Do I have the confidence to talk about self-confidence – something I’ve struggled with over the years? It is not an easy topic.
Two problems that hurt confidence are a tendency towards perfectionism and comparing ourselves to others.
Perfectionism can become self-critical when we are not attaining the lofty and impossible goals we set for ourselves. We often look ahead and realize we are not going to be satisfied with what we are planning, so we ask, “Why should I act in the first place?” Not acting then leads to guilt about not accomplishing anything. It is a vicious cycle and is difficult to break out from. Our need for perfection before taking on a task or interacting with others (since we do not want to show our deficiencies to others) leads to doing less, isolation and becoming less confident.
We take another step by comparing ourselves to others. When we lack confidence, we see ourselves as less capable than others and this can lead to thinking, “I am not good enough.”
Yet, this is not being very fair. We analyze our imperfections ad infinitum while only seeing what others choose to show us about themselves. People most often show their best sides – nothing really wrong with that, why present our weaknesses to others? But, if we are only seeing the best side of others, we end up asking, “How do they have it together while I’m sitting here, racked with anxiety and self-doubt?”
Comparisons in this way are problematic. Building others up while looking at our deficiencies will lead to depression, anger, anxiety and other problems.
To try to break out of this, we may ask, “Are they really better than me? Aren’t I pretty good myself?” These are good questions, but when we have spent so much time putting ourselves down and putting other people on pedestals, these become difficult questions to answer.
We often find a sneakier way to build ourselves up – such as finding fault in others – bringing them down being the easiest way to bring ourselves up. This is something we do so often, we become quite good at it and may not even recognize it. It is a technique we easily succeed in that leads to an inflated view of ourselves and a devalued view of others.
Many of us do this building up/tearing down in our minds. Others do it actively and aggressively in the world. That is another problem.
Anyway, there is a power play involved. We don’t want to think less of ourselves than others. We get angry at those who appear confident when we are not. “Who do they think they are, acting so confident? They are no better than me.” We rip them down, stick out our chests and say, “I’m good.” Asserting ourselves, but never having done anything to back up this belief. Bravado.
There is another option. Confidence can be gained simply by doing things. This is not earth-shattering news, but it is hard to remember when we are stuck in a rut. Doing things – accomplishing tasks – only helps with confidence, however, if we look at it in a positive way. “Yes, I did something”, is much better than, “I could have done it better/Someone else would have done it better/It took me forever to get it accomplished.” You get the idea.
As for a better way of comparing myself to others? I use the word “foible” – one of my favorite words these last few years. It is a silly enough word that it helps me look at my own and others’ imperfections in a more light-hearted, non-judgmental way. It helps me laugh without being sarcastic or derisive. Sharing foibles helps me limit comparisons and perfectionism and allows me to get to know people better. Along with doing more, it has been a way to build confidence.
What do you do to gain confidence? Share below.
Reggie E, MSW, CEAP, joined Empathia in 2005 as an EAP Counselor. Reggie has a master’s degree in Social Work as well as bachelor’s degrees in Philosophy and the Comparative Study of Religion from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Prior to a career change to social work, he worked in a variety of fields including banking, trucking and metal fabrication.