What is Self Confidence? Maybe answering that is the best place to start when deciding whether we have it or not and how we go about achieving it.
It seems to mean a myriad of things to different people and is dependent on how much of it you have initially in order to establish how much more of it you need.
We are told that self confidence is attractive, we are told that self confidence is an essential ingredient is success, but we are also told that too much of it and you can be perceived as arrogant... so is there a self confidence sweet spot? Or is that defined by your environment and what you are called upon to do?
What if self confidence wasn't as polarised as having it or not? What if self confidence was merely a sliding scale of self doubt, One that we can choose to get on or off at any point?
It is rarely true that some have it and some don't, even the most confident person feels unsure and out of their depth sometimes.
It is rare that a person has absolutely no self confidence whatsoever, most people are confident about some element of their life, whether it be at work, in relationships, with friends, even if it is just at home when their 'true self' comes out, the person who is comfortable in their environment or with their loved ones.
The reason that we can feel very confident is some situations and not others is quite easy to explain, and when we understand it we can start to view ourselves not as someone who is without it but as someone who can learn to apply what we do have in any situation.
When we feel confident we are at ease due to certainty, when we are certain about something, we know what is coming next, we know what is expected of us, we know that we have answers to questions, we know how we will be received then we are often confident to interact, to produce, to engage.
So in order to increase the levels of confidence that we feel at any given moment and in any situation, we must then increase our certainty that we will be able to respond in the same way that we do when we are in our 'comfort zone'. However in achieving certainty we must initially reduce our fear of uncertainty.
We all have a threshold of certainty and uncertainty. Some can live with uncertainty far more easily than others, indeed some crave it but for many uncertainty is terrifying and shakes their core.
At the root of all self confidence issues we will find FEAR, fear that we will be rejected, mocked, ignored, considered weak; This fear can paralyse us, after all as humans our greatest driver is to ensure that we are connected to others and not rejected by them, it is what ensures we thrive as a species. The fear of rejection is for some so overwhelming that they create scenarios in their head; scenarios which exaggerate what the outcome will be if they speak up, if they try to talk to someone new, if they voice their opinion, even if they are seen to be dressed differently to their peer group, the list goes on.
The scenarios that they create can be so overwhelming that they will become immobilized or silenced. This though is simply their self conscious trying to keep them in a 'safe place' in their 'comfort zone', because even though not speaking up, or not being heard, or not achieving their potential is painful for them, it is not as bad as the perceived pain of their most feared thing... The fear of rejection.
Where does this fear come from? Well it is highly unlikely that they were born on day 1 with a fear of rejection, other than in some extraordinarily sad cases, most babies are born with an expectation that their needs will be met, they assume that if they cry they will be fed, changed, nursed, it doesn't occur to them that these needs will not be met, it doesn't occur to them not to ask for the love, nurture and attention that they need.
The idea that we may not get what we want by asking for it, or that we may be any less than anyone else is a learned behaviour, for some sadly it is learned immediately as not all babies are blessed to be born in to a nurturing environment, but for most these lessons are learned at some point during their childhood.
"Children should be seen and not heard" "You are not a sporty kid" "You are not a smart kid" "That was a stupid question" Being laughed at in school for being different, not well dressed, not tall enough, not slim enough....all obvious phrases and scenarios that lead children to believe that they are in some way inferior to others, but what about the less obvious things, like mirrored behaviour?
A parent, sibling or family member who behaves in an uncertain way has a great impact on a child and their understanding on how to act and respond.
Never learning to solve problems independently leads to a belief that we cannot do things for ourselves without the help or guidance of others.
Overly strict parents who do not allow children to learn from mistakes can also hinder their development of confidence in their ability to overcome obstacles.
There are both subtle and obvious ways that we can quash someone's self belief, even with the best of intentions.
So overtime and following on from these learned behaviours people will develop their level of self belief, their level of belief in their ability to achieve regardless of obstacles, their level of expectation for themselves and in their place in society. From this level of self belief they will develop their level of ability to manage the fear of rejection.
Some people manage that fear well, they realise that the fear exists and that it will always exist, but that they have a belief that they will find a way to overcome any obstacles, they have a belief that failure is acceptable and they will not be rejected for making a mistake or for saying the wrong thing.
Others, who do not have a higher level of self belief are more likely to give in to the fear of rejection and all that this means to them.
So how can someone who has experienced all of the above examples possibly still come out with self confidence? Well here is the thing, for someone to develop a genuine and unshakeable belief in themselves and their place, they may at some point have had someone, just one person who instilled that self belief in them as a child, and this may have shone so brightly that it was able to stay with them throughout all of the other negativity in their life.
The other explanation is that they have leaned to act "as if"
Now we know all of that how do we turn it in to a therapy that helps people who look to therapy to develop self confidence?
Well firstly we can look to establish here the negative self belief started, where the fear started to firmly root itself in the self conscious; we can then look to remove the feelings attached to these events and then view them with rationale. This can in fact be a very powerful tool and can in some cases instantly transform a persons level of self belief.
We can also teach them to 'Act As If'
We learn that psychological patterns have a physiological response and we look at all of these elements and apply them to tricking the mind in to a new pattern of self confident behaviour.
For example: When we are confident we stand, breathe, talk, move, gesture, in a certain way
When we are feeling uncertain or self conscious, lacking in confidence we stand, breathe, talk, move, gesture in an entirely different way.
By forcing ourselves to mimic the behaviours both physical and physiological and by using words to override the sound of self doubt we can convince ourselves that we do in fact feel confident in a certain situation. We essentially teach them to Fake it until over time self confidence becomes a habit. The more we practice this the easier it becomes until eventually a new neural pathway is formed and we instinctively and naturally become self confident, certain and able to make decisions more easily, overriding our instinct to succumb to the Fear which may have previously prevented us from acting.
It all sounds so simple yet the simple methods are the easiest for our brains to understand and work with on a day to day basis while we are learning new habits and behaviours and establishing new beliefs about ourselves.
Self confidence is not something that will some day appear, it is not something that we can find or purchase, but it is a habit that we can develop, nurture and grow much like any other.
You may make mistakes along the way, acting as if is new to you and like all things through practice we refine the skill, because while it is simple it is not always easy.
You may at first overshoot and come across as arrogant, you may get yourself in to a tizz trying to remember the points, but keep it simple, remember what you would eventually like to achieve and keep practising, and you can indeed Fake it 'til you make it
Changing who you are, how you behave and your habits is simpler than you may think.
Emma Reynolds Hypnotherapy