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A reader asks: I am 23-years old. I really wish someone out there could help me or give me some advice to overcome this difficulty. First of all, thank you Gulf News for this blog, I recently found out about it.

This is a problem I have been facing for years. I look too young for my age, it sounds apathetic, but in reality it's ruining my youth and pretty much my life at the moment.

I am 23-years old, but I look like I am 16 or 17. I have no facial hair, I'm as tall as 5'8" and skinny. Though I eat a lot, my high metabolism stops me from getting any big.

It's been complicated since childhood, I didn't grow tall until I passed out and joined college, I didn't have a normal life like my other school friends, they always looked more bigger and more mature by the time they turned 18 and me on the other hand looked short and had a kid-like face.

I was always patronized and considered weak because of small stature. All this have really affected my personality, my confidence, my self esteem, I even feel socially awkward when I'm outside. To make matters worse I never had a girlfriend because I was afraid that no girl would want to date a guy who looks younger than them, pathetic huh?

Even now, I don't have the audacity to ask a girl out because I'm afraid they would reject me for this reason. Being the only guy who never had a relationship among my friends really makes me depressed and feel lonely inside.

I'm unemployed and am afraid to look for job since I developed this constant fear that no-one will take me seriously or even employ me because of my looks. When I go to a club or even as simple as buying a pack of cigarettes, I always get checked for ID, which is quite embarrassing for me.

I try to dress in a way that makes me look older; it helps a bit. Every now and then, I keep fantasizing that if I looked more like an adult my life would be different and I would be respected much more. Outside, I tend to look very cheerful and happy, but inside I feel miserable.

My friends say by the time I am 50, I will look younger and appreciate it but what they don't understand is I am losing my youth. I feel, maybe, getting into a relationship might help me get over the obstacles in my path, it might give me the boost in confidence but then again the irony is I don't have the confidence to ask a girl out, it's like a vicious circle.

So in short, I have no confidence, no self-esteem, depressed, stressed out, pessimistic, something I really hope no-one should go through. Nothing I do, helps me to look older. I really need your advice, this is my last resort.

Carey Kirk, M.Ed, Counseling Psychologist at The LightHouse Arabia, Dubai, replies: I am sorry to hear of your troubles and that they are having such an impact on your life. It does indeed sound as though your confidence and your self-esteem are low. Healthy levels of confidence and self-esteem are essential for navigating social, relationship, and employment situations, so it is not surprising that you are experiencing difficulties in these areas.

The first thing I would like for you to do is a reality check. It appears as though you base your self-worth and confidence heavily on your physical appearance. Fantasizing about looking differently will only make you feel worse. Instead, I would like for you to accept that you look younger than your peers and to acknowledge that there is much more to every person than their physical appearance. This includes you. There are many mature looking people in the world who are not respected. There are also many younger looking people in the world who are. This is because people are not just defined by their appearance.

It is true that people often base their initial impressions of a person on their appearance. Our brains are information processing machines and they are prone to stereotyping so that we can process large quantities of information quickly. For example, it may be possible that a person meets you and their brain forms an impression of you based on stereotypes related to youth such as “childish” or “immature”. However, once their brain receives information that contradicts that stereotype, their perception of you is altered.

More than appearance, people are defined by their actions and their values. What kind of person are you? Are you an educated/informed person? Are you a caring person? A trustworthy person? An honest person? Do you make time for people in need, strive to make people laugh, contribute to your community, stand up for your beliefs? Do you practice what you preach? These are the types of questions I would like you to ask yourself.

I recommend making a list of the values that are most important to you in life. If you have difficulty coming up with a list, search for one on the internet and try to identify the top 10 that are most important to you. This list will differ from person to person.

Once you have made your list, assess what you are doing to live by these values. If you value honesty, do you strive to be honest in your interactions with others? Are you honest with yourself? If you value community, do you engage in activities such as volunteering that allow you to contribute or feel connected to your community? If you are not living by your values, consider what you can do to live more truly to them. When we know and live by our values, we are more likely to feel confident in our actions and good about ourselves. This is called congruence.

In order to live by your values, it will be necessary for you to tackle your fear of rejection. From your letter, it sounds as though your belief that people will negatively evaluate you and reject you is holding you back in significant ways such as in being able to apply for jobs and form relationships. If you experience significant symptoms of anxiety such as:

  • feelings of panic, fear, or uneasiness
  • uncontrollable, obsessive thoughts
  • muscle tension
  • sweating/trembling
  • elevated heart rate/breathing
  • feelings of dizziness or nausea

when you think about or attempt to do things such as apply for jobs, I would recommend speaking with a licensed counselor or psychologist so that you can have help to work through these symptoms. If you do not experience significant anxiety, I would again encourage you to give yourself a reality check. What is the worst thing that could happen if you apply for a job or ask a girl out? Is it that they would reject you? Ok. What if they did? Where does this leave you? Pretty much in the same place you would be if you didn’t ask at all - without a job/girlfriend. But what if they said yes? By avoiding rejection you are also avoiding any opportunity for people to accept you. Why would people accept you? Because there is more to you than your looks.

You noted that one of your concerns is that people will not take you seriously. Again, people may develop preconceived notions of who you are based on your looks. That part may be unavoidable. However, instead of avoiding situations in which people may evaluate you, I encourage you to prove them wrong. In both a job and a potential relationship setting, this means acting maturely and being proactive, reliable, consistent, and true to who you are.

In the end, if you feel you cannot apply your values or cannot apply for jobs due to an unshakable feeling of depression or anxiety, I strongly recommend speaking with a licensed counselor or psychologist. Depression and anxiety are two of the most treatable difficulties a person can experience. Life can change for the better.

If you have questions that you would like answered by a mental health professional in the UAE, please write in to readers@gulfnews.com

Disclaimer: This blog is a conversation and is not an alternative for treatment. The recommendations and suggestions offered by our panel of doctors are their own and Gulf News will not take any responsibility for the advice they provide.