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Three Secrets of Self-Confidence

Self-confidence. You want to feel more confident, and worry because you don’t. You want to like yourself more and question and doubt yourself less.

Confidence is one of the top themes I hear from people seeking therapy. It makes sense…of course you want to like and trust yourself! When you’re low on confidence, life can get pretty miserable.

Self-confidence is complicated and multilayered, and can feel overwhelming to tackle. Let’s take some of the mystery away and break confidence down into a few of its more sneaky, hidden aspects.

Secret #1: Confidence is very strongly tied to your self-worth and your assessment of your value as a person. 

"Duh," you might think, but you'd be surprised at how often people forget or struggle to make the connection between beliefs around worth and confidence issues. They blame themselves for their confidence struggles instead of acknowledging the old, painful, and strong underlying beliefs about their personhood. In blaming themselves, their internal dialogue starts to sound like "I need to do more or better in order to feel more confident." My guess is that you've tried to do more and better and still feel pretty lousy, and I feel sad that you're beating yourself up and blaming yourself for your low confidence. I'm prescribing you a high dose of self-compassion that I would like you to start taking immediately. 

As understanding your story can be part of increasing self-compassion, let's also explore the question: 

Why Do I Struggle with Confidence? 

Folks I’m working with will often ask: where does my lack of confidence come from? It's a great question, to which I will give a classically annoying therapist response: it depends. It depends on your unique wiring, your history, and your ongoing life experiences. Here are a few places low self-confidence can take root: 

  • Your Past 
    Did someone or something (a school, a teacher, parents, organized sports or religion) cause you to feel less than, put you down, or belittle you? Were you told either outright or more subtly that you weren’t good enough? These events can lead to you to feel small and unworthy, contributing to a lack of trust in yourself and low self-confidence.

  • A Culture of Achievement
    We have some pretty big cultural ideas around worth and its relationship to productivity and achievement. Achievement does not equal worth, but we’re incredibly culturally conditioned to believe otherwise. As a result we get caught in a self-worth trap of doing more in an attempt to feel more confident and then feeling anxious, discouraged, frustrated, and stuck when doing more doesn’t make us feel any better.

  • Being in a Highly Competitive Environment
    Did you have a job or a boss that demanded perfection, or play a sport or study in a field where you were rewarded for crushing yourself for success? Is there a culture of elitism or “being the best” in any of the activities you participate in? A sense of worth based on perfectionism and competition is pretty unsustainable because if something happens—an injury, an accident, getting older, messing up—suddenly your sense of self is on shaky ground. 

  • Neurodivergence
    People with neurodivergence—autism spectrum, ADHD, learning disabilities—are singled out and discriminated against by the dominant culture for being “different." If you were unsupported in your neurodivergence, forced to fit into a stereotypical box or change your behaviors to please others or to avoid punishment, of course your confidence in yourself is going to get punched through with holes. 
Secret #2: Confidence is complicated.

Those are some big and overlapping categories, and I barely scratched the surface. Because self-confidence is often tied to challenging or painful life experiences, and because it gets all mixed up in our sense of worth and value and personhood, it isn’t straightforward and takes strength and compassion to untangle. 

The internet is full of shortcuts and tips to gain confidence. There's a lot of talk of "fake it 'till you make it." But you've tried that and it doesn't work, because this stuff is old and runs deep. You know from your own experience that a few "quick tips" aren't going to do the trick.

Secret #3: You’re never going to feel 100% confident all of the time, and it’s not reasonable or very nice to yourself to expect that you will.

Imagine your life as a bus. At some point, a low-self confidence passenger got on, for one or more of the very good reasons we’ve discussed. That passenger is probably always going to be there, and trying to kick it off the bus wastes a lot of time and effort. (You don’t have to trust me on this—check in with your own experience. How many times and in how many ways have you tried to make low confidence “go away” forever?) 

"Wait, this part of me isn't going to go away forever? Well that's a bummer." So true. It can be hard to recognize that we have parts of us (aka the aforementioned passengers) that are sticky and persistent. It can also be freeing, because you can start to recognize the low self-confidence passenger and get some space from it so that it doesn’t have as much power over you. 

Bonus Secret: Therapy can help.

Because self-confidence is complicated, personal, and unique to your story and life experiences, it can be really hard to figure out on your own. Having a supportive environment to untangle the layers of your own self-confidence knot can really help. 

Ready to get started untangling that knot? Schedule a complimentary 15 minute consultation call with me today.