I remember the first time I got a big knock to my confidence. It was my first day in nursery and I was quite merrily pushing a doll’s pram around. Out of nowhere a bigger girl charged towards me and forcefully pushed me to the floor with “get away, it’s my pram, not yours!”. I ended up crying inconsolably, so much so that my mother had to be contacted to pick me up. Seeing me so upset, she resolved I was not to go back there.
Prior to that episode, when I was not quite three years of age my parents took me to see a speech therapist. They were concerned for I hardly spoke a word. The therapist told my parents not to worry, saying that I was a quiet observer, preferring to watch than comment. He said, “she’s too much of a lady and deigns only to speak when she’s spoken to”.
Nowadays you’ll find it hard for me to stop talking, especially if it concerns a topic I am most passionate about, which is my work – energy alignment, self-empowerment, therapy work and marketing, and my interests – dance, yoga, Taikwondo, reading, writing.
Could it be that I was born shy and diffident, very much like my mother? My father certainly wasn’t hesitant to speak out and up. He had a strong, clear, educated voice and loved to express his opinion. My mother always battled with her confidence. Her confidence came with her beautiful voice, singing in front of the congregation at her local Catholic church.
So, are we by nature shy? And is nature just another form of nurtured patterns of shyness that are energetically and genetically passed on from either or both parents, which are then reinforced through early childhood experiences?
We have the terms introvert, extrovert and ambivert (a fluctuating combination of the two). I would like to say I’m the latter – I like my own company (reading is my escape), but definitely thrive when in the company of like-minded individuals. I’m aware when I’m not in the company of energetically-matched individuals, I feel like a fish out of water, displaced and alienated. That’s when I withdraw into my shell.
Confidence I believe is also very much linked to self-esteem and self-value. Growing up I struggled a lot with this as I was raised in a very competitive, male dominated family (5 brothers and just 1 sister who was the youngest). We were all close in age and during adolescence, testosterone raged fiercely in the home. There were lots of snide, derogatory remarks directed at me by my brothers – by the older ones in particular. When someone puts you down again and again you start to believe it, you accept it as truth. Eventually, you believe you’re not intelligent or pretty enough: your nose is too big, you’ve got too curly, unruly, unfashionable hair, you’ve got slightly too large teeth, you’ve got knobbly knees, your IQ isn’t as high as your older brothers and so on. It’s a war of attrition and gradually whatever small measure of self-esteem you might have once had has withered away. You feel that you don’t have value, so you withdraw from the limelight, you pull back from wanting to be seen or heard. So, you actually perpetuate the condition of introversion and lack of self-value. When you start seeing yourself through that lens, you project that image of you onto others. This is the reflective, mirror work I do with my clients. Obviously working in the opposite direction to dislodge old, embedded patterns of low self-esteem and low self-confidence.
For me things only started to improve when I spent a year abroad as part of my four-year university degree. My godmother lived in Cologne, so I decided to go there because at least I knew someone. She helped me settle in. And quite unexpectedly I had the most amazing year of my life. Pushed out of my comfort zone and away from everything that was familiar (and somehow constricting), I quickly learnt to make friends. Fortunately, the student accommodation provided an environment that was extremely friendly and welcoming. I made friends with native German students as well as with many international students from all over the world, including US, Brazil, Peru, South Africa, Indonesia, South Korea. I found that I was a very good conversationalist after all, even in German. My German improved leaps and bounds.
Since then, I’ve discovered that confidence can be nurtured even if you believe you are a little diffident by nature. When I worked for the Welsh Development Agency I was very much thrown into the deep end. I had to learn to drive within 3 months (that was a condition of the job). As soon as I passed, I had to drive prospective high profile, foreign business investors and high-ranking journalists around property sites in Wales. I had to simultaneously speak confidently and competently drive – a tall order, given that I hadn’t long passed my test, but somehow, I dug deep and pulled it off.
Moving into confidence is very much a fear game – we’re dancing with fear: the fear of not being good enough, the fear of making a mistake, the fear of being judged, the fear of not meeting someone’s approval, the fear of being an imposter. This is particularly irksome and painful, the higher the standards you set yourself. And believe me, only my German mother rivalled me in the perfectionist mentality game.
I’m now a firm advocate that confidence is a muscle that can be flexed and strengthened. Most famous actors admit to being introverts or shy people. They choose acting either as a smokescreen and/or as a way of pushing themselves outside of their comfort zone in a bid to become more confident and self-assured.
Confidence can be fostered and nurtured by both word and deed. Neuroscience suggests through neuroplasticity (the ability of our brain to forge new neural pathways) we can convince ourselves that we are confident and self-assured through repetitive, positive, empowering self-talk. And when this positive self-dialogue is backed up by actual deed: doing things that move us progressively beyond our comfort zone, then it strengthens the confidence muscle immeasurably.
For example, I had this major fear of doing my first Facebook live some four years ago, but I made myself push through the fear and do it anyway. (By the way, I can totally recommend the book on this topic by Susan Jeffers*). When you do decide to push a little, the exhilaration of having done it far outweighs the possible dread or worry about what other people think. And the more you do this, the less you start to care about other people’s reaction and the more at ease you feel. More recently, I’ve prodded my clients to follow in my footsteps, whether in terms of creating and building their own Facebook community, doing their own Facebook lives, online networking or in writing their first blog. They get all the support, guidance and encouragement from me. And in the doing, they start unfurling their wings and begin to flourish in self-belief and confidence.
If you’re someone who’s really struggling at the moment with confidence and doubting yourself in your business, then please do reach out for a free, no-obligation chat with me: www.calendly.com/esther-788/30min. I’m here to support as many women as I can to believe in themselves, conquer their fears and move from being stuck and overwhelmed into being carefree, fully in flow and joyful, especially in the work they do.
*Feel the fear and do it anyway – Susan Jeffers
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