We have all, at one time or another, doubted ourselves or our abilities to accomplish a task or overcome an obstacle. When this lack of self-confidence starts to become too difficult to overcome and it handicaps us, limits us, builds barriers to our projects or desires, it is fundamental to take responsibility for improving it. Having self-confidence will allow you to achieve great things, and your personal pride will only grow!
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- What is self-confidence?
- Do you have confidence in yourself?
- Is self-confidence a matter of interpretation?
- No to no!
- Why don’t I have confidence in myself?
- What are the brain processes of low self-esteem?
- How to recognize a lack of self-confidence?
- What are the consequences of low self-esteem?
- What are the risks to my health when I lack confidence?
- How can I improve my self-confidence?
- What therapies for low self-esteem?
1. What is self-confidence?
Self-confidence means being convinced that you are capable of succeeding, overcoming a challenge or completing a task. To do this, you need to be able to accept certain fears, certain faults and certain qualities that you have and that will enable you to progress. It is therefore your ability to believe in yourself to accomplish any task, no matter how difficult. So it’s not so much the importance of being able to do it, but your belief in your ability to do it.
This self-confidence is an essential pillar for life, from a personal and professional point of view.
2. Do you have confidence in yourself?
Like any great skill, nothing is magic. It is therefore necessary to train oneself to be confident. This requires rigour and repetition. You have to be able to be persistent, to keep believing in yourself despite the “no’s”, the failures, the difficulties.
It is important to remember that in order to have self-confidence, you have to really believe in it and want it. Indeed, when you do something, the people around you keep reminding you that we are not necessarily capable. It can be a malicious or jealous entourage that wants to put you down with phrases like “you don’t have the level for that”, “what you did was a failure”, and that misses what you do. It can also be a benevolent entourage, which awkwardly tries to protect you from disappointment with phrases like “Are you sure you want to do that?” “You don’t have the profile to succeed in that”… And you yourself have your own negative phrases that you repeat to yourself or that come into your head such as “I’ll never make it”, “I’m not capable”, “I’m no good” …. So don’t let yourself be one of those people who are toxic to your success. Remember that your thoughts influence your actions and that you should not let fate choose your path for you.
To do this, you have to start by wanting to. To want to change, to want to be different, to want to have more confidence in yourself. The path therefore begins by feeling in control of your own destiny!
3. Is self-confidence a matter of interpretation?
Self-confidence and failure are often linked together. As others tell you that you are not capable, and as you may have experienced a failure or two, you end up believing what others tell you. You don’t feel capable, you think they’re right, so you get into this vicious circle of lack of confidence. But the problem is your reaction to this feeling of failure or to the task you have failed to accomplish, and how you interpret it. If you interpret it as a real failure, you will not leave with the same confidence as if you perceive it as a new goal. You interpret the feedback you get from the situation, and the way you think about it.
You know J.K Rowling, the famous Harry Potter author? Did you know that 12 professionals refused to publish her book before it became one of the most famous sagas of this generation. She could have given up after one, two or three rejections. After how many rejections would you have considered your story a failure? Would you have gone to 13 different publishers? She refused to give up, she believed she could succeed, and she insisted. So it was her struggle and her desire to succeed that made her who she is today.
More recently, the Netflix series Squid Game, which is currently making a splash around the world, was also turned down by many producers. Dong-hyuk Hwang wrote the script a decade ago, and the director was facing production rejections. For ten years he kept believing in it, and today it is one of the most watched series.
So you notice that everything is subject to the interpretation of this refusal. If you give up as soon as one or two or more people tell you that you can’t do it, because you believe what they say, you’re going to have low self-confidence. Make that confidence a struggle.
4. No to no!
As with J.K Rowling and Dong-hyuk Hwang, they both took up the fight against NO! They did not accept that their mediocrity could be highlighted when they were convinced of their idea or their writing. They had confidence in themselves and in what they had produced. They believed in their ability. They wanted to do what they wanted to do and do it again until they heard a yes!
It was because they persisted in their project that they eventually became successful. This is a good lesson to learn. Be able to listen to feedback while keeping the project you have in mind. It is important to keep going, despite the difficulties. Try to find a balance between your comfort zone and your potential to move beyond it. Don’t let the no’s lock you into a comfort zone that prevents you from moving forward. Stop listening to your negative phrases, repeat your positive phrases to yourself. If you need to, write them down on small pieces of paper and hang them up where you are sure to see them: in your bedroom, near your bathroom mirror, on your fridge… Have your own positive affirmations, and bring them with you to all your projects.
5. Why don’t I have confidence in myself?
There is no one cause, or one reason why you are not confident. However, there may be certain elements that have created a predisposition to this lack of self-confidence.
Injuries in childhood
Certain behaviours may have developed as a result of what you may have experienced in your childhood. Psychological wounds mark a life and lead to certain anxieties or lack of self-confidence. The feeling of abandonment is one of them, for example. If you were always on your own, if you were always confronted with your failures, not valued or not listened to, you may now suffer from this lack of confidence.
You may have had an education system that did not emphasise your skills, where you were expected to be overly humble or even hide your talents. It is possible that when we don’t want to be noticed, we don’t try to be noticed and we rely on our failures.
When you are young, you tend to look to your parents as an example. You see the results of what they do and we do the same. This is called vicarious learning. If we have parents who are themselves very withdrawn and have little confidence, you are more likely to have little confidence yourself.
When you feel you are continually competing with the other person, you don’t even look at your own skills. You just want to be better, whether the competition is real or induced. You want to be above the other person at all costs without trying to measure yourself against people with the same characteristics as you. It’s like trying to beat Usain Bolt in a sprint without training. Make the other person a goal, ask for help, and train for it. Failure is part of the learning process. Learn from these difficulties. And pull the other person up with you, rather than feeling happy when they do less well than you.
The importance of negative thoughts
The brain is not fair in terms of the balance of negativity and positivity. Indeed, negative emotions and thoughts always have much more weight and impact than positive emotions. Moreover, you tend to formulate sentences in your brain in a negative way. Of all the thoughts you have, almost 3 out of 4 are negative. You can’t get rid of them, you have to learn to live with them, to reformulate them, but above all to accept them in order to minimise the impact they may have on you.
Lack of self-confidence is not necessarily a stable state. Self-confidence can fluctuate according to circumstances, contexts and situations. So accept that sometimes lack of self-confidence can happen to you, at any time, any day. However, do not let this define you. Let these thoughts come and go.
6. What are the brain processes of low self-esteem?
Lack of self-confidence is a brain mechanism that we can change. To do this, we need to understand how it happens in our brain. The amygdala, which is a small part of our brain, is responsible for our emotional feelings and responses. In this circuit, there is the short pathway, where our brain responds and then analyses. The analysis of the situation is done by the long pathway. It analyses how dangerous the situation is. Self-confidence works with this same circuit, as they create a thought pattern together. This thought pattern is often “I can’t do it”, “I won’t make it”. So our brain doesn’t want to do it again or already knows it’s going to fail. So we end up anticipating the outcome of the situation in a negative way. And our brain ends up making failure a learning process: it only knows one thing: “I’m going to fail”, and generates this failure.
7. How to recognize a lack of self-confidence?
There is no typical profile for people lacking in self-confidence. However, it is possible to identify certain common characteristics.
At first, you may feel guilty. You feel that you are not doing well enough, that you are not a good person in one or more situations. You have the feeling that you are not up to the task. You therefore always feel like a failure in these situations, and you tend to put yourself down continuously. You live with constant guilt that eats away at you.
You do not feel legitimate to be in the forefront, you feel that what you experience or what you do must be hidden. You do not dare to assert your thoughts or ideas. You imagine that they are less good or less legitimate than those of others. You give more credit to what others may say or think than to what you want. This creates a great deal of shyness that blocks you from doing some of your own things.
You feel continuously dissatisfied, you see everything as being against you. You feel a lot of negativity inside you. You often hear others tell you that you always see the glass as half full. Yet you feel that everything around you has been done to spite you, or that you are particularly unlucky.
It is particularly difficult for you to assert yourself, to say no. You think that the other person is necessarily more right than you are, or that you cannot say no to him or her because you will no longer be loved by that person. You think that by accepting everything, you will be seen as kinder, more helpful and that you will make those around you proud. Instead, you are hurting yourself and letting others come before you. It is time to learn to say no, to assert yourself while continuing to respect your values of help and solidarity if that is what you want. Saying no does not mean being in opposition, but also allows you to protect yourself.
You find it very difficult to make a choice between two options, and when asked you prefer to say “I don’t know” or “as you wish”. You don’t feel legitimate to choose. If you choose, you are always afraid of making a wrong decision. Once the decision is made, you always question it because the possible consequences might worry you. Most of the time, you make decisions based on other people’s opinions because you want to be sure you are making the right decision, and you don’t want to disappoint them by making a decision they don’t like. What about you? Think about your well-being. You are in a position to know what you want and what makes you feel good.
You often get anxious too easily. In many situations you imagine the worst. You avoid certain places, certain contexts, certain situations because they make you anxious. You may have certain fears or phobias that you do not understand, that have arisen for no real reason. It may be that your lack of self-confidence is so great that you have developed generalized anxiety, but also other phobias such as social phobia or certain others such as the fear of other people’s gaze, a school phobia, claustrophobia…
8. What are the consequences of low self-esteem?
In the professional context
– Missing opportunities
Because you don’t dare to assert yourself, step out of your confidence zone and don’t always go beyond your limits, you risk missing opportunities. If your boss talks to you about getting a promotion and he sees you in the role of a manager to oversee the team you are in, you doubt yourself. You hesitate a lot, you tell him or her that you are not sure you are capable. Yet you are eager to take on this role. But by putting obstacles in your way, you make your boss doubt you, who understands your hesitation and finally gives the role to someone else. You regret having missed this opportunity (and you find yourself feeling guilty again)
– The impostor syndrome
In addition, you may also suffer from impostor syndrome. You don’t feel legitimate in the professional role you have. You have the feeling that you are lying to everyone in your job, and that you are hiding the heavy secret of your incompetence. This makes you even more anxious about going to work, and you risk burnout or ergophobia.
In the relational sphere
You don’t understand how anyone can like you or even love you. You don’t feel you are very good looking, you don’t think you are particularly funny, you don’t think you are particularly intelligent and you feel you have nothing that would attract others, either in friendship or in love. When you look at others around you, you always see their qualities, and you understand why they might like you so much.
You will therefore experience social difficulties or feel isolated. Indeed, when you are in a group or a relationship, you feel that you are too much, that you cannot be appreciated, and that at any moment you will be rejected. So it’s hard to get attached, because you always have that voice inside you that’s screaming at you “to get attached is to hurt yourself, this relationship can’t last”, “you can’t be loved“. You will see all the signs that make you feel excluded. You will interpret everything in this sense. By going in this direction, you are self-sabotaging, and involuntarily creating your exclusion from the group or the break-up of friendships or love affairs. This sends you back to failure and worries you about possible future relationships that you no longer want. You no longer dare to enter into a relationship, since you have assimilated them as a pain.
– In the privacy of your home
Therefore, when you are in a relationship, you have a strong fear of abandonment. You keep in mind all those relationships that did not last. It is therefore increasingly difficult for you to dare to fall in love or to get into a relationship. And if you accept the risk of this relationship, you may sometimes suffer from difficulties in your intimacy, sometimes even to the point of sexual phobia.
It is even possible that your lack of self-confidence prevents you from seeking new relationships. So you stay with people who may be unkind or bad to you. However, you are so afraid of being alone and of being abandoned that you prefer to cling to this person at all costs. This is how you sometimes stay in a relationship that is toxic for you. Your lack of self-confidence may prevent you from seeing that you are in a relationship with a narcissistic pervert. And you won’t leave her/him, because you don’t feel worthy of someone better. You think no one else would want you.
In personal activities
It is difficult to get involved in an activity when you have in mind that you are not good enough at it, that you will fail, that you will never get a good level. You then enter a vicious circle of failure. Indeed, as you see yourself as being bad at this activity, you assume that, no matter how much energy you put into it, you will fail. You will therefore not give your best and will find yourself, effectively, failing.
Moreover, you will have in mind that you can’t do it because you once did a similar activity and failed. So you won’t even try to do the exercise anymore. Let’s take sport as an example: You set yourself the goal of running 10 km in 40 minutes. However, you run the first time and struggle to finish the 10 km. The second time you run and you manage to run 10 km. And so on for 7 races. After the 8th race, you run the 10 km in 55 minutes. Instead of continuing to set goals, you tell yourself it’s impossible, you’ll never make it, and give up the race.
The risk now becomes the generalisation of the negative self-concept into other areas that are no longer related to sport. You will say to yourself that, because you have not succeeded in your sporting objective, you never succeed in anything you do, and that sport is only a reflection of all your other failures. This generalisation is particularly harmful because it leads to you giving up certain activities and preventing you from trying new things that could be fulfilling.
This causes you a great deal of frustration, and a constant feeling of mediocrity that puts you in trouble. The inner pain that this feeling can cause you will be accentuated by the fact that you are afraid of disappointing those around you, of being judged by your failures, of not living up to what might be expected of you. You are therefore not moving forward with your projects and goals. All this holds you back.
9. What are the risks to my health when I lack confidence?
When your lack of self-confidence is no longer temporary, when it poisons you in your daily life, one of the possible complications is addiction. Indeed, the addictive substance (tobacco, alcohol, drugs) or an addictive behaviour (gambling, sport, pornography…) can be reassuring for you. You reproduce a pattern you know, you do not leave your comfort zone, and yet you have involuntarily created a reassuring sphere. Reassuring, of course, but also particularly harmful to your health.
You don’t feel able to rely on your skills and on yourself anymore. The focus on your failures affects your morale. In the longer term, you feel like you’re missing out. You feel that you can’t achieve anything and that everything you do is doomed to failure. Obviously, you feel demoralised and have no desire to do anything. You have no energy left and feel incompetent and weak. Depression is an important and common consequence of low self-confidence.
Being loved for who you are and what you do just seems impossible. When someone gets attached to you, you think directly that this person will leave you, and will abandon you. You think you can’t deserve love, affection. If someone loves you, you think it’s because they haven’t been able to see what’s wrong with you yet because you’ve hidden it, but as soon as they see it they’ll leave. So when you are in a relationship, you absolutely need the other person. You think you can’t live without them. You think that he or she is the only person who will want you. You think that if he or she leaves you you will be nothing. You live only through this person. This emotional dependence makes you suffer. You have to learn to trust yourself and believe in your ability to live independently.
You don’t like your body, you don’t feel comfortable in it, you can’t manage your emotions and feelings.
As a result, you may start trying to calculate all your food, eat less, deprive yourself, make yourself vomit, try to control your BMI, etc. You may fall into anorexia in order to feel that you can control and manage yourself.
On the other hand, you suffer so much from this lack of self-confidence that you are unable to manage your emotions and cravings. You therefore eat food impulsively, have binge eating episodes and may feel even more unable to manage yourself. This bulimia can therefore reinforce your lack of self-confidence, and you no longer feel comfortable in your body. You would like to lose weight but you can’t.
In these circumstances, it is important to understand your relationship with food in order to be able to assess how you feel about it.
Lack of confidence can lead to the development of certain phobias or anxieties (which you can learn to manage). There may be a direct link to this lack of self-confidence, or there may be no apparent link.
For example, you may suffer from agoraphobia because you feel unable to react alone in certain places. The gaze of others may also be so difficult for you to deal with, that being in a crowd worries you and you develop ochlophobia. Similarly, public speaking is difficult for you because it is impossible for you to ignore the judgement of others, and you are desperate for them not to see that you are worried, and that they judge you negatively. This can also be complicated by the fact that you may develop a generalised anxiety disorder.
10. How can I improve my self-confidence?
To improve your self-confidence, you can follow the following tips or exercises. Choose those that correspond to you, that reassure you and that you like. Above all, start by telling yourself that today you decide to accept to change and to work on your lack of self-confidence.
Everything can change
The first lesson is that nothing is irreversible. Not everything will turn out the way it was originally intended, but it is important to remind our brain that we can always recover from our mistakes. Thinking this way puts you in a position where you no longer suffer what happens to you, but rather feel ready to tackle obstacles head on, even when we feel we have made an irreparable mistake.
Let’s take the example of a job interview that went very badly because you said something that could be misinterpreted by your potential future employer. You say to yourself that, that’s it, you’ve missed this opportunity that you like so much. You have several options to avoid being stuck with this failure and telling yourself that you are incapable. You can either call the employer and explain yourself. Be yourself, be sincere, you have nothing to lose. You can also learn from this for future interviews, and this experience will have enabled you to move forward.
It’s a phrase that may sound cliché and that we use easily. You’ve probably heard it before, and maybe even said it before, and yet it doesn’t work so easily. However, you have to really feel the intensity behind this thought. You have abilities, qualities, flaws, some difficulties, but it is all part of you. What you consider a quality is not necessarily the case for another person. Ask them what qualities they emphasise when they meet people, and you will see that nobody has the same qualities. You may even find that if your neighbour, Paul, likes organised people a lot, you can’t stand being with someone who is too organised because it seems boring. One person’s quality may be another’s flaw. And yet you can appreciate all these people for who they are. So it’s the same for you.
So don’t try to imitate someone you are not, or the qualities of others that seem good to you. You will not be able to be yourself, you will create a dissonance between who you really are and what you present to others. This will not hold, you will not blossom, and you will put yourself in a situation of failure, especially in social relationships.
Make a list of your qualities
When we are in failure, whether real or imagined, it is difficult for you to see your qualities. You tend to emphasise what may have made you fail in that situation. And, more and more, you only see your faults. It’s time to reverse this trend and turn to the positive. So make lists that you can easily access. Write down all your qualities, all your pride, all your successes. When you make this list, don’t leave room for negativity. Think only positive. You can even talk about it around you and ask others what qualities they think of you, what achievements you have made that have impressed them. In all obstacles, but even in everyday life, remember those qualities that will carry you through to your goals.
Once the list is made, you can even do the exercise in front of your mirror. Talk to yourself and tell your reflection all the qualities you have, how impressive you think you are to have succeeded in overcoming such an ordeal, how strong you feel, and highlight the characteristics of your personality that you have mobilised to succeed in this. Do this very regularly, and you will quickly see a change in your self-confidence.
When you talk to your reflection, learn to forgive yourself. Forgive yourself for your mistakes, forgive yourself for what did not satisfy you, forgive yourself for not having reacted as you would have liked, for having missed something that was important to you. Once you have forgiven yourself, try to understand what lesson you can learn from this ordeal or this obstacle in order to progress better. There is no point in making a mistake unless you can move forward even better and more easily next time. Do not perceive the failure but the lesson to be drawn from it.
Create motivational phrases for yourself
Suggesting positive ideas to ourselves allows our brains to take on positive and motivating ideas. In essence, we want to prove ourselves right. Therefore, if you tell yourself every day that it’s impossible and that you won’t succeed, you’re more likely to fail. But on the contrary, if you give yourself positive and motivating phrases, you will find the strength to achieve this objective and goal. These slogans are short, easy to repeat and remember. You only need one or two of them to accompany you in all moments of doubt. And repeat it over and over again, twenty times a day and even more in difficult moments.
Divide your objectives into parts
The most important thing is to set achievable goals. If you decide to run a marathon, you can’t just wake up one morning and say, “Today I’m going to run more than 42 km”. It takes a certain amount of training to do that. This training should be in line with your current fitness level and abilities. Always try to push yourself beyond your comfort zone, while being in an environment where you are capable. If the training is not appropriate you will have a permanent feeling of failure as you will feel that you are not achieving what you set out to do. Whereas training is about ‘doing it again’, ‘doing it again’ and again.
It is also important that you accept that your condition is not always the same. You may be particularly tired, find it difficult to concentrate today, it may be very hot or very cold, you may not be in the mood etc. Define or redefine your goals according to you at the moment.
Learn to say no
To improve your self-confidence, it is important that you can assert yourself. Don’t always try to put the other person before yourself. You forget yourself, you lose yourself. You no longer know what you want for yourself, but you do it according to others. Don’t necessarily be resistant to everything that is asked of you, but try to say no if you really don’t want to. The first step here is to understand what you really want. Listen to yourself, your needs and wants. For this you can use non-violent communication or some assertiveness exercises.
Don’t take everything personally
As stated in the Toltec Agreements, it is important not to make all external elements personal. Turn your attention to the other, not just to yourself. If you have failed at something, it is not necessarily because of you, but perhaps because there were other external elements that came into play. Life is made up of random elements, where you have to manage to shape yourself according to everything around you. So remember that not everything is made against you, or for you. If you confess your feelings to someone you love, and that person does not respond in kind to your advances, it is not because of you. He or she may think that your values, characters and personalities are not a good match and that the relationship may hurt you more. Perhaps he is not emotionally ready to open up to you either? He doesn’t say no just to be against you.
The most important step in evoking change is to dare to expose yourself to situations that may be difficult for you, and force yourself to go beyond your comfort zone. In a progressive approach, set yourself simple exposure goals and give yourself these small challenges. You can even make games out of them with your friends. Dare to go and talk to strangers, dare to take off your make-up mask to go to the supermarket, don’t shy away from stares and force yourself to look the people around you in the eye.
Don’t forget: list your proudest achievements, highlight what you have done well and the challenges you have faced. You can be proud of yourself. No exposure is too small, the most important thing is to have dared to do it.
Focus on the positive
As you may have read earlier, negative emotions always take up a considerable amount of space in our minds compared to positive emotions. Just out of the 4 main emotions we can feel, 3 are “negative”: Fear, anger and sadness, against 1 positive which is joy. It is therefore easier to highlight what hurts you, what makes you sad, or what makes you angry rather than what makes you feel good. But it’s a practice, and you’ll find that by paying attention to what’s positive, your brain will focus more on that.
Therefore, get a notebook, in which, every day you write down 3 positive things that happened to you during the day. This can be something big like a meeting, but also smaller things that we are less used to highlighting: good weather, a good meal, a good night’s sleep, the cleanliness of a place… Train your brain to be positive!
Allow yourself to hear the compliments you receive, and really take them personally. If one of your friends tells you that you look great today, don’t try to make excuses for it by saying it’s your new dress or the new T-shirt that looks good on you, your tan or a good night’s sleep. Just say “Thank you”. Don’t apologise for receiving certain compliments, be sorry or feel embarrassed because it put you in the spotlight. The same applies to intellectual matters. After a presentation you had to make, your manager tells you that you did really well. Don’t try to put this success on other people or the audience, but you too can feel it and be proud of it.
However, it is important that you do things for yourself, not to expect recognition from one or more people. Just take the compliments they have to offer.
Understanding to better help oneself
It is important to understand what your lack of self-confidence highlights. First, ask yourself in what circumstances this lack of self-confidence is particularly strong or particularly handicapping you. Try to see what it represents in you: Is it a fear of abandonment? Is it a trauma? Is it your upbringing? Is it something you have been told? Also try to understand in which area it affects you the most and what is it that handicaps you most in the professional world because you cannot evolve? In your friendships that you can’t keep? In your love relationship which does not satisfy you?
Take the time to reflect and answer all these questions to better move forward and accept what you may feel. The aim here is not to punish yourself, to hold grudges against certain people or to feel guilty. From there, you will be able to find the solutions that are the most adapted to restore your self-confidence and improve your self-assertion.
11. What therapies for low self-esteem?
Cognitive Behavioural Therapies (CBT) are the most effective therapies for improving and working on your self-confidence in an adapted and rapid way. This therapy will allow you to work on the devaluing thoughts you may have, on your dysfunctional automatic thoughts, on your cognitive distortions. The aim of this follow-up will therefore be to carry out cognitive restructuring. The principle of cognitive restructuring is to change negative and dysfunctional thoughts into positive, realistic and functional thoughts.
You will also identify the source of your lack of confidence and understand from which sphere it may originate according to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The therapist will help you to put forward the expression of your needs in the different situations in order to not retranscribe this need in a lack, but to externalize it to answer it. These exercises will also teach you to express what you feel in an appropriate way, thanks in particular to assertive communication.
It is therefore in this dynamic that Virtual Reality Exposure Therapies (VRET) intervene. Indeed, VRT is part of CBT and allows exposure to situations in a gradual, safe and controlled way. Exposure training is not violent, as you will be immersed in a 3D environment that recreates the same neuronal connections as reality. You will therefore feel safe to start the exposures and face your anxieties and lack of self-confidence. During these therapies, the psychologist who accompanies you will help you to experience situations differently. You will work directly in the situation to modify your thoughts. You will learn to perceive situations according to their context and learn to receive feedback according to our interpretation, but also according to the point of view of others.