What Confidence Is and Is Not
By Joyce Shafer
What do you believe confidence is? Maybe you're right, and maybe you'll be surprised.
Maybe you, like many, confuse confidence with competence. And that's understandable because you're advised to enhance your skills, knowledge, and expertise, and presto: The confident you will emerge and flourish. Well, in a way. You would feel confident about what you know and can do, but would you absolutely feel overall confidence as an individual? Not necessarily. Competence does not guarantee confidence. Confidence based on competence alone can be shaken the moment something goes off-kilter or you enter unfamiliar "territory".
When confidence is low, we don't feel and really aren't fully present in whatever moment we find ourselves in. When confidence is low, our thoughts are wrapped up in anxiety, usually with garbage from the past and fears about the future vying for equal time. And amid that thought chaos, we're busy thinking or worrying about what we'll say or do rather than listening to what's being said or observing what's going on, and responding appropriately for us and according to what's happening right then.
If you're someone who feels you lack confidence or could use more, or know someone who feels this way, notice that when doing something interesting, engaging, or relaxing, confidence isn't a concern. So when is it an issue? Any time there's concern about what others will think about you.
Augusten Burroughs wrote: "Unscripted, unedited, and wholly authentic people are almost universally admired, especially if they have flaws, are not afraid to make live, red-blooded mistakes, and rather than trying are busy simply being." Isn't it interesting that people with these traits are admired and seen as confident when these traits are the very ones we're discouraged from or even punished for demonstrating? Burroughs also said that when you desire more confidence, what you really desire is to control what others think about you. Let's look at one reason low confidence may be an issue for so many.
Low confidence may have its origin from one "technique" parents and other authority figures use with children to get them to behave a particular way: They use shame instead of validation or guidance. Validation or guidance may take time and energy, or be a totally unfamiliar process for them, having been shamed themselves as children. Shame is a high-speed road to confidence issues. Even if the words "You should be ashamed" weren't used, that message was implicit in whatever criticism was (or is) given. And, those shamed as children grow into adults who mimic this technique, as well.
Shame becomes like a garment worn into adulthood, one that covers or shrouds the authentic self who, as Burroughs stated, makes mistakes and keeps going, unimpeded by the opinions of others. Self-esteem or confidence issues stem from feeling some level of shame about being you, seeded by someone else's disappointment or disapproval expressed to you. More often than not, their disappointment or disapproval was way more about them and their issues than about you. "What will people think about ME if you do that (don't do that, look like that, etc.)?!" is often, but not solely, motivation for shaming rather than guiding. Ingrained feelings of shame lead people and their lives, but not in the direction they desire.
Shame causes you to believe you can't do certain things or shouldn't attempt them because "somebody" (other than you) may or will disapprove or be disappointed, especially if your attempt doesn't have "perfect" results. Perfectionism blocks your ability to be creative and authentic. It denies your right to be uniquely you, to make mistakes and grow from them, to feel more fearless about discovery and exploration of who you are and what you can make of your life.
Are you beginning to connect how fear of being you, possibly or probably seeded by being taught shame, could affect your confidence and self-esteem? If you don't trust your self, what can you trust? Confidence isn't about always knowing the answer or doing the exact right thing, it's about knowing you'll seek and find an answer and are willing to learn and live who you are and came here to be.
Low confidence - confidence being that deep, true connection with your authentic self - is why many procedures and processes like plastic surgery, weight loss, and makeovers don't always create the lasting feeling inside that the person hoped for. In fact, a study showed that the people who do feel good about themselves and continue to do so after such changes felt good about themselves before the change. They were also a very small percentage of those who underwent such changes.
It seems then that many of the externals we change or seek to are attempts to arrive at one thing: To feel good about being ourselves. We mistakenly think part of what will create that feeling for us is to do whatever it takes to make others approve of us. We chase our own tails with this one. If we feel good about ourselves, there will be people who enjoy or appreciate us for who we are. Maybe not everyone will feel that way about us, but getting everyone's approval is a waste of energy and is unrealistic. It also puts us last instead of first, where we need to be if we're to live our best life.
It's time to acknowledge there is and ever will be only one of you. Stephen Greliet wrote something that may be familiar to you: "I shall not pass this way again..." Whether you believe in reincarnation or you don't, who you are in this lifetime will never happen again. It may take time to take root, but remind yourself of this unique-you fact each day and as often as needed.
Confidence isn't a show, despite that we've believed it is. It isn't about being competent, though competence can lead to satisfaction within us. Confidence is about being at home with yourself and your right to your place in the world. It's about being present with your self, being in the moment, and doing what's appropriate and fulfilling for you and your process of self-discovery, rather than focused predominantly or only on the opinions of others. Ask yourself what feels right and true for you. Apply this question to topics, areas, and moments of your life, and do this at a steady, gradual pace. Discover and embrace how much there is to appreciate about you and life. It's a good practice.
Practice makes progress.
Joyce Shafer is a Life Empowerment Coach dedicated to helping people feel, be, and live their true inner power. She's author of "I Don't Want to be Your Guru" and other books/ebooks, and publishes a free weekly online newsletter that offers empowering articles and free downloads. See all that's offered by Joyce on her site at State of Appreciation.