The Seductive Road of False Modesty

“Gentleness of nature is not a virtue but a defect unless it is accompanied by the tenacity of will.  Along with the sweetness there must be strength,”  – Grandfather Roy Wilson in Medicine Wheel

Being successful necessitates having a healthy amount of pride and belief in ourselves. Some people say we all need some narcissism in order to succeed. They certainly have a point, but I prefer to call it strong self-esteem and an ability to value themselves and what they need.   The only time this becomes bad is when it isn’t balanced by an ability to have empathy for others and to see their points of view.

When we too easily give up our own desires in favor of others, this is what I term false modesty. There are a number of attractive road signs that blind us to the dangers of this. “Follow Me, I’ll Take Care of You” attracts those who struggle with feeling confident about themselves. They often are attracted to people who exhibit strong personalities. Those who grow up with low self-esteem tend to be very uncomfortable with getting attention and with speaking up. This trait becomes self-perpetuating because it interferes with trying new things and demonstrating strengths, the very avenue to learning and gaining confidence.

This route of hiding who we are is especially attractive when we have been punished for being ourselves in our families. Unreasonable expectations or perfectionism are other avenues that reduce people to fear of trying, and inhibit becoming a leader.

Being attracted to the advertisement “Be Feminine” is what often tempts women to hide their light. Women’s socialization has been stronger on cooperation and working together, both of which do not emphasize standing out from our peers. Women also learn to hide how smart or strong they are for fear they will be considered arrogant or unattractive. They often rightfully fear repercussions from being strong and assertive in the home or work place.

Men’s socialization is heavier on competition and they tend to be more comfortable with that. However, when their histories include some form of abuse, they often struggle with assertiveness as well. Many men and women are distracted by the sign “Don’t Be Arrogant” because they grew up with narcissistic parents who had to have everything be “about them”. They want to be different because they abhor what they received as children. This fear can be so strong that people over-correct and end up with an opposite trait such as self-deprecation, submissiveness, and/or people pleasing.

Whatever our reasons, when we learn to hide our light – our strengths, opinions, and feelings – in deference to others, we are more vulnerable to being victimized. The internalized predator is that in us which looks to others to have the answers, to be our saviors, to know best – in short that which has us giving away our power.


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