The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines confidence as:
1a: a feeling or consciousness of one’s powers or of reliance on one’s circumstances b: faith or belief that one will act in a right, proper, or effective way 2: the quality or state of being certain: certitude they had every confidence of success 3a: a relation of trust or intimacy b:reliance on another’s discretion c: support especially in a legislative body
Confidence is not a word anyone would have use to describe me in the first four decades of my life. As a kid I was so shy my younger sisters had to order for me in restaurants. In class, I wouldn’t put my hand up even if I knew the answer because nobody else did and the idea that I might know the answer when nobody else did was inconceivable.
Most importantly, it is not a word I would use to describe myself. My default position has always been that if something goes wrong, chances are good that it is my fault.
My lack of confidence in some ways has served a purpose. I have a healthy tendency for self-doubt, for looking at my motives critically and honestly. However, confidence and these traits are not mutually exclusive. My lack of confidence has meant that I have spent my whole life not trusting in myself.
And if I don’t trust myself, how can I trust others?
The biggest lesson I have learned in this, my fifth decade of existence, is that everything starts at home (don’t get me wrong- it shouldn’t end there. But it definitely begins with one’s own self). The way you think of yourself, the way you treat yourself, the manner in which you self-talk, and yes, the way you love yourself, is in direct proportion to the way you think of, treat, talk to and love others.
Confidence, I have come to realize, is a big piece of that puzzle.
False Beliefs I had about confidence:
- That you are born with it. Confident people were born that way, surely. They sprang out of the womb, knowing exactly who they are and what they are doing and trusting in themselves. The consequence of that belief is that it made confidence completely inaccessible to me, a word that is used to define other people, not myself.
- That it means you are conceited. If you are confident, that must mean you are cocky, right? Think Tom Cruise in Top Gun, or the emotionally infantile surgeons on Grey’s Anatomy. In some ways, I did not want to be defined as confident because in my head the word was synonymous with “too big for my britches”. If you were confident, chances are your head was probably overly-swollen. And thinking you are all that is a cardinal sin for women in this society.
- That confidence is a silo. It means you are more independent than everyone else, that you need people less. That you are somehow more self-sufficient than the rest of us mortals who depend on the mirror gaze of others to build our sense of self.
- That self-confidence and self-esteem are the same thing. They are not. Neel Burton, describes it well in his article for the Psychology Today Blog:
“”Confidence” comes from the Latin fidere, “to trust.” To be self-confident is to trust in oneself, and, in particular, in one’s ability or aptitude to engage successfully or at least adequately with the world. A self-confident person is ready to rise to new challenges, seize opportunities, deal with difficult situations, and take responsibility if and when things go awry… “Esteem” is derived from the Latin aestimare, meaning “to appraise, value, rate, weigh, estimate,” and self-esteem is our cognitive and, above all, emotional appraisal of our own worth. More than that, it is the matrix through which we think, feel, and act, and reflects and determines our relation to ourselves, to others, and to the world.”
I have always been confident that I could pass my classes, get a job, perform my various responsibilities competently. According to the definition above, I had more confidence in myself than I gave myself credit for.
What I didn’t have is self-esteem. Although I knew I could do those things, I had an underlying sense of being not enough, of having a part missing in me that makes me unlovable. Without self-esteem, all the successes I achieved through my confidence in my abilities were hollow because deep down I did not feel like I deserved them.
Confidence and self-esteem are a practice. This practice involves self-compassion and listening to yourself, two things women have been subtly trained to do for others but not themselves:
“ Kristin Neff, PhD, an associate professor of human development at the University of Texas at Austin and a pioneer in the study of selfcompassion, says that women’s instinct to protect those they love often trumps their own need for self-compassion. “Women tend to be a little less self-compassionate and more self-critical than men,” she says. “From an evolutionary perspective, this is because women are more threat-focused— focused on dangers in order to keep their babies alive and pass on their genes.” Women are also a lot more compassionate toward others than men are, Dr. Neff says. “The discrepancy between how women treat themselves and how they treat others is bigger than it is with men.” http://awomanshealth.com/self-compassion/
I woke up today and realized that I can now use the word “confident” to describe myself. Because it doesn’t mean I always think I’m right. Nor does it mean that I go through life throwing my weight around and thinking I’m all that, or that I don’t need anybody to help me through it (I do. We all do, hence A Village Well). It simply means that I have built up a “feeling or consciousness of [my] powers”.
Which brings me to self-esteem. I am slowly recovering from this feeling of “not enough”. It is the harder story to change, one that has been with me for as long as I can remember. It is a daily practice, one where I have relied on certain tools (see below) to help me shift my perspective. The work has been more than worth it, though: I am calmer, lighter, more trusting of myself. Above all, I can go through the world without this frantic panic of always having to do more, of always having to prove that I am worth loving. Instead, I use that energy to better engage with the world.
Tools for you Toolkit:
- A Village Well: Join our community! Check out our Calendar of Events, inquire about a mentor/mentee relationship and/or come to our conference in May. Our whole purpose is to support you!
- Mindfulness meditation: I use a guided meditation app called Breethe, but there are many. If you think you are that person that can’t sit still and be with your own thoughts, think again. Trust me, if I can meditate, anyone can. This gives you the mental space to be able to differentiate your thoughts and your emotional reactions to those thoughts.
- Books to Read: