at age 3, and the prescription for my glasses is so high that it magnifies my eyes quite a bit. My eyes also have the tendency to shift around on their own. As a result of this, I faced tremendous ridicule, and I feel that this alone is probably what leads people to view me negatively.

At times, I have felt like giving up. People rarely give me a chance, and I feel as though I will never amount to anything and my talents will go to waste because people will never willingly give me the opportunity to publicly achieve anything. I am 20 years old, and I fear that my life will be one major failure if I don’t destroy this issue and take control now. I feel as though I have potential for amazing things. The few people who believe in me have all concluded that I am an incredibly diverse human being both mentally and creatively, but I feel as though I will die without having ever had the opportunity to share myself with the world.

I was wondering, what is it about my aura that leads people to treat me this way? Furthermore, how can I alter my behavior so that people will meet me and immediately understand that I am truly someone of passion, strength, and talent? My entire life, there has been an entire string of people who have backstabbed me and ditched me for other friends. Back in elementary school, I would always make friends with the new kids who would come to our school, and I would ALWAYS eventually be ditched by these people after they began meeting more people. Similarly, my father was always in and out of my life, so I feel that this fact may somehow relate to the fact that people continually abuse my trust, friendship, and ultimately leave me and take me for granted. My mother was also overbearing for most of my life. Always silencing me, convincing me that something was wrong with me when nothing ever was. Nobody ever told me I was good at anything, and any personal progression that occured within me, I had to work at all on my own. Truthfully, I forget I have parents most of the time.

Similarly, I realize that I always get involved in relationships with females who treat me the same way that my mother always did, and neglect me in similar ways as well. A slight boost of confidence is that, after such abandonment occurs, after these people abuse me, they ALWAYS eventually come running back, begging for my friendship, telling me that I am a great person and that they want to remain a part of my life. The more time that goes by without somebody ridiculing me profoundly and immaturely regarding my eye problem, the higher my confidence builds. I went about a year or so without it happening, and then more recently it happened again and I feel as though I am back to square one. If you could please offer me some answers and guidance, I would greatly appreciate it.

A. Thanks for writing. What I wondered about after reading your question is how could you know what all of these people think of you? Sure, there are some people, as you mentioned, who will tell you what they think of you directly but most do not.

Are you familiar with Cooley’s looking glass self theory? Charles H. Cooley posited that we come to see ourselves in the way we imagine others see us. Seeing ourselves as we imagine others do is a concept commonly referred to as the reflected self. Cooley stated specifically that “in imagination we perceive in another’s mind some thought of our appearance, manners, aims, deeds, characters, friends, and so on, and are variously affected by it” (Cooley, 1902, p.152). The most influential aspect of assessing the self, he thought, stemmed primarily from this idea of a perceived image. That is, we react to what we believe others think about us, without accurate knowledge of what their true opinions of us are in actuality.

A review of the psychological literature reveals that while individuals have a general view of how they are seen by others, they are not really good at knowing what specific others think of them. Unless you have literally surveyed all of your friends, or the people you speak about, it is likely that you have made incorrect assumptions and thusly came to an inaccurate conclusion about how others view you.

As far as being concerned about what others think of you, I suggest that you focus only on what you think of yourself. When people care too much about the opinion of others they never become who they truly are. When you’re so focused on what others think of you, you are not being your authentic self but rather someone acting or pretending to be what you believe others want you to be. The bottom line is this: Be yourself; be honest, be humble, be true to yourself, and finally, don’t try to cater to opinion of others. I hope this helps. Take care.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 18 Oct 2007

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2007). People keep underestimating me and I know it. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 28, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2007/10/18/people-keep-underestimating-me-and-i-know-it/