The issue of confidence is one of the major issues clients come to my practice with. The funny thing is, they often want to feel more confident yet don’t make the connection between that and self-worth. But quickly it becomes clear that they entertain thoughts and feelings of ‘not good enough’; whether for a dream job, a relationship, business, financial success or anything else.
Confidence is essential for all areas of life, for pretty much everything. You need it for learning. It’s necessary for productive and healthy communication, whether personal or professional. It’s crucial for professional performance, for influencing others, for dealing with challenges, for decision making and action taking. You need confidence in order to deal with unwanted or uncomfortable events or experiences. Being confident and able to express your self-worth is also attractive. It creates trust and belief in you, it brings more opportunity, it helps to inspire others and it can be self-rewarding in that you feel you’ve contributed value in some way.
“Confidence is the only key. I can’t think of any better representation of beauty than someone who is unafraid to be herself.” ~ Emma Stone
Your confidence is tied to your self-esteem and self-worth, though they’re not the same. What determines your confidence are your beliefs about what you’re good at or what you’re capable of doing, or by some value you feel you can offer others. This is why confidence is something that often grows and develops over time as you continue to learn, gain more experience or master more skills and you feel you’ve got more to offer or that you’re more prepared to face an experience or event. You can work specifically on things you’re less good at life to increase confidence in those areas. Having a strong sense of self-worth and esteem naturally helps to have more confidence and to be able to increase confidence in the less-confident areas, by having the positive belief that you’re able to get better at something or able to achieve something.
People with low self-worth naturally have a lack of belief in themselves and therefore lower levels of confidence too. Without empowering beliefs, confidence is harder and slower to build, though still very much possible, particularly when it’s focused on certain skills you can simply learn. Gaining more confidence can help to strengthen your sense of self-esteem, but this isn’t always the case. Having confidence in certain areas of your life doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve got a sense of high self-worth. For example, you may feel confident about public speaking and giving great presentations at work, but once outside the office you might feel unlovable and like you’ve got nothing to give or to be liked for. You might be aware that you’re intellectually gifted but for whatever reason you feel like you’re failing at life. Or you might be confident about your healthy and fulfilling relationships but feel that professional success will never come your way. You might be easily able to express confidence using different skills or talents you’ve got, but you feel like you need to hide other parts yourself in order to be accepted or approved of, or maybe that you’re not as good as others.
So even though low self-esteem usually means lower confidence, higher levels of confidence don’t always mean higher levels of self-esteem. Self-worth is different to confidence in that it’s not at all tied to abilities, skills, talents or value that you can ‘provide’. Self-worth is about self-love and knowing you have value, for no reason at all. You have value and you matter, simply for being here. This is independent of anything else. It’s about liking and accepting yourself for who you are; both strengths and weaknesses included.
Causes of low self-worth and confidence
These can be varied. Most come from childhood or early experiences, but also from ongoing social and cultural structures or interactions.
“No-one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt
Criticism or rejection
This can be from parents, family, friends, peers or colleagues. If this has been a repeated experience, you will have most likely developed some negative beliefs about yourself, buying into what you’ve been told.
Particularly childhood trauma, making it hard to trust or interact with others while having a (subconscious) sense or belief that ‘it was my fault’ or ‘I deserved it’.
Goals you haven’t achieved (yet)
Perfectionism may have something to do with it or maybe you expect too much of yourself or set unrealistic goals. Maybe you’re comparing yourself to others, or it could be that you simply haven’t achieved your goals yet as they’re still to come. It’s also possible you’ve been pushing your goals away somehow. But perceiving this as a ‘failure’ increases your feelings of inferiority and unworthiness.
Constantly telling you what you should be like; what you should have, what you should look like, what you should be achieving or should have already achieved or how to behave in order to be attractive or successful. This also makes you feel inadequate or inferior.
Social media and comparison to others
You’re then fed with even more unrealistic images of what others choose to present to the world in order to fit in with what’s perceived as the ideal. Forgetting that this is a completely unreal show of people’s lives and selves (who are most likely looking for others’ approval themselves and that’s why they’re posting), you then continue to compare yourself to others and feel even more inadequate. If it’s not social media, then you still compare yourself to others in other ways and to what you perceive as their achievements and successes.
The world around you
So much shit going on, and you might feel like there’s nothing you can do to change things, and at times it feels like it’s doing its best to put you down, to make you feel worthless, helpless and powerless.
But whatever the causes might be, underlying all these are just three simple factors:
Our usual star misbehaving feeling. Fear of criticism, of rejection and generally what others think of you as you want to belong, be accepted, acknowledged, liked, loved, approved of or applauded. You might think that fear of failure is a separate matter but in fact the concept of ‘failure’ wouldn’t exist without the negative judgement or evaluation we attach to it and which we want to avoid.
As always, these determine your experience. Beliefs you hold about yourself; who you are and what your limitation are will inevitably create more of the same experiences which have created these beliefs…you feed them and on them… it’s a vicious cycle.
Thinking you’re not good enough
This can be conscious but more often it’s subconscious. You feel that you’re not worthy enough. This feeling of unworthiness can be an elusive one as you might think this isn’t relevant to your lack of confidence or self-belief in a certain area. But having a closer look, you’ll find that somewhere the doubtful mind is telling you that the goals you’re after are somehow ‘reserved’ for someone else who’s better suited or more deserving. Or that success happens to some, but not to you.
“The ‘self-image’ is the key to human personality and human behaviour. Change the self image and you change the personality and the behaviour. Low self-esteem is like driving through life with your hand-brake on. Accept yourself as you are. Otherwise you will never see opportunity. You will not feel free to move toward it; you will feel you are not deserving.” ~ Maxwell Maltz
So how can you increase your confidence and self-worth?
This is the first thing you need to do, as always. No one else is going to give it to you. I repeat; no one else will ever be able to give it to you. Not at this point. When you were a baby or a child then yes, you first came along with a healthy sense of self and then your specific upbringing and experiences either helped to strengthen it or they took away and weakened it. But you’re not a child anymore, and blaming whatever circumstances, as easy as it may seem, won’t get you anywhere. You need to realise that no one can hand you self-belief or love. You might have moments, when others have shown you appreciation, respect, love or kindness which have raised your confidence, but again confidence is not the same as self-worth and though it may be constructive, that kind of confidence may on the other hand end up being tied to specific skills, situations or people.
“If you don’t know your own worth and value, don’t expect someone else to calculate it for you.” ~ Unknown
Let go of the fear of judgement, criticism and rejection
You simply need to learn to give much less of a shit and not let people’s negative stuff in. You’re living your own journey and not anyone else’s. Just as they are living their own and not yours. You can also be sure in that much of what you see is not as it appears as everybody else is also constantly worrying about others’ opinions and so they’re only showing what they think is acceptable. Even those who come across as ‘rebelling’ against this and who like to accentuate their ‘individuality’ are most often looking for attention or admiration through that.
I know that this and ‘just be yourself’ might sound a bit banal and we love to say it in words, post inspirational quotes about it or teach it to the next generation, but in fact – it’s still people’s greatest fear. In fact, did you know that public-speaking is almost year in and year out ranked as people’s top fear, higher than death? Fear of public speaking is of course the most physical and specific situation of fear of what others might think of you, and it’s ranked as worse than death… as Jerry Seinfeld once put it – if you had to speak about a deceased in their funeral, you’d basically prefer to be in their coffin instead. So just mind your own business and remember you will be in that coffin one day.
“Discard all thoughts of reward, all hopes of praise and fears of blame, all awareness of one’s bodily self. And, finally, [close] the avenues of sense perception and let the spirit out, as it will.” ~ Bruce Lee
Compare yourself to no one
Remember that what others share and show the world is often not the real or whole story and that most people struggle problems and with the same human issues of insecurities, uncertainties and the search for peace, meaning and fulfillment, and this is regardless of how big their house is, how many holidays they take or how successful they seem to be in whatever way. In the end, non of it matters without a healthy state of mind or if they don’t feel good about themselves.
But beyond this – remember that your story is different. It’s incomparable. Everybody’s got their own story and they’re all valid. In the end, they’re all just stories. Just because something has usually been done in one way doesn’t mean you have to do or experience it the same way. Just because you’re fed with ideas about what one should achieve by a certain time, or with what is acceptable or desirable, doesn’t make it law. These ideas are simply cultural and social conditioning. Or in other words, they’re opinions that have been repeated to us over and over. But if you think of society as a whole – you’d probably agree that things are pretty messed up. We’re not exactly ‘happy’ or content overall, so surely these opinions haven’t got it exactly right.
Plus, if you want to compare, remember that just the same, you could compare yourself with those less fortunate. I’m not saying you should do this as that too, gives you a false sense of being in a ‘better’ place than you genuinely feel with yourself. What I’m saying is that there’s always someone in a better or worse position than you. So you’re not here to fulfill anyone’s expectations. There are no cosmic judges walking around with clipboards giving scores and star-shaped stickers to anyone. So, just mind your own business, focus on yourself and on your own journey. You’ll find this is a huge relief as well as empowering.
Change your self-sabotaging beliefs
When you have negative subconscious beliefs about yourself such as that you’re not good enough, you will find it hugely difficult to take any action and you’ll be pushing your goals away. As how are they supposed to materialise if you don’t truly believe in them happening to you? As long as you hold onto the idea that you don’t deserve, you might also find that you sabotage positive stuff that does come your way. You subconsciously want things to fit with the beliefs you’ve got. This is because your mind is most comfortable with ‘being right’ or ‘knowing’ what to expect. So you need to change these mind-sets on a subconscious level. But this is easier than you might think, as subconsciously, your mind is as it always was – a learning machine. It loves development and new information.
Surround yourself with people who make you feel good
Choose to give your attention and time to those who make you feel better about yourself, whether it’s true friends or people who inspire you to move forward. If someone is putting or keeping you down, this is usually because they suffer from low self-esteem themselves. So by doing this they try to make themselves feel better or more comfortable with their own state. Sometimes they might be doing this unknowingly or subconsciously, not purposely being nasty. But your time is too important to waste. So either be very aware of this and find ways to help them feel better, or otherwise you have to know when to pay them less attention. Sometimes it’s even best to leave it all behind. This isn’t selfish – this is taking care of yourself, you deserve better.
As someone with high levels of self-worth, you will:
Know that you’re enough
You know that you’re deserving, just as you are. You’ve already won the prize to prove it – you’re here!
You remind yourself of both your inherent value as well as your talents or skills. There’s nothing wrong with acknowledging your strengths. Genuinely confident people know this; there’s a huge difference between appreciating yourself and being an arrogant narcissist nobody likes. Truth is they don’t even like themselves.
Build more confidence in your weaker areas
Appreciating yourself boosts your overall confidence and you’re then more able to easily increase it in areas you feel less confident about. This is because you have self-belief and motivation and you know your goals are possible to achieve.
Not be concerned with what others think of you
You’re no longer bothered by other people’s judgement, opinions or expectations. You know that it’s only your own validation that you need (and that you will die with!). You accept yourself and you find as a result that you also accept others more. This is that real ‘freedom’ most only talk about.
Be more authentic
Now that you’re free from others’ evaluations, you’re able to express your real self, your true thoughts, feelings and opinions in your own way. This is because you’re not looking for anyone’s attention or approval anymore. Instead of looking for attention or confirmation, you more genuinely want to simply share and contribute. As a result, you’re also likely to find you naturally attract more validation from others too. This can feel rewarding but you also know it doesn’t ultimately matter.
Have much better relationships
As you feel comfortable and relaxed in yourself you don’t try to control anyone nor are you controlled by them. You’re not afraid of and are not put down by disagreements, criticism or rejection. You have no problem admitting to mistakes and apologising for them. You might even inspire others and help them to feel better about themselves. This makes others more drawn to you, and you attract more trust, respect and people wanting to cooperate with you.
Be able to handle challenging situations
You’re much better at this, knowing you can trust and count on yourself and your own resources. You no longer have a fear of ‘failure’ ( – which is, again, a made-up concept based on what we’ve been fed by others about what is desirable). You also feel comfortable asking for support when you feel the need to, without thinking it makes you any less competent than you are. In fact, asking for help, support or advice is a sign of strength, acknowledging you’ve still got more you can learn.
Be better at learning
Without all that fear, limiting beliefs about yourself or your abilities and with stronger motivation, you find your mind is much more open. Open to learning new things and improving on what you already know. Your mind is more like a sponge, more like it used to be when you were a child; absorbing without interruption.
Enjoy better health
Low self-esteem and confidence means much higher levels of stress or anxiety, which can have a detrimental effect on you and your body. Having high self-worth means you have more peace of mind, you’re able to relax and to allow your body to physiologically rest. You have higher levels of energy because you’re also more eager to participate in life!
Be more successful…
Whatever that may mean to you, whether in your relationships, career or around any other goals you might have. You have positive beliefs, motivation and energy powering your actions and keeping you focused. You take more risks and find more opportunities presenting themselves to you. And because you no longer compare yourself to others, you have a much stronger sense of purpose and meaning. This drives you forward far more than feeling you have to prove yourself in any way.
Become more responsible
You find you’re in charge of your own life and state. You no longer blame others or circumstances for where you are at life. Though you might think you prefer things to be someone or something else’s fault, this is actually a huge relief. This is because it means you are no longer controlled by anyone or anything.
Enjoy life more!
Obviously. And you feel so much more thankful for this awesome opportunity.
So no matter what area of your life you might like to improve or work on, it’s worth looking at these. Remembering that almost everything stems from how high or low your self-esteem and your feelings of worthiness are, and consequently your levels of confidence. Taking care of these first will completely change the way you experience everything else.
“Be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.” ~ Aurelia Plath, giving advice to her daughter Sylvia