When my clients tell me that they lack confidence, I usually ask: “When you think of a confident person, do you have a certain image in mind?”
These are some of their answers:
“Confident people walk with their head high, they dress well, they talk clearly. They don’t care what others think of them.”
“It depends on what situation you are talking about. You can be confident in some things but not in others.”
“Confident people can walk into a room where they don’t know anybody and not be shy.”
“It’s about being comfortable in your own skin. Liking who you are.”
“I just want to feel comfortable talking to strangers.”
“Somebody who isn’t worried about everything.”
“They can give a speech and not blush!”
“A confident person knows they can do things well.”
Not everybody means the same thing when they talk about confidence
This gives me an idea about what they mean when they talk about confidence. To some it means in a specific situation i.e. giving a speech, or attending a job interview. To others it is more general, more about how they feel about themselves as a whole.
To some it is simply the confidence to complete a job, to read a map, to pass an exam – or to know that once they acquire the necessary knowledge and skill they will be able to complete the task adequately.
We all suffer from insecurity or a lack of confidence at some stage of our lives. The most hardened, successful businessman could lose all sense of inner security when asking a beautiful woman out on a date! The underlying problem with all forms of anxiety is, of course, fear. It could be fear for personal safety, the fear of being alone, the fear of failure, the fear of death. By far the biggest fear, however, seems to be the fear of what other people will think!
The fear of criticism
The fear of criticism or disapproval affects us all in one way or another. It is simply the way our society works. As children we learn that certain behaviour gets approval, which makes us feel good; and certain behaviour gets disapproval, which makes us feel bad! We learn that we are often responsible for the feelings of others, which makes us feel guilty. Think of the parent who says “you make me sick!” or “look how you have upset me now!” or “you will be the death of me!” They don’t realise the harm that they are doing to the child’s feelings of self-worth.
In social situations we learn that it is more comfortable to belong than it is to be an outsider. We learn that being ridiculed or bullied in any way is hurtful. We learn to cope by avoiding, manipulating, people-pleasing, pretending not to care and many other coping strategies.
For most people these behaviours and vague insecurities are simply a part of our imperfect society and we live with them. However, when your anxiety, insecurity or defensiveness affects your relationships or the way you live your life, then it is time to do something about it.
If you are constantly avoiding situations because you don’t feel safe or secure enough, then you have a problem. If you are constantly worried, anxious or concerned with what others think of you, then you need some help. You may be suffering from social anxiety. If you are reacting with anger and defensiveness then you need some inner healing. If you hate yourself and feel unloved or not worth being loved, then you need to learn who you really are.
So how do you know if somebody is genuinely confident or just putting on a front?
I cringe when people go to seminars to learn to be confident. They learn to act confident, but their inner fear is still there and all they have learned is another technique to hide behind. They simply add to the myth that confident people act in a certain way (bold and extroverted, which is not what confidence is about at all!) Having said that, there is such a thing as “fake it until you make it!” It is a great plaster while you are working on the real deal.
Confident people like and accept themselves and it shows! A loud voice, arrogance or bossiness does not mean a person has self-esteem. It means they are cocky!
I believe that people who are genuinely confident have self-esteem. They are balanced do care about what others think or say, but only because they care about themselves and others, not because they fear rejection. They are not necessarily taking centre stage. They may prefer to listen or prefer to talk. They may be leaders or followers. A confident person listens to criticism with an open mind. They evaluate it and decide what is relevant and what isn’t. They value their own opinions, but not so much that they can’t see when improvement would help them in some way.
The confident person may be the one who greets you at the door, or the one standing quietly in a corner or the person speaking from the platform. You will know a confident person because they are comfortable with themselves; you feel good around them. They don’t intimidate you and neither do they make you work too hard to get to know them. You don’t feel as if you are walking on egg-shells too scared to say the wrong thing for fear of offending their sensitivities.
They are not afraid to be open about their feelings and emotions. They are not afraid that you will get too close. They are not afraid of what others think.
The mind is a wonderful slave, but a terrible master! In order to be the master of our lives and destinies, we must first become master of our own minds!