Today I have challenged myself to write about self-confidence, and I say challenge because this is a subject that has been living with me since I can remember, with increased awareness of the impact it has in my advancement as a woman and a human being.
I find it useful to start by understanding the meaning of self-confidence. Neel Burton, in a blog called Psychology Today, describes self-confidence and self-esteem in a simple and understandable way: self-confidence is about trust in our hability to successfully or adequately interact with the world, it is about capacities. Self-esteem is about the cognitive and emotional appraisal of our own value, it is about self-love, and is as important as to determine our interaction with ourselves, others and the world. Burton also makes an interesting reference to courage as complementar to self-confidence: while the second is useful in the realm of the known, the first is what enables us to move in the realm of the unknown, uncertainty and fear. As Scott Peck puts it, courage is the effort to overcome fear, it enables action that expands the self and/or the other, it is an act of self-love.
This being said, I would like to explore some of the factors related to self-confidence. From a psychological perspective self-confidence requires important ingredients during the development process and socialization of a child, namely:
- Sense of being loved and feeling a person of worth
- Havig our self-expression -opinions, ideas and creations- appreciated and valued
- Being recognized for our individual and special capacities and talents
- Being seen and recognized by meaningful people in our life
- Having our sense of dignity protected
All this happen in the familiar milieu, but is also shaped by other external experiences that may be brought home, shared and reflected together with parents or other reference figures. I am not sure whether all these factors were always present in my life when I was a child, but I clearly remember to be humiliated by a close family member, which I admired and appreciated, who dared (probably driven by ignorance) to diminish my appearance and my intelectual capacity. This happened in an age when I was unable to understand that this person had no right to act that way, that this person was wrong in his words, and it deeply affected me throughout life.
Yet, to fully understand self-confidence (and the lack of it) I believe it is important to look at it from a gender perspective. The situation above described is a good starting point as it was clearly shaped by patriarcal thinking. It is clear to me that dominance and power determined the interaction between my young self and the referred male.
How many of these interactions does a child (all genders) goes through in their life? And in which ways does this influences people’s lives as grown ups? I am convinced that this type of situation deeply affects self-confidence as it creates that feeling of being not good enough, not skilled or smart enough, not beautiful enough. And considering that our women’s lives are permeated by thousands of images that portray this same message, I feel it is quite “normal” to be lacking self-confidence.
Unfortunately is not easy to find literature that enlightens our spirit on the gendered dimension of self-confidence. Consequently and out of self-love and pure desire to develop myself spiritually I have been reflecting on my own experience, observing other women and men around me, to grasp and comprehend what else is at stake when we talk about self-confidence. The first observation, well know to most of us, is that men in general show a strong self-confidence in their words and actions, despite the fact that very often they don’t feel it, they just fake it, or it just comes easy to them because they are used to be listened to and to have their words acknowledged by others. I have also come to realize that some women that seem to be self-confident, deep inside are not, they fake it as men do, mimicking their behavior, their words and sometimes even their aggressiveness.
I have also come across young women who talk and behave in a very confident way, and that is authentic, they really feel that entitlement… And this word, this feeling of entitlement was an AHA! moment to me. That word stayed within me. I carried it for days and weeks until I could finally realize what was actually blocking my self-confidence, that ungraspable part of the complex set of factors. This inability to give things a name is the hardest part. It is there, present, influencing you, but until you name it you can’t fully understand it, and thus you can’t fight it and change it.
I have finally come to realise that I have always been waiting for other people to recognize me and to allow/support me to do things. I mean, I have always done things, the things I love, but always feeling inner concern and fear of not being good enough, of doing a mistake. Still I was doing them, but not as good as I know I can. I have always received this external recognition, I have a bunch of friends and colleagues telling me how good I am in what I do, but I have not been able to tell it to myself so far. And I could not realise why until now.
The truth is that, until we recognize our strengths and capacities, until we tell ourselves how great we are, and therefore entitle us to accept a promotion, to do what we love, to express our thoughts and ideas, things will not change, self-confidence will be lacking to a certain extent. Because there is no one better than another, as human beings we are all entitled to self-expression and to do things and to decide. And as we do, as we decide, we will realise our potential and our greatness and have our self-confidence reinforced.
I strongly believe in the influence exerted by patriarcal system on this need for an external person to recognise and entitle us. In a system based on strong hierarchies, power chains, a binary framework of opposites which assume positive (male, rational, strong,…) and negative (female, emotional, vulnerable, …) values it is easy to fall in the misunderstanding so well put by Roman Krznaric’s:
A lack of confidence is at heart a misunderstanding of the way the world works. It’s an internalized feudalism, which imagines that only certain people — but not oneself — have the right, preordained, to get certain things.
In this world where women and minority groups are not named, and therefore not seen, it is easy to fall in the trap of giving to other people the power of entitlement, that is also a power over our lives.
To reclaim this power is crucial to increased self-confidence and to live joyfully, and it is key to women’s advancement and thus to the advancement of the World.