How Do You Build Self-Confidence?

Saturday, 02 April 2011 11:15

May 2006

How Do You Build Self-Confidence?

1. What is self-confidence? What do we mean by it, and why are some people more confident than others?

When we say that we have confidence in someone we mean that we trust that person. Self-confidence means being able to trust yourself. Being able to trust yourself means that you can rely upon yourself because you know yourself. Self-confidence is based on self-knowledge. If we know ourselves we have a realistic idea of who we are and what we can achieve. Self-confidence isn't vanity, because when we are vain we over-value our talents and ignore our weaknesses. When we are self-confident we recognize without false modesty what our strengths are, and we recognize our weaknesses without feeling ashamed and guilty. We accept our limitations without feeling that we have to apologize to others about them. Many women have great difficulty in doing this because they have been told that to be acceptable to others they must always be very modest about their achievements and must apologize for whatever they do. Thus many women prefer to lack self-confidence rather than risk being rejected.  
2. Is self-confidence the same as self-esteem?

Self-esteem is a jargon word which lumps together the very complex ideas involved in how we feel about ourselves. These complex ideas concern how much affection we have for ourselves, how much we look after ourselves, how much we value ourselves, on what measures we judge ourselves, and how harshly we judge ourselves. Thus you might take very good physical care of yourself, and value yourself for doing an important job well, but you see being attractive of prime importance and judge yourself harshly on this.

How we feel about ourselves plays a very important part in every decision we make. Thus if you take good care of yourself you're likely to decide to spend a significant amount of money on healthy food and a subscription to a gym, but, because you judge all women in terms of how attractive they are, you always feel inferior when you're with women you see as being very attractive. The only way to get out of this trap is to decide that being attractive isn't the most important attribute that women can have.

3. If your parents or teachers have been over-critical, can you develop self-confidence as an adult?

Like all babies we come into the world full of unself-conscious self-confidence but parents and teachers take that away from us because they tell us that, as we are, we are not acceptable, and that we have to work hard in order to be good in the way that our parents and teachers define good. Because teaching a child to be good starts so early in a child's life that we can grow up feeling that we actually are intrinsically unacceptable, and that there's nothing we can do about it except to work endlessly to try to be acceptable. What we all have to learn is that feeling unacceptable is no more than an idea which we created early in our life, and, as we created it, we are free to change it. If you're too frightened ever to think critically about the way you were brought up you stop yourself from being able to do this.

4. Is it mostly other people (parents, colleagues, partners) who undermine one's self-confidence? Or are we most likely to undermine our own self-confidence?

When we are little we take what our parents and teachers say to us and make it our own. Thus, if you have parents and teachers who define a 'good girl' as someone who is always obedient, respectful, unselfish and non-competitive, you have a choice of taking or not taking these ideas inside yourself and making them your own. If you fear that if you're rebellious your parents won't love you, you accept your parents' ideas and monitor your own behaviour even when your parents aren't there to see what you do. Thus you undermine your own self-confidence just in the way your parents undermined it when you were little.

5. It has been said that self-confidence is impossible if you don't accept yourself. What does that mean? How can we change?

When we believe that we are intrinsically unacceptable and have to work hard to be good we cannot accept ourselves simply because we see ourselves as being intrinsically and unchangeably flawed. This is a terrible way to live because we can never have the peace of living in the present, enjoying what is going on around us. Because we see ourselves as unacceptable we live in the past, feeling guilty about our many failures to be good, and in the future, worrying about the punishment which will come for our failures. We undermine ourselves and thus ensure that we never achieve all that we have the ability to achieve. We become experts in guilt and shame. We can change all this by understanding that the way our brain and body work means that all we can ever know are the ideas which our brain/mind creates as we interact with the world around us. This means that believing that we're unacceptable is just an idea, and we are free to change that idea. We all need to understand that we are not intrinsically bad and unacceptable any more than we are intrinsically perfect. We are all ordinary, with talents and strengths, limitations and weaknesses.