Conversations about confidence began with questions I saw on LinkedIn about self-confidence. The answers I gave surprised me. Whilst writing them I realised I felt more self-assured and confident than perhaps ever before in my life and I decided to open the conversation to others in order to understand more. I’ve been reflecting upon the healing journey that brought me to this contented place and how differently I have felt. If you read to the end there’s a free offer that might interest you, which is open to the first 10 people that contact me before Friday 19th June.
Back when I was terrified…
My response surprised me because there was a time in my life when I regularly experienced terrifying panic attacks whenever I was about to speak in front of a group. A time when I felt sick and faint just thinking about it, which was fairly ironic as I used to run anxiety management groups as a psychiatric nurse years before. The attacks were at their worst whilst I was in the midst of teaching part-time courses in Higher Education, not an ideal combination as you can imagine.
How did this happen to me?
There were a number of factors that led to this lack of self-confidence, probably the most relevant was a long-term toxic relationship that nearly brought me to my knees, I was at my lowest ebb and tried so hard to pretend to the world and myself that I was OK. The first time I experienced an attack I managed to divert attention away from myself and bluff my way out of it. When I look back I think this probably just served to drive my fears even deeper but aren’t things always clearer with hindsight? I wish now that I had trusted the people I was with and been honest about how I felt but instead I went through years of ‘managing’ my fears, which actually meant I got really good at hiding them. The thing is, nobody really knew what I was going through, except for a few close friends that I confided in and those who helped me through. I was the typical ‘swan’, seeming to effortlessly glide on the surface but paddling like mad underneath. Does this sound familiar?
I am self-confident in most areas of my life. I feel more at one with myself, satisfied and yet open to more. In fairness, I’ve spent most of my life exploring and expanding in order to be where I am now. It’s not been an easy journey but it’s been well worth it to me. I would say that I’m largely free of the limiting beliefs I once held and the pain they created, though I’m also mindful of the need to stay centred and balanced to avoid spiralling in the other direction again (down the rabbit hole is what I sometimes call it). I can tell you that my confidence didn’t come from bravado or toughing it out, it came from allowing myself to be vulnerable, from acknowledging my fears, from being incredibly gentle and patient with myself and slowly breaking free from my comfort zone.
You either walk inside your story and own it or you stand outside your story and hustle for your worthiness.Brené
Below are the questions I asked on my Facebook page. The responses have been honest, heartfelt and illuminating and the process seems to have inspired many others to find the courage to want more.
- What does self-confidence mean to you?
- Do you have it?
- What did it take for you to feel self-confident?
- If you don’t have it, what’s in your way?
Why not take a moment to ask yourself these questions?
What get’s in the way of confidence?
I believe that during childhood we do our best to make sense of the world around us. When situations occur (that we don’t necessarily understand) we allocate meaning to those events in an attempt to understand what occurred and where we stand in relation to that. A simple example for me would be the birth of my brother when I was around 5 years old, I was the youngest at that time, with a sister 15 months older than me. So what do you think I could possibly make up about that? I felt I wasn’t good enough, that I wasn’t lovable, I think it also set up an atmosphere of competition between me and my siblings (as if there wasn’t enough love to go around). Was this real? Well, it felt real to me and that’s all that was important. Feeling this way over time translated into beliefs I adopted about the world and my place in it. The added danger here is that as humans we tend to look for evidence that supports our beliefs. The ideas/beliefs we have about ‘how the world is’ are like filters through which we see everything else that happens. When we’ve gathered enough evidence this then becomes our story/narrative, our paradigm and before long we are stuck in ‘the way things are’. Does any of this sound familiar? Does it make sense to you?
I’m not suggesting that some situations aren’t very real and toxic/dangerous/abusive for some children growing up (and I’m by no means minimising the experiences some have) but I didn’t have abusive parents, they weren’t perfect but they also weren’t awful, they did their best and yet I ended up in quite a pickle, collecting several debilitating insecurities along the way.
The other thing we tend to do is repeat our patterns and further reinforce ‘the way things are’. Have you noticed that? The way we attract similar relationships or life-events and end up in the same familiar place? I think we repeat patterns in an attempt to get a different result but this is futile if we don’t, 1) understand our beliefs/patterns and 2) have the resources necessary to avoid the same pitfalls.
So if we don’t have confidence, how do we get it?
Confidence begins with vulnerability, with that awareness and acceptance of not feeling OK. From that place, we can find the courage to examine, explore and expand beyond our comfort zone. We challenge the beliefs we have about what’s ‘right’ and ‘how things are’.
Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage. People who wade into discomfort and vulnerability and tell the truth about their stories are the real badasses.”Brené Brown
Comfort Zone v Prison
Our comfort zone feels safe but the truth is it just like a straight jacket and it gets smaller and smaller until life is squeezed out of us and we end up in a prison of fear.
The role of coaching to support the process
15 years ago I studied co-active coaching with CTI and a year later I joined their Leadership programme in America, these were pivotal experiences for me. In coaching, we ask powerful questions, just like the ones I started this blog with. These questions are designed to encourage reflection, to bring awareness and insight. We explore perspectives and actively encourage people to try alternatives (a bit like trying on a new coat or hat) to see how it fits and what it might look and feel like. We allow people to imagine possibilities (alternatives that were always present that they otherwise couldn’t see). We consider their values, and whether these are serving them, or not. We encourage clarity of vision, i.e. what they truly want in life and whether they are aligned to this or constantly sabotaging their own efforts. And it takes a whole lot of love, gentleness, acceptance and openness. It requires courage and letting go.
Is it worth it? Hell yes! It’s a journey to freedom, confidence and contentment. You can read more about coaching here.
Healing through the body
Most of us are familiar with the fight or flight response to trauma or acute stress. My teacher, John F Barnes explains the third possibility, known as the freeze response. This freeze is witnessed in animals who are caught and pinned down by their prey (think of a rabbit in headlights). They survive by creating a state of immobility via a surge of simultaneous activity from the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. Only when the threat is passed do they begin to move, then they literally shake and do whatever it takes to discharge this frozen energy i.e. they thaw. Humans can have the same freeze response but rarely do they allow their bodies to complete the process with the thaw, which results in the energy of the trauma getting stuck in the body in subconscious holding patterns, as we are bracing against what might possibly occur again. JFB MFR is a remarkable therapy that allows clients to reconnect to past mind and body traumas, allowing for these bracing patterns to be released and healing to occur. Freeing trauma through the fascial system is a profoundly liberating experience. I have experienced this in training with John, in treatments and through working with him in his clinic and my own. Read more in John’s article here and read more about MFR treatment available in my clinic.
Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.Andre Gide
Now let’s hear from others who contributed to the conversation. I hope you enjoy reading and please add your own voice in the comments, we all benefit from sharing.
Conversation number 1
“Self-confidence is the feeling that you are validated and understood… that you have worth and something to share… that you may just be right!”
Do you need to feel as if you’re ‘right’ in order to feel confident? Does it always depend on others validating you?
“Feeling ‘right’ is just the way I’d describe it…it does not always depend on others but validation from others at some point is a great help… I don’t always feel the need to be right… I feel most confident when I feel included… but self-confidence can come from within myself… self-confidence might be about being sure and not doubting yourself too much… Now, I’ll be thinking of this all day… !!!”
“Such insights! I’m going to ponder it myself. I wonder if age has something to do with it? Or rather, enough life experience to have made a difference. Not that all older people are more confident!“
“I think when I was younger I was more confident… or appeared to be!”
“I only had bravado when I was younger and it was a very thin crust at that.”
“I remember when I first arrived in England… I was so confident and brave… and people thought so, too… but that was also very fragile and temporary… Maybe we have to lose confidence in order to grow… I love how you describe it as a crust…I gain and lose confidence all the time… when I have confidence I give more of my inner true self and love… when I lose confidence I hide… it’s an interesting concept…”
Conversation number 2
“I find I’m confident with tasks/actions /relationships when I feel I’m good at it and I feel appreciated. When I like the process or end result. So for example with restoring furniture/crochet I like it for the process and for the end result, I feel confident without people commenting. That comes I suppose from watching others doing projects, browsing for what I like etc. Having learnt the skill. And of course, comes from my personality. In jobs, confidence comes with experience for me, but also from the ethics and feeling what’s right. Like in my breastfeeding supporter, experience, continued development and a big part is my personality. I’m able to relate to families, the job comes with big ethics of helping /supporting others. Absolutely what I believe in. So I’m confident to say I’m good at it. Speaking out or assertiveness, for me depends on the relationship I have with the person, how well I know them and the context of the situation. And lastly, it does depend big time on people who surround me. Difficult not to care what others think. Being liked and appreciated is one hard to avoid…”
“I love your detailed answer. So what would you say is your edge (as far as confidence goes), what’s the boundary where you’re still growing?”
‘Assertiveness, so for me to choose me first and not to feel guilty I say no to others.”
Conversation number 3
“For me, conscious self-confidence is tied to feeling in control, of my self, of situations etc. But passive self-consciousness comes from being in situations when I’m not in control and ‘running blind’ truly being in the moment, trusting that I know what to do and doing it. Afterwards, there’s usually lots of anxiety about whether or not I did the right thing. I am slowly moving away from this, to a place of analysis and ultimately deciding I did what I could and what felt right /thought was right at the time and if anyone what’s to say anything they can jog on.
I’m not sure it’s an age thing more a knowing your self and believing in that self, I place I’ve been before. I think that age brings the knowledge people will judge no matter what and so you give yourself permission to not give a damn, to do you.
With kindness, compassion and certainty xxx”
“You’re so wise! I am now quite comfortable in that unknowing place, I’ve only been able to realise this fact within the lockdown experience. I also realise my basic needs aren’t in jeopardy, which must make that a lot easier! I often think of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs on that one. I love the fact that you’re processing everything as you go and noticing the changes.”
“Thank you for your kindness, you are an inspiration to myself and many others, giving guidance and nurturing always with love. I’m finding my way, I’ve had lots of wobbles throughout lockdown, and I’m now more comfortable doing what’s best for me and my family and speaking my truth, all while accepting others truths, letting them be…”
Conversation number 4
“For me, it’s the belief that I have the right to be in a place /situation etc. despite others thinking I don’t. Occasionally to achieve this I have to play the role of a more confident exterior than I am on the inside.”
“Thank you for responding…I appreciate your perspective. Who are the ‘others’”
“Family, colleagues, friends. (sadly). By nature I am actually a very shy person. However I realised when I left home at 18 that if I was to achieve my goals and ambitions and dreams I would need a self confident version of myself that could achieve these. Otherwise I would just stay in the background and be pushed into others (as above) version of what my life should be.”
Conversation number 5
“Being able to say what you really think in any situation if you want to.”
“I would definitely say you have that X factor, I’ve seen you do that.”
Conversation number 6
What an interesting question!… To be comfortable both with the choices one makes and also with an acceptance that further choices may need to be made, if necessary, to achieve whatever goal one was attempting to move towards, or indeed to reframe or replace that goal but at no point to confuse the comfort in accepting the consequences of our choices with crossing the line towards blind arrogance…”
“I like that! Perhaps your own adversities have helped?”
“I’m sure we continue to learn things along the way that help us develop an ability to consider the bigger picture and enable a more informed choice – admittedly, I’m sure we have differing levels of receptiveness to these lessons at times!”
Conversation number 7
“Knowing that you have flaws yet appreciating yourself.
Believing that you are enough.
Acknowledging/understanding other people’s opinions but not worrying about what other people think, therefore being free to do what you believe is right for you without worrying what people think.
Having the ability to say no sometimes.
Just believing in yourself and the decisions you make, even though you know you’ll sometimes make mistakes and forgiving yourself when you do make mistakes. Also knowing that you are equal to, not above or below, any other person.”
“That all resonates. Do you think some people have more of that inherently? Or perhaps their upbringing helps foster this?”
“I think either/or. Probably more upbringing on balance though but some people can also overcome any disadvantages given the right support later. I think a loving supportive environment is one of the most important things for self-confidence. This may be while growing up or later in life. Some people can manage to overcome any disadvantages on their own but I think that would be difficult and take a lot of work/determination/strength.”
And a few more comments
“On a good day, I can conquer the world, on a bad day I tend to hide, but has long as the good days outnumber the bad ones I feel like I’m winning.”
“Inner strength and peace… handling situation who aren’t nice to you and moving on… not being the victim!”
“In a simple way, it’s knowing that you’re good enough and believing it.”
“I’ve always wanted to be self-confident but I don’t think I am. I am terribly self-critical and very hard on myself. I appear very outwardly confident and extroverted but can often be very anxious underneath.”
“Courage to be who you are, connection to your skills and having the experience to connect with them, which then gives you confidence. Self-worth derived form just knowing who you are and being okay with it instead of your value being linked to something you do, say, have to be for others.”
“Knowing and understanding my own thoughts and feelings … And being happy to freely express and share those articulately with others… A way off that though.”
“To me… the courage to say ‘no’, the willingness to accept to be wrong, the openness to learn, the courage to follow my own belief, the acceptance that we are all different. It took a long time…Life and expériences I guess…but, even today, self confidence is not always easy or present. A journey…”
“To me it means to trust in myself, its about authenticity to be ‘in’ how you really feel and have a certainty in your own convictions and value. It has always wavered for me, it has taken a year or so of talking therapy to get it back to the good place that it is in now, after being managed by a very subtelly destructive person at work.”
“I am confident in my self x Massive ego (mostly in check) Bigger Heart (and growing) Cold as stone (my brethren). Seriously though…The stones and the water underneath. Strength & Fluidity from a combo of nature & nurture (at any point)”
Thank you for reading to the end, here’s the offer I promised
The first 10 people who contact me via email, will be given a FREE 30-minute coaching session within the next 2 weeks. It doesn’t have to be about confidence, it can be any topic you need to explore. Get in touch by completing the form on my contact page and let’s see how I can serve you.