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Good progress in my studies, bad progress in my self-esteem

  1. Jun 6, 2010 #1

    I wanted to ask for advice about something personal. I am currently writing by Bachelor thesis in theoretical Physics. The way I developed academically over the past few years is good, but personally, I don't like my development. I have a rather sad disposition, I am unhappy with who I am. I find it difficult to enjoy a social life, and I find it enormously painful that when I have feelings for a girl, they are never reciprocal. I have had a very long hard time over the last few years understanding that my value system is different from my parent's. I need to explain some more:

    - I live with my parents. I wated to study abroad, but it is really difficult for us (financially), so I won't do that. I will move out for my doctorate (when I will have my own income).

    - I learned a lot of good things from my parent, but they ignored my emotional side. For them, it was all about the studying because they wanted me to be somebody etc., we had very rough fights about going out late and about dating. As a result, I rarely went out and only had a short relationship years ago (I kept it secret from my parents).

    - Basically, I have outgrown this kind of crap, i.e. dating and going out are not that big a problem any more (theoretically) - fact is, however, that I never do the former and rarely the latter. Driking an evening beer with my fellow students just gets me bored, I cannot get any pleasure from that and the like social evening activites. And relationships, that's a different issue, see below.

    - I am a good student. However, seriously, I can hardly derive pleasure or pride from that. My results are very good, but I always feel I should do better. I basically sit in front of my PC all day trying to work as much as I can, but there are limits. Sometimes, my motivation is low. I give my best but cannot get motivated to work better/more. I do extra courses right now, and I give my best on my bachelor thesis, however, I am not satisfied. I wish I could publish my bachelor thesis results (whether this happens depends on whether the professor will be willing to feature my results in one of his next publications. Also, I have almost two months yet until I must hand it in). Even if it was published, I am sure I wouldn't be satisfied. The sad thing is that I focus on my work in such a manner that I consider everything else inferior activities. I wish I had some recognition for that, but I am also aware that this doesn't come from just wanting it, and that this kind of bitterness rarely leads to something good. Also, I am aware that if I had more talent and put this kind of time/effort into my work, my results would go up exponentially.
    It's a viscious circle to me: I study for some time, then my motivation drops, I get tired, start watching a movie or so for too long, then I feel guilty about that and work hard (until I need the next "shot", that is, a break, movie, whatever). I use this as a tool sometimes: When I need to do something difficult or something I don't like/feel uneasy about, I start doing it, then take a break, then (in a slightly but controlledly guilt-ridden manner) go on, then take another break. This style of work makes me often feel inefficient, wasting time. It might be inefficient, but it is effective and gives good results in examns etc. However, I simply cannot establish a way to work like others do: I just can't start work at nine and then at seven or so be finished with it and relax. I do relax in between, but I rarely feel "finished" with a task (and if so, the next is always at hand). I have trouble finishing something, get lost in details. It makes me feel inefficient and that I could be further If I worked more efficiently and more focussend on what matters. As I never go out and live with my parents, I sometimes feel uneasy because I have so much time and perhaps don't make the best I can out of it. This is a really bad feeling and actually, I have excellent grades, I never hand in something too late, I never have to re-pass an examn or to set it back (for a later date), neither of this ever happened. But on some days, I really do feel down, not motivated, often take breaks in my work to watch tv episodes or just something that gets me distracted from work / gets me some distance. I particularly hate these days in which I feel very inefficient.

    - Seriously, feelings for girls had always a very strong impact on my. Also, the fact that my parents have always been against dating This, in fact, did not prohibit me from asking somebody out (with little success however). But unfortunately, I could never talk about this kind of feelings to my parents. This has - and I don't think I am exaggerating things here - caused me some pain and grief. My childish approach - falling in love with somebody and suffering from lack of reciprocal feelings - has never altered, it is the same now with 23 as it was with 18. I perfectly understand how stupid and ridiculously immature this is, but it makes me suffer (I'll say some more on this below).

    - Rougly two years ago, I was on a summer camp with some very interesting students (this is organized by the most prestigeous scholarship organization of my country). Back then, I was enthusiastic about going there, but the experience not overall good. Already back then, I often felt inferior for the same reason as now: I am not very good at enjoying myself, at being merry in a crowd or at all. I hate the fact that I am not outgoing, that I am not good at winning people's attention and sympathy by being social, nice, friendly, chatty, non-nerdy, simple. When I really like a girl, I am incapable of making her like me. All of that is experience which has become much more profound over my summer camp two years ago.
    There was another thing: I met a wonderful girl back there in the summer camp. To make it short, I really liked her, and I also approached her, but she showed no interest in me. This made me really sad and made it ever harder to just have some fun with the others. I tried, I engaged in many social things (sports, excursions, etc. - I tried to take part in as many as I could), but when I think back, the memory that prevails is that the girl-feelings did hurt, and that all in all, I found it hard to just be happy and enjoy the interesting and rich get-together of people. I had all reason to just be happy (scholarship, good grades, well-read and not stupid), but I found it hard and not rarely felt unhappy.

    - I do not WANT to be sad and melancholic and self-loathing and hopeless and the like. I am afraid of that, I don't want to turn into a misanthropic, self-pitying bastard. Right now, myself and my fellow students are very much the same: we HAVE to work hard to create a good bachelor thesis etc., but unlike the others, I can't seem to feel proud of what I achieve, to look forward to the summer, etc. I thought that this would go away as I would progress in my studies and feel thus would feel more and more comfortable in my skin. I made progress in my studies, but I still feel the same.

    - A recent situation has come up, and it really seems to be mocking me, right in the face. About two years ago or so, I fell in love with a fellow student. We have had no common classes ever since, but saw each other regularly on the campus (where we rarely talked beyond "Hi!") and on occasions (like talks, seminars). On these occasions (they usually took place several times semester), we have had the chance to actually make conversation. She never showed any sign of reciprocal interest. Of course, every time I saw her memories came up etc. and that bugged me, abut all in all, I usually calmed down after a while (not seeing her) and it was OK (although I can hardly remember a day when she did not, at least faintly, cross my mind - but as I did not see her very often, it was OK). This summer, I enrolled for another summer camp (in a better location than the former one, and altogether really promising). But I also learnt that she will be there too. Ironically, the situation might be the same as two years ago. I know that the most reasonable thing would be just to go to that camp, have some fun, not to care about the girl, etc. I perfectly understand that, but also, I actually know myself well enough, I know that I handle this kind of situation very badly. I do not want to that camp and hang around there sad and self-loathing. I know how perfectly ridiculous anc cliché that sounds, like from some 18 year old child, but remembering the summer camp two years ago, that was exactly how it went. I am worried about this camp.

    I only have one desire: that my self-esteem would become stronger. This would make me feel better/more comfortable with myself and with people, would make me forget my stupid feelings for somebody who doesn't seem to care about me, would make me capable of perhaps having a real relationship (i.e., make me more attractive/interesting to girls) and also to defend it in front of my parents, would make me abandon this weird way of handling work/tasks, and would make me a better person. It would all come by itself if I only had some self-esteem. But I don't know how to get there, and what makes me especially worried and sad is that I seem to handle feelings and socializing no different then I did two years ago. I am afraid that I am half the person I could be, but just don't know how to get there.

    That's why I wrote this thread. Maybe you can give me some hints? What are your thoughts?
    I hope it's OK I wrote this in the Physics Forum.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 6, 2010 #2
    I don't think I'm very good at giving emotional advice, but I wanted to let you know that I see a lot of myself in what you described. I'm sociable and likable enough, but due to reasons while growing up, I feel behind emotionally in some aspects. Before I let the others give you advice, I'll just say this. Work on things one step at a time. If you see a piece of advice that seems applicable to you, put it into practice without worrying about the rest. That way, you'll at least know that you're making progress. I'm sort of trying the same thing.
  4. Jun 6, 2010 #3
    Yeah, you're in a vicious circle.

    Girls are attracted, primarily, to guys who are emotionally "up", who are enjoying themselves, who are dynamic, who seem confident.

    As soon as a guy starts to realize he is not already that guy, he starts to feel worse, i.e. the opposite of what would help him.

    The way to start breaking the cycle is to learn to live in your body, not in your mind. Exercize and all that is good, but I'd suggest something more focused on body awareness like yoga. Over time, as you become more relaxed through yoga, you'll be at much more at ease in all kinds of situations, and feel more confident simply because you'll enjoy being in your body.

    When people cogitate excessively they start expressing the tensions of their thoughts in their posture and lack of ease. They actually look like they're over thinking things: too tense, cautious, tentative, blocked. People steer clear of them. Something like yoga forces you to put your attention on breathing and strength and relaxation. It can be grueling, but people I know who take yoga all claim they come out of the sessions feeling wonderful. When you feel wonderful, you look wonderful.
  5. Jun 6, 2010 #4

    Chi Meson

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    I think this must be the sixth time I have given the following advice in this forum to similar threads. Take it for what it's worth, and it's not for everybody, but it helped me out of a self-esteem problem that dogged me through the end of high school and beginning of college:


    Get a good pair of running shoes, and run 20+ minutes a day, 5 days a week. Don't worry about speed or distance, just do the time. It clears the head wonderfully, it lifts the spirits, and gets you in shape. If it's for you, you will know it within a month. But you need to give it a few weeks.

    Otherwise, Zooby's advice is good. In general, you want to do something that is appealing to you. Maybe you know what it is already, you just need to listen to yourself.
  6. Jun 6, 2010 #5
    I second this from all my heart. Besides all the advantages enumerated, an hour or so where you just focus on what you doing, oblivious to life's problems does wonders to keep away anxiety and sadness.
  7. Jun 7, 2010 #6
    Thank you for your postings :-)

    I have read them yesterday and had some time to digest them. My most important conclusion so far is that I have to be harder on my parents. They simply don't get simple things, like that I need some privacy and do not want to be disturbed by them whenever they like. I will simply lock the door now whenever I need peace. Anyway, I will now involve them less in my decisions. It is sad but I ceased to respect them a long time ago, and often was just fearful of making the wrong decision while they told me to do otherwise. I must admit that they often talked me from stupid ideas into decisions which later proved right. Still, I don't trust their judgment very much any more. I'll try to involve them less in the future.

    Concerning sports: yes, I work out sometimes, but rather irregularly. The recent weeks, hardly at all. I shall try to get a regular pattern into that again, about 3x e.g. mon, wed, fri. And I will try running. The whether is frightening right now, but there will be sunny days in the summer. But thanks, I promise I'll try running and find out whether I like that (I think after some time of getting used to it, I will like it).

    Concerning feelings, that's still difficult. The girl I wrote about - I met her again today (we had a little chat), and it was once again very clear to me that she just doesn't care about me. In fact, I often thought about trying to move on and trying to ask out somebody else. There is, for example, a girl I do like, but I have no feelings for her. I was thinking (months ago) about asking her out, just to give it a try and to have at least some illusion of making progress. I hesitated then, but later this week, I might have a chance to ask her out. If I won't be a coward again, who knows, maybe it'll work.

    Sorry for this rather whiny thread, but these thoughts come to me regularly. I was pleased to read your replies and they helped to lift my spirits a little! Thank you!
  8. Jun 7, 2010 #7
    It seems you have over-protective parents, and it's very common of children to lose respect for such parents. But they are still your parents so gotta love them.

    But one thing you have to realize is that you are your own master, you shape your own future, and make decisions for youself. While living with parents, still respect some of their boundaries, but dude, the world is out there for your taking. Just grab it, and don't look back.

    I've also picked up regular running right after high school, and it's one the most rejuvenating activities ever as you start to feel invincible afterwards. That's because when you run endorphins are released in your brain which essentially are your body's natural stimulants - sometimes compared to marijuana :biggrin:

    When you get rejected by a girl don't bother asking her out again, just move on.

    Don't worry, many people are in similar situations or worse, and have no idea how to get out.
  9. Jun 7, 2010 #8

    Chi Meson

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    It's appears that you are trying, and that tends to impress us here. That and the fact that you r not txtng yr mssgs lol
  10. Jun 7, 2010 #9
    I've never understood the suggestion to go running. I don't know about you people, but I always feel miserable after running.
  11. Jun 7, 2010 #10

    Chi Meson

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    Well, I guess I have to chalk it down under "it takes all types." I do believe that the human body evolved to bear incredible physical endurance. I don't go so far as some who claim that the body is specifically designed for running, but for some (including me) it is a necessity. People will feel it if they stand at the finish line of a 10k, or a marathon, or such. I remember at the age of 7 thinking "I want to do that."

    But, as I said, it's not for everyone. I still think the body needs regular strenuous exercise in order to work right.
  12. Jun 7, 2010 #11
    For me it was swimming, but the same principle applies. I would add a bit of meditation into the mix but in general any brisk activity is going to elevate your mood, and if you take that time to really think and not dwell, you can clear your head.
  13. Jun 7, 2010 #12
    We were cursorial hunters, meaning we outran sprinting animals. I think you're safe in your assumption.
  14. Jun 9, 2010 #13
    Hi again,

    there is some more things I would like to talk about. Please (please!) do read and reply to this because it is really important to me!

    When I wrote about my parents, I was simplifying things: I live with my grandparents (they are the overprotective ones to whom all of my above descriptions were directed). My parents are divorced and my mother lives in another city (I have practically no contact to my father). I did not write all of that in the above text in order not to make it exceedingly long. Anyway, especially in the recent year, my desire to move away and live my own life has grown stronger and stronger. But I am not the kind of person who just makes an important decision because it feels right. Whenever I uttered the desire to my grandparents, they basically smashed it. They are now pretty old, and for a long time I feel they cannot convince me with arguments any more. Their worries are that I have never lived alone (never cooked, washed, ironed, ...), which is true, and that I am not very practical-minded (which is also true, but I believe that I can learn if I have to). Their worries are that it will be very hard to navigate in a foreign city (which is definitely true, I've never been on my own like that before). If indeed I go to a different city, I'd be on my own, with nobody to help me, and with nobody to catch me if I should run out of money. On the other hand, I think that won't happen (if I plan things correctly), and also, I have the best (public) German scholarship. But indeed, if I get into trouble (of any kind, e.g. financially, or trouble with the studies etc.) there will be nobody to "come and rescue me". That is my grandparent's argument, and I do agree it is substantial.

    On the other hand, I have a burning desire to get away and live on my own. As I wrote, I want to do theoretical Physics, and the theoretical Physics department in my home university is rahter small. I already have a very good picture of the Master programme (I could already say fairly precisely which courses I would choose, in which order, how many credit points they yield etc.). And I must say that, well, they are not bad (I know almost all Professors who give the courses, and most are OK lecturers), but it's really awesome either. The courses here rely heavily on theoretical condensed matter physics which is a field I don't like, say, that much. There is a General Relativity lecture I am currently attaining in my free time (I only missed few lectures so far), but there is absolutely nothing on generalizing theories (no strings, no quantum loop, and also, the specialist who is giving the General Relativity lecture does not do any generalizing aspects in his research). There is no quantum field theory lecture (although some aspects are probably taught in the quantum optics lecture which is available). There are no purely mathematical lectures (within the physics master programe - to take extra math courses in the math department would be hardly human because the physics master also includes experimental physics and is very dense). So, to make it short, it appears that unless I want to do condensed matter Physics (for which I appear to have no particular desire), my home university is not a good choice. I want to get away from home and get the best education I can and also get the most out of life. My golden cage sucks.

    However, I am very afraid to screw things up. To go to a strange town and not to be able to get along on my own. I have a very small time frame to learn to get along on my own because once the lectures start in october, things will be twice as tough. And it is true I am rather shy and sometimes lack determination to just grab and do things. Anyway, my grandparents are against it (i.e. leaving city for another university) and my mother is sceptical. Who I am most afraid of is myself: Just after talking to my sceptical mother, I get disappointed, doubts come up, etc. It takes me a lot to retrieve my optimism. To retrieve my optimism which I lost due to a 5min phone conversation I am now writing this whole message. I am afraid that I won't be able to defend my position and that I give up and stay here. When I wanted to apply for an abroad year (this would have been difficult, but I believe not impossible to finance, due to my scholarship, although I am not quite sure, it's tough to say/predict), they actually won, they talked me out of it.

    There is another idea I have had. Please do comment on this, its the most part of what I wanted to say:

    The professor who supervises my Bachelor thesis is a good person and he is also involved in the scholarship. However, of course, it's not like we're "pals". I think has been content with my work so far. We talk about my progress regularly (once a week or so). I wanted to talk to him about all of what I have written above, but I am afraid to open up personally. I can't wait until my bachelor thesis is finished and corrected and graded because by then, all application deadlines will have gone. Also, it's Germany, not USA, people are not as easy-going. However I feel that maybe I shoud ask what he things about my problems and how he would act.
    It's a tricky situation. If I keep thinking/worrying/doing financial calculations/doing research on different universities and their programes, I am afraid that my bachelor thesis will suffer. On the other hand, If I totally focus on the thesis, it will probably be a magnificent thesis, but my chance of applying elsewhere will be gone. If I open up personally to him, but start to deliver bad/average results of my Bachelor thesis (which I don't believe I will), I'll lose credibility. All of it seems convoluted and tricky and I don't know the right path.

    I feel that I absolutely need to know for sure whether I want to do that (I mean going to another city, another university). Concerning the money (i.e. how much it would cost to live in different cities), I am doing some internet research (I have many contacts and I'm sure I'll know more after the weekend). But concerning my other doubts (living in a foreign city for the first time alone, no help at hand, no escape, what if I run out of money? What if I won't keep up with the curriculum? What if...), this kind of stuff is hard to find (in internet research/by writing to fellow students) and one can never be sure (whereas staying in my home town, I can be sure there will be no problems, apart from my self-confidence going down and the master programme being so and so instead of great).I know I won't have much (reasonable, I mean objective) support in my decision-making from my family. That's why I was thinking about opening up to my professor. He knows best about my academic skills, so either he'll encourage me and will wipe away my doubts (I'm quite sure this is what would happen indeed), or he will agree on many points with my family's doubts and the I'll probably be prone to stay in my home town. I don't know.

    Anyway, what are your thoughts on this?
  15. Jun 11, 2010 #14
    OK, I understand my last post was poorly written and a personal matter to which there is no absolute truth like answer. Let me rephrase my question from a more physics-like point of view:

    Here some of the Physics master lectures from my university (I only list theoretical Physics and computational stuff). If I know something about the lecture, I'll write it here too:

    • Advanced theoretical Physics I+II (lecturer yet unknown; diverse topics, AFAIK students may choose many of the topics at the beginning of the lecture, but that of course depends on the lecturer).
    • Theoretical Condensed Matter Physics. Excellent lecturer. However, I studied thorough for my Experimental Physics lecture and passed very well. I also read some chapters from the theoretician's really well-written textbook for preparation for the exp lecture. However, well, condensed matter physics doesn't seem to be my kind of thing. The research group's focus is on band structure computation (AFAIK), they do a lot of heavy-weigth simulations (e.g. Hartee-Fock-approximation...)
    • General Relativity: I have been visiting this lecture this term (although it's a Master of Science lecture). The lecturer is very knowledgeable, but not really great at explaining. Even though I had no time really studying for this lecture (I have to attend an experimental lecture and I am writing my Bachelor-thesis, of course) I provided myself with the most appropriate literature for this lecture. I find the material very difficult (differential geometry...) but fascinating. I also liked special relativity back when I studied electrodynamics, although it took me a while to understand the basics. The research group's focus is on computing something in different spacetime geometries (I've heard the term Schwarzschild-de-Sitter come up frequently; in the lecture we only treated Schwarzschild so far), but they do NOT do any generalizing theory related stuff.
    • Quantum Optics: excellent lecturer. I am not very familiar with the contents. I only attended the first couple of lectures which were basically an electrodynamics and quantum mechanics repetition with focus on E and B field interacting with matter (dielectricity, susceptibility etc.) However, the corresponding research group is also focussed on theo condensed matter physics, esp. semiconductors...
    • May body particles. OK lecturer. I've visited it a couple of times; the lecture is taken pretty exactly from a popular textbook. It's so close to the book that I think (provided I take >1month) I can study it completely on my own. The content of the lecture doesn't thrill me; however, I agree it is a rather fundamental physics lecture (unlike condensed matter which appears more specialized).
    • Theoretical Biophysics. Very kind, but rather confusing and sloppy lecturer. I have rather little interest in Biophysics although I have to admit I know little about it. My experience doesn't go beyond a biophysical microscopy session (experimental department) and a couple of presentations from an experimentalist.
    • Computational Physics and
    • Numerical Mathematics: I don't know the lecturers at all. I like programming, I've done that since I was pretty young, and it takes up a lot in my Bachelor thesis. I always felt I need no lecture for that; however it is possible I would like such a lecture and learn something valuable from it.

    That is a list of the most interesting lectures (actually, all of the interesting ones) at my home university. Somehow I feel these are OK, but nothing one would die for. Concerning the master programes from other universities, I found this one pretty interesting. It's called M.Sc. in mathematical Physics. The city is not too far away from my home (although it's not around the corner either) Here are the lectures:

    Pure Mathematics:
    Differential Geometry
    Lie Theory
    Homological Algebra
    Complex Geometry

    Theoretical Physics:
    Quantum Field Theory
    String Theory
    Conformal Field Theory
    Supersymmetry and Unification
    General Relativity

    I feel that these lectures are much closer to the heart of the problems of today's theoretical Physics research. It's also the kind of crazy stuff one has in mind when one decides to study Physics. I am no expert, I take my knowledge from a little of Brian Greene, some of wikipedia, and popular science journal articles. Also, I am no genius: these lectures seem to be very mathematical (I have no particularly good mathematical background and although I mastered the maths lectures in my home university very well, I have to admit they were rather slim for an aspiring theoretical physicist), and I cannot say that in my home university, I can walk on the water: In fact, I study very diligently and very slowly, I go over the material plenty of times, I have to make notes etc. I am not the kind of guy who completely understands things from reading a text only once or just listening to the lecture. However, my results grades are excellent (although I have to study painfully for them).

    I hope you get the point: going to another university is the biggest decision and the biggest financial risk I have ever taken (on my own, i.e. without being told to do so by my gradparents or parents). I am afraid that I am going to screw up (i.e. get into financial trouble, fail to understand the lectures in time, study an additional year and thereby make my financial troubles even much more difficult etc.). I just don't know, I need some input, some opinions, ...
  16. Jun 12, 2010 #15

    Noone can tell you that you will be OK, that you will have no financial issues and so on. Some ppl will be, others will not. But you don't need our opinions to be honest. You have to decide for yourself if getting away from what appears to be a family with an oppressive mentality worth the risks. Usually it does.
  17. Jun 12, 2010 #16
    Hi Powerflow,

    There are many things to answer here, especially concerning your personal issues. I'm 22, so I can relate to some of these. I feel some duty to share my personal solutions and experiences, but this can be quite long, so I'll do it a bit later (my English is far from perfect, so I'm rather slow).

    For the physics courses in the other university, be careful. I'm a first year Master student in theoretical physics (not that far from you actually), and one of the things you learn during that year is that you have to be especially careful not to rush things. A great emphasis should be put on QFT. There are many well-established things to do on this subject that you should master before moving on to SUSY or string theory. I've had two courses on theses subjects, and the lack of a good understanding of QFT made it quite hard.

    There doesn't seem to be any QFT in your Master program. So, the short answer would be : if you want to learn theoretical physics, you should go elsewhere.
    Last edited: Jun 12, 2010
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