Self confidence is an attitude that allows a person to have positive yet realistic views of themselves and their situations. Self confident people trust their own abilities and experience a general sense of control over their lives. They believe within a reason that they’ll be able to do what they wish, plan and expect. This does not mean that they think they’ll be able to do everything; if some of their expectations are not met they still continue to be positive and to accept themselves. Self confident people are willing to take risks as they trust their abilities for this reason they feel they do not have to confirm I order to be accepted. Self confident people may be confident in some areas of their life like academics, professional life etc., but may feel inadequate in other areas of their life such as, personal appearance, social relationships etc.
Whereas, those who are not self-confident excessively depend on the approval of others in order to feel good about themselves. They avoid taking risks because they fear failure. They fear failure because they do not expect to be successful. They have difficulty accepting compliments they often put themselves down. Example, if some one said “Wao you did a lot of work in making these dishes.” The response would be “Oh no, this is nothing. I could have done more, in didn’t have enough time.”
Development of Self Confidence
The foundation of self confidence is kept in the early childhood by the care givers- parents, guardians. The acceptance provided by the parents in early childhood fosters in children good feelings about themselves. Excessive criticism and demands made by the parents make children believe it is their job to make others happy and they can never be sure of themselves. Over protective attitude by parents not only discourage children’s move towards independence but also make them believe they are incapable, inadequate, or inferior. Parents’ love, encouragement and acceptance of children’s mistakes leads them towards self reliance and they learn to accept themselves thus develop self confidence.
It is interesting to note that the lack of self confidence is not resultant of lack of ability. Rather it is result of focusing too much on the unrealistic expectations or standards of significant others, peers and gradually followed by strangers. Individuals constantly re-examine their values and self perceptions they are vulnerable to external influences namely those of significant others and peers.
Self Confidence = Assumptions – Reality
People develop assumptions both constructive and destructive in response to external influences; these can interfere with self confidence and alternative ways of thinking.
Assumption: “Everyone should like me, especially those around me.” In desi context this assumption roots from cultural expectations for women. This translates into that a “bahu,” daughter-in-law be pleasing to everyone in her conjugal home including neighbors. Often parents indoctrinate their daughters to be people pleasers. Sometimes every thing else is in order it comes and rests on the looks and complexion of the woman.
Alternative: It is a perfectionist attitude and an unattainable goal. It will help to develop one’s personal standards and values that are not completely dependent o the approval of others.
Assumption: “Success means I have to be competent, proficient in all areas of my life.” This is commonly held assumption in desi context for women. Women should be good cooks, home makers and good professionals, in a nut shell they should be a super woman. For desi sons (for men in general in most other cultures too) this translates into being efficient providers not only to his wife and children but his parents and siblings too and be successful at professional level too.
Alternative: Even this is a perfectionist attitude and unattainable goal that suggests personal worth is determined by achievement. This suggests person’s worth is based on their achievements contrary to the fact that worth is inherent in all humans and achievement only adds to satisfaction.
Assumption: “My past experiences (regarding approval from others and successful outcomes) guide my present and future.”
Alternative: It is true that our confidence stems from our childhood experiences with the caregivers but as we grow into adulthood an awareness of those influences gives us a hold of our behavior. Accepting the fact that as children we did not have control over those influences but as adults we can chose what influences we allow to guide our way.
Self-Defeating Thought Pattern
Subscribing to dysfunctional assumptions influenced by our upbringing and past experiences leaves us vulnerable to self defeating thought patterns.
All or Nothing Thinking:
“I am a total failure when my performance is not perfect.” As a teenager I subscribed to this idea. I had to win all the awards in the cultural category of competitions be it debates, extempore speeches, poetry etc. It was my way of adding to my second rank in the class. If I came second it would just make me sulk and I would be mad at myself.
Magnifying the Darkness:
A single criticism or negative comment from anyone especially from significant persons in my life would just make everything dark for me. I thought if this person did not approve of it then it is worthless and no one will approve of it. My classmate Veenu, if she scored badly on a test she would cry and be fixated on one sentence “now I’ll be never able to make it to IIT.” That would rub on me and I would start feeling worthless because I always compared my answers with her.
Magnification of Negative/Minimization of Positives:
I was very at sports, arts and debates, my grades were usually A- or B+. I tried to be good at every thing I did. My father would minimize my positive attributes and always complain that I wasn’t as good as other girls because I lacked the qualities of good girls who made perfect round chapattis and did not ask too many questions. For a long time I tried to be that “good girl” but one day I had to tell him those other good girls out there do not bring home five awards and inter school trophy in one season. To subscribe or not subscribe to his minimization of my positive attributes was a choice I made. On the other hand, I had an aunt who would magnify any thing negative about me. She would begin with my not son lady like demeanor and then end on my freckles and specks, discounting all my academic and other achievements. Each one of us has such experiences in our life and they impact our self perceptions but as we grow older we learn it is our choice whether to accept those labels or not.
Accepting Emotions as Truth:
Uncritical acceptance of emotions as truth is a very common experience. “I feel ugly so it must be true.” “I feel negatively about my body so my body has a problem- fat/thin/lazy etc.”
Overemphasis on “Should be”:
Focus on what “should be” is suggestive of perfectionism as expected by others rather than one’s own wants and desires. “Educated people should have good marriages. I don’t so there must be something wrong with me.” “Success should make everyone happy. I am not happy or X is not happy that means something is wrong with me.”
Initially children develop self perception on the basis of labeling practices of their care givers, “You are a good girl,” “You are a bad girl because you did not listen to me” etc. Gradually based on these labels people create their own labels and ascertain blame like, “I am a looser…,” “It is my fault.”
Difficulty Accepting Compliments:
The self perception is so fractured that even when a person is provided with approval and a compliment he/she rejects it and assumes the other person is lying. If some one said “You look good in this outfit.” The response would be “No, I look fat in this dress.”
Tips to Develop Self Confidence:
Give your self credit for everything you try. Focus on what you can do instead of what you cannot. Begin with your strengths and then address the limitations. Everyone has limitations but the aim should be how to tackle these limitations. One idea could be to analyze where you feel stuck and then break it down into steps and then follow from the easiest part.
At times I am stuck and I make negative comments about my ability to deal with a particular situations. My friends have to remind me I have come a long way since I started this journey and that I should give my self some credit. My usual response is anybody would have done something to survive what they were given. But a very dear friend reasoned “You made a choice, you could have given up and taken a conventional route.” Remember, our actions are a choice we make. Reward you positive choices with acceptance that you deserve the credit.
Treat every experience as an opportunity to learn rather than viewing it as success or failure. This opens up new possibilities and increases one’s sense of self acceptance. Few years back I was stuck in a low paying job that helped me pay my rent and bills. A day’s off meant I had to for go milk for next two days and bear reprimand from the employer. I wanted to change jobs and attend school but without taking off from work I could not do so. I felt stuck and complained all the time. A friend rose to the occasion and she said “If you don’t take this risk you’ll be stuck here for ever. If you take a risk and go at least you’ll have a chance.” I did take that risk and within few weeks I started school and the new job. It is just like test in the school. If you attempt the test you may pass but if you don’t attempt due to the fear of failing you’ll definitely fail.
Use of self talk can be used to counter harmful assumptions. If you get into a rut where you find yourself brooding on your fears and buying into harmful negative assumptions just say out “STOP” and substitute that thought with a positive and reasonable assumption. I use to obsessively keep fixing the problem or an essay until I ran out of time. A teacher told me, “No matter how much you fix it I’ll not give you a 20 because this essay is scored for 10 points only.” I started timing my essays and improved quality and quantity of my work. I remember during that time when I would start running out of time I would tell my self I’ll fail this test and start spiraling into a dark place. Then I learned to start a positive talk where I said to myself “STOP, NOW. You cannot go there. Do what you can and you’ll be fine.” This helped me understand I can strive to improve but perfection is not always possible.
Self evaluation frees one from dependence on opinions of others about their actions. It also helps one to avoid constant sense of turmoil that comes from relying exclusively on the opinions of others. Focusing on how one feels about their behavior, action, work etc. This will give them a stronger sense of self and will prevent one from giving away their personal power away to others.
I was an approval junkie after every few pages I typed I needed someone to tell me I was on the right track and I was doing good. Gradually I learned my friends did not understand an iota about my field and were only trying to be my cheer leaders. Atiya had to say it aloud “I do not understand an iota of radiation biology. I can only correct your grammar. It is your supervisor’s job. If you can’t go to him then stop bugging me.” It is at that moment I realized I can’t out source my cheerleading. Why can’t I be my own cheer leader? This has helped improve not only my problem solving skills but also my relationships as I don’t have to run after them to provide me with half hearted validation.
Start treating yourself with respect only you can model for other how to treat you. Start faking self confidence until you are comfortable with it as your second skin finally it will become your reality. You have every thing in you all you need is your own approval. These steps worked for me. Give it a shot they’ll work for you too.