Updated: May 5, 2022
"I wish I was confident!”
I recently did a Facebook bootcamp about online visibility for my business. There were nearly 11,000 people participating – almost all women – from all over the world. They all run their own businesses from selling beauty products to coaching to writing to making and selling beautiful things, and are clearly successful in many ways.
I joined the group for hints and tips on how to attract more attention to my various social media channels. But of my fellow 11,000 challengees, judging by the posts and comments I’ve read, about 5,000 of them are in the challenge because they’re TERRIFIED to put themselves out there.
“I hate saying my own name”.
“I don’t believe it when people say my work is great”.
“I’m afraid of judgement”.
“I’m terrified that I’m no good at what I do”.
“I HATE going anywhere new and meeting new people”.
“I overthink everything”.
That was the result of two minutes’ scrolling through the feed. Does any of that sound familiar?
It’s obvious to me that these women are amazing, but they have a crippling lack of self-confidence.
I’m not criticising; I’d be the last person to criticise anyone for lacking confidence (it would be very hypocritical of me for a start, which you’ll know if you’ve read It’s all right for you). But I find it both fascinating and very sad that so many people should be saying these things.
Of course men suffer from this too. I know for a fact that many apparently successful men also have crippling self-doubt. Men have all the disadvantages of gender to put up with, and it’s even less acceptable for a man to admit he feels a failure than it is for a woman. This may be partly why suicide is the number one killer of men under the age of 25. So everything I’m going to say here is applicable to men just as much as it is for women.
Let’s look at these people from the outside for a moment.
They’re business owners. That’s incredible in itself. Many of them have faced and overcome serious illnesses, traumas, financial difficulties and broken relationships. That’s awesome too. People are telling them to their faces that they’re amazing, their products and services are amazing, and they want to buy more of them. But in the privacy of their own heads they’re failures. Why?
In my experience, the vast majority of people think they’re the only ones who suffer from this problem. Everyone else in the world is successful, confident, happy, secure, and it’s just me that isn’t. Obviously that means there’s something wrong with me; otherwise everyone would feel like I do, wouldn’t they?
Here’s the shock news.
EVERYONE ELSE DOES FEEL LIKE YOU DO!
You don’t believe me, do you? Let me refer to the challenge group again.
“Everyone around me thinks I have loads of confidence”.
Well, there’s a surprise. You’re doing stuff that looks as though you have loads of confidence. And you aren’t sobbing and throwing yourself to the ground while you’re doing it. If you can look confident to other people when you’re not, don’t you think other people can look confident to you when they’re not?
So what to do?
Here are some ideas to increase your confidence in reality, rather than just appearance.
Tip no. 1 – People are not judging you.
Because everyone else is faking it just like you are, it means that they probably aren’t judging you nearly as viciously as you think they are. Well, actually, they might be; but if they are it’s because they’re trying to make themselves feel better by telling themselves about all the things that aren’t quite perfect about you. That says far more about them than it does about you. And in any event, you won’t know if they’re doing it. It’s just as likely that they’re awestruck by how amazing you are. If you do know, see tip no. 2.
Tip no. 2 – Associate with people who build others up.
Do not let negative, critical people into your life, either online or in reality. They will rob it of joy. Look for people who will make themselves feel better about themselves by pointing out the things about you that they like. Equally, do not be the sort of person who puts others down in order to feel better about yourself. Unless you actually admire spite and pettiness as character traits, this will only make you feel worse in the long run.
Tip no. 3 – Be sorry for what you did, not who you are.
Never apologise for any aspect of yourself unless it has caused some harm; then apologise for the harm, not for being you. How to tell the difference? If your sentence starts with ‘I’m sorry I’m…’ then you’re apologising for being yourself. If it starts ‘I’m sorry to…’ then you’re focusing on the impact of your behaviour. ‘I’m so sorry to have kept you waiting’ is very different from ‘I’m sorry I’m so late’.
Beware of saying ‘I’m sorry you…’ That doesn’t really sound like an apology, and can come off very passive-aggressive in some situations. 'I'm sorry I upset you' is much better than 'I'm sorry you were upset' - think about how you'd feel if they were said to you. Note that you don't have to take back what you said unless you want to; you can still be sorry for upsetting them even if you stand by what you actually did say.
Tip no. 4 – Don’t criticise yourself.
If you see someone wearing a beautiful outfit, by all means think ‘they look amazing’. But also think ‘I love green too’ and not ‘I could never look that good with my thighs’. If someone tells you that green looks good on you, say ‘Thank you’ and then shut up. Do not say ‘it’s only an old thing’ or ‘I couldn’t get anything else zipped up’. Those things may be true but it doesn’t help anyone, least of all you, to say them. A complement is a gift, so accept it with as good grace as if they had just handed you a sparkly box with a big bow on it.
Tip no. 5 – Complement other people.
If someone is talking to you, find something nice to say about them. ‘I love your tie’ or ‘Great boots!’ works either as a conversation opener or a response. It doesn’t matter if you don’t really think their tie is that great. They will still remember you as a nice, friendly person with good taste. They will probably respond with something like ‘Thank you, my wife bought it for my birthday’ which means you now have something else to talk to them about. What’s their wife’s name, when is their birthday, what star-sign are they, what else did they get…. The possibilities are endless.
What if that doesn't work?
Those tips will help if you lack confidence, but it’s likely that you’ve been feeling like that for some considerable time. Maybe you were bullied at school or your parents told you that you’d never be as pretty/clever/successful as your brother or sister. All the hints and tips in the world can’t undo that. You can learn to appear confident, to accept complements with a smile, to put videos on Facebook; but inside you may still be squirming or staring at your shoes or thinking ‘they can’t really mean me’ – just waiting for the shoe to drop.
If you’d rather not feel like that, some counselling may help. There are a lot of people out there who can help you, who would even be very happy to help you, however worthless or hopeless you may fear yourself to be. I'm one of them. Please don’t waste another day of your precious life feeling horrible. Start the journey to your best self today.
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Caeredwen is a physical therapist, coach and counsellor based in Coleford in the Forest of Dean. If you would like to contact her in confidence you can reach her via firstname.lastname@example.org or via her website at https://www.magichandscalmminds.com.