BEL MOONEY: At 57, I’m crippled by feeling I’ve been a failure 

Dear Bel,

MY problem is lifelong low self-esteem. I’m 57 and have tried to overcome it, but feel I haven’t achieved as much in my life as I could have done. Always shy and introverted (as my early home life wasn’t that happy), I remember being happy before puberty but not since then.

Failing the 11-plus knocked my self-esteem as my sister had passed to go to grammar school. I hated secondary school; it was horrible and I didn’t do well — maths was a huge stumbling block.

Thought of the day 

My friend’s grandparents married

Three weeks after they first met . . .

. . . I think about them when I need reminding

Sometimes we have to take risks.

From There is Handholding Still by John Osborne (poet and scriptwriter, b 1981).

When I failed my CSE I was so embarrassed. I was horrible to my best friend when comparing results — and we were never in touch again. I wanted someone to sit me down and give support, but all my parents did was argue. They’re both dead now.

I’m happily married to a man who deserves a medal for putting up with me!

We have two daughters — one is married and expecting a baby soon, which I’ll probably get to look after. The other has moderate learning difficulties which has been a challenge in the past but is better. Now at home after college, she lacks confidence and sometimes it’s a struggle to get her out of the door.

Employment has never worked out for me. I can get jobs but can’t keep them — which increases my low self-esteem.

I’d like to work but lack the confidence to try again.

I’m an Avon rep and have joined groups — walking, ‘knit and natter’, litter picking etc.

I have also volunteered for a charity for ten years which was good. But I wanted to pass my maths exam level 2 to try to move forward in life, but that didn’t work due to exam stress.

I feel I don’t fit in as I don’t work. When people ask me what I do, the reply, ‘a housewife’ seems embarrassing. I’m very lucky in that my family and I are close and I know they love me which does really help. I’ve visited places and done things that I’ve always wanted to do, but I still feel inadequate.

I know my low self-esteem holds me back but I don’t know which direction to take. I keep failing, so any advice would be very much appreciated.


This week Bel advises a shy woman who has suffered from lifelong low self-esteem and confidence

This week Bel advises a shy woman who has suffered from lifelong low self-esteem and confidence

This week Bel advises a shy woman who has suffered from lifelong low self-esteem and confidence

This problem will mystify some readers and resonate with others. Many people reach middle age feeling life hasn’t delivered.

Small failures along the way loom larger as time passes — but having said that, few people would still be agonising about silly old maths CSE at the age of 57, so I think we need to look closer at why you have been dogged by this ‘lifelong low self-esteem’.

Your home life was clearly unhappy. A child continually upset by quarrelling parents can grow up to feel intensely insecure — because you never know when it will blow up next. You may feel their moods are somehow your fault, so want all the more to please them. 


More from Bel Mooney for the Daily Mail…

Then if you think you have let them down (failing the 11-plus) and if those feelings are never discussed sympathetically, if reassurance is never given, then the stage is set for a lifetime of wistful unease in which all challenges may be avoided, in case they lead to more failure.

Yes, many readers will recognise those feelings. But others will be wondering why it is all still bothering you to this extent. I’m thinking of people who do not have the good fortune of a happy marriage. You are loved and you know it. You are also about to become a grandmother. Those gifts should count for a lot — and I hope you realise that.

Yes, you’ve had problems with one of your daughters — but let me tell you, many parents will read that and say, ‘Welcome to our club.’ It’s how life is (or has been) for many of us who have also seen great change.

I’m not saying that to put you down, just to remind you not to give up hope (about your daughter), nor judge with such determined negativity a life others might envy. And what about saying you have never been happy as an adult — only to tell us about your marriage and that you have ‘done things I’ve always wanted to do’.

Look in the mirror and tell yourself that you are lucky. Please. Yet you’re still worrying about pesky maths! Listen, I failed maths O-level and didn’t look back.

And why be ‘embarrassed’ about not having a job? There’s nothing at all wrong with it — especially if you expand your volunteering. This is the direction in which you can ‘go forward’. I should probably counsel therapy for inadequacy, etc — but for now, just try folding your fingers in front of you (in prayer/determination) and repeating aloud, ‘I am enough.’

Why have friends ignored my grief?

Dear Bel,

I’m in a quandary. Years ago, a good, long-standing friend of mine never acknowledged my parents’ passing, in any way at all.

Not a word. Yet I was always there for her with my love and support when things went wrong. I try to be like that with all my other friends, too, as I feel it’s in my DNA to be sensitive if that doesn’t sound too strange.

But now that sense of real sadness and disappointment has happened again — with a different, long-standing friend.

A close young relative passed away within my family, and so naturally I messaged this friend. Not a peep came back until late that evening — and she does normally answer straight away. It was just a little text to ask how I was.

Am I being unreasonable to think my friend should have said more and shown she was there for me — as I was (and still am) very emotional and upset?

I know I would have done much more for her had the situation been reversed. Friends I’ve known only a short time have shown more support.


WHAT a sad loss this is (especially because your relative was young), and I am so sorry for you and the rest of your family.

I chose your short letter this week because it speaks of a subject very close to my heart: bereavement.

What’s more, it’s a topic which comes back and back again to this page, because each time somebody loses a loved one (every single day, of course) you can be sure they are likely to be disappointed by the response of somebody they know.

Unless you are very, very lucky this will happen — and I’m afraid it must be endured.

In all the years that I have been writing and broadcasting about bereavement (since 1976, in fact) the anecdotes have flooded in: the neighbour who crossed the road to avoid talking to you, the warm acquaintance who skulked behind a rack in a clothing store, the in-laws who had a gift delivered in a taxi rather than call in person (that happened to me), the blokes who fell briefly silent in the pub when you walked in and then started talking about the football with grim determination, the old friend who much later explained sheepishly she hadn’t been in touch because she ‘didn’t know what to say’.

And so on. Each story might sound trivial, yet it reveals appalling shallows of insensitivity and selfishness in those who failed, and depths of hurt in those who were grieving.

To readers in general, let me give you advice you have not asked for. If somebody you know suffers the loss of a loved one, do not send a text or an email.

If you are local, pay a visit — even if only to leave flowers and a note on the doorstep. If you are at a distance, pick up the phone. Or take paper and a pen and write a proper letter, because you will find that is treasured more than anything.

If you have no idea what to say, just find some uplifting words online (there are plenty out there) and copy them out. People need a death to be acknowledged. Somebody who walked this earth does so no longer — and that matters. Please remember it.

The only way to cope, Mary, is to try to explain the neglect away in terms of terror. Yes, people are so terrified of their own mortality they run screaming from the skull in the mirror — that death’s head of Halloween that was ‘celebrated’ a week ago.

It’s such an irony, that October 31 has become another yearly commerce-fest when people are happy with a horror-show of skulls, blood, ghosts, graves and spiders — and yet those same people are probably incapable of coping with the real thing.

No matter how attitudes to death seem to have changed, no matter how many bereavement counsellors try to help, loss will always be a lonely thing.

You long to be asked questions, to share memories, to feel the arm about your shoulders which says, ‘I know how you feel and really sympathise.’

But if (when?) those you care for fail to give you the support you need, there is no alternative but to expect and accept. Otherwise you would drown in your own tears.

So I am suggesting that you feel glad of the attention from those newer friends who have been kind, but think of the perceived neglect you have endured from others as part of the human condition.

This isn’t about being kind to them but about sparing yourself sadness and stress. Because you have enough already, don’t you?

So onwards, one step at a time — in the knowledge that those we have loved and lost walk beside us all the way, urging us silently to live our lives in beauty for their sake.

And finally… Hatred for the elderly is poisonous

This column is no place for anger, yet many of you tell me you feel as if you really know me — so why should I deceive you by hiding my feelings?

The young are forever talking about ‘triggers’ that offend. Well, I’ve been well and truly triggered and feel like a gangster’s moll with a six-shooter in my stocking!

It was a young woman called Joanna Jarjue who did it. She ‘starred’ in The Apprentice but who would promote somebody so intolerant and out of date?

Jarjue argued on TV that people over 70 shouldn’t have the vote. Indeed, a new survey has shown that 47 per cent of those aged 16-34 are in favour of banning over-70s from the franchise. Can you believe this?

Contact Bel 

Bel answers readers’ questions on emotional and relationship problems each week.

Write to Bel Mooney, Daily Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT, or email

A pseudonym will be used if you wish.

Bel reads all letters but regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence.

Since the EU referendum there has been a surge in nasty ageism — and not just among the young. The novelist Ian McEwan (71) has joked about the death of the elderly idiots who voted Leave — hooray, he thinks, more for Remain.

Leftist journalists have piled in with similar contempt. For a time, there was even a website tracking how many old Brexit voters had died since 2016.

My colleague Richard Littlejohn is fond of saying ‘you couldn’t make it up’ and boy, is he right! This hatred for the elderly is poisonous.

I write ‘elderly’ but these people are talking about me. And many of you. And Helen Mirren and Keith Richards.

Will fascistic youngsters in jackboots come to take us all to be euthanised? Our accumulated wisdom, strength, experience and sheer bloody style only fit for the knacker’s yard? That’s in contrast to hapless millennials who are ignorant of the timing, reasons and pain of World War II.

The point is, this attitude is so damned uncool. ‘Woke’ folk like Jarjue bleat endlessly about ‘diversity’ — but only the kind that suits them.

They are as blinkered as 19th- century toffs, with no excuse of different times. Prejudice is not a good look. Makes you sound like your great-great-grandad.