Gain confidence and raise your self-esteem
- … feel insecure or shy around people?
- … worry about what people are thinking or saying about you?
- … change your behaviour to fit in or to avoid being judged?
- … envy people who are confident and self-assured?
According to some statistics, nearly half of all people in the modern world feel shy or insecure about themselves. That’s a frightening thought — almost half of the population is limited in their enjoyment of life because they feel insecure!
It is certainly a recurring theme in my practice, where many people judge themselves, feel unworthy or self-conscious, and wish that they had more confidence and self-respect.
You are not born insecure
How does insecurity start?
We’re not born insecure. As soon as we’re born, we instinctively know how to demand attention, whether it’s for food, comfort, love, or something else; We cry! We aren’t shy to demand what we need.
With a loving and safe upbringing, this full-on selfishness, which is natural and normal for babies, children and to some extent teenagers, grows into an appreciation for all people, secure in the belief that you’re OK and so are other people.
But, for other people, it isn’t always like this.
Insecurity usually starts in childhood, though it can start much later. Underneath insecurity there is always fear. As noted at the beginning of this article, it’s a fear of being judged, or laughed at, or discounted, or thought somehow unworthy. A fear, perhaps, of saying the wrong words, dressing the wrong way, doing the wrong thing.
Feelings of insecurity can begin with an abusive parent or teacher, bullying at school or at work, manipulation by a supposed friend, suffering as a victim of prejudice or violence, reinforcement of stereotypes in the mass media, or mix of these.
What makes insecurity stick?
Once that insecurity is there inside you, it can seem insurmountable. This is unsurprising, because insecurity feeds on itself, and grows.
Once you believe that you are unworthy, you unconsciously start to behave in ways that reinforce this. You might go to a party, shrink into a corner, shy away from conversation, and wonder why you can’t talk to people. Or, you engage with people, but you are so worried about what they are thinking of you that you aren’t fully present, and you leave the party feeling unfulfilled.
At work, you might hesitate to voice important ideas or to stick up for yourself, with the result that you end up being ignored or passed over.
And so on.
These are certainly things that used to happen to me. I used to wonder how it was that some people could just breeze their way through all social and work relationships, even at times being respected for doing the very same things that I did but without being respected. “What’s going on?” I used to wonder.
I’ve seen insecure people being asked to act confident. They buff their shoulders, puff out their chest, put a strong expression on their face, and seem a bit… well, stiff. They didn’t look confident, but they did look as though there were pretending!
You can’t really hide a lack of confidence. That was a big realisation in my life, that all the time while I was trying to hide my lack of self-esteem, it just made it shine through even brighter. In hindsight, I know now that everyone could see my insecurity. Bullies took advantage of it; decent people liked me for who I was and ignored the insecurity; everyone else didn’t care about it anyway.
So, what happened? How did I overcome my (until then) lifelong insecurity?
Well, the first thing to understand is that insecurity isn’t something to overcome. It’s not something that you need to fight or conquer. Instead, you want to replace insecurity with feelings of self-worth and confidence.
Where do you get feelings of self-worth and confidence?
As I wrote above, “We’re not born insecure.” Confidence isn’t really a thing; it’s more a lack of those thoughts, feelings and beliefs that make you insecure. It’s your natural state, before you learned to be insecure.
I’ve heard it said that confidence is nothing more than doing something so many times that you know how to do it well.
While that’s not entirely true, if you take the time to think about yourself, there must be some things that you can do with complete confidence. Whether it’s cooking an egg, riding a bicycle, reading, teaching, a hobby, something that you do at work, or whatever, there are areas in life where you have complete confidence. When you think about these areas, you’ll realise that confidence is simply knowing what you’re doing and doing it well!
So, part of confidence is losing the thoughts, feelings and beliefs that give you feelings of insecurity, shyness, and not fitting in, and part of it is just practice!
What about self-worth (self-esteem)?
There is another aspect, though. It’s not enough to just feel confident. People who don’t suffer from insecurity feel sufficiently worthy that when they are faced with areas where they are unconfident, it doesn’t matter to them.
Someone asked, “Why do you choose to do a hobby or pastime if you know that you’ll never be good at it?” The answer is that it doesn’t matter. For example, I play piano. I’ll never be good at it, but I enjoy doing it for the fun of doing it. I’ll never be a confident piano player, but I’ll be damn sure to have fun while I’m doing it!
The reason is that I feel worthy of myself. I don’t have to prove myself to anyone. When I used to feel insecure and unworthy, I used to try all the time to prove myself to others. I don’t do that any more, because I’ve learned to value myself. I still do my very best, but I do that for reasons of enjoyment and pride, not for a lack of self-worth.
Where do you get this self-worth?
It’s not much different from confidence at first, but there are differences. A feeling of self-worth comes from two things: The first is getting rid of the thoughts, feelings and beliefs that you are unworthy.
As for the second, there is a model of human needs that includes (among other things) the need to contribute to the world; in other words, to be greater than just you.
It is this action of contribution that helps build self-worth and self-esteem. It absolutely doesn’t have to be earth-shattering: Being a parent, helping people at work, aiding a charity or local community, making a cashier smile… These sorts of things are enough. Some people choose to do more, of course, and that’s OK as well.
“But I’m not worth it!”
Someone once said, “That’s all very for other people, but I’m just me. I’m not worth it.” She felt that other people could deserve to be happy, but she wasn’t worth spending the effort on.
If that’s how you feel, I couldn’t word it better than this fine quotation from Marianne Williamson’s book, A Return to Love:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
As you let your own light shine, you unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
If you are struggling with insecurity and a lack of self-esteem, call me to discuss how we could help you to change your thoughts, your feelings and your beliefs to serve you — and the world — better.