Building Confidence and Self-esteem
Created | Updated Feb 1, 2005
self-confidence n. a feeling of trust in one's abilities, qualities, and judgement.
It could be argued that of all commodities available to us humans, both real and imagined, material or ephemeral, confidence is the the glittering prize. Not the kind of short-term confidence you get from a bit of make-up or a stiff drink, but real deep-down-in-the-bones confidence, the sort that's terribly hard to find if you don't already have it. Let's face it, gold won't really buy you confidence. And the thrill of a boob job can only last so long. As a race, we humans are characterised by our frailties and doubts. Just look at the animal kingdom - polar bears hardly suffer from low self-esteem, do they?
But what is confidence? And how do you get it? How do you build self-esteem? Well, here are some of the h2g2 Community's thoughts on the subject.
Sometimes you just have to fake it. I used to be all shy and retiring, until my grandmother told me to try pretending I ruled the world... and now I do (in my head at least) and it really helps! I can wear what I like and get away with talking about things I know nothing about really, and it doesn't matter because I love me even if nobody else does. So, thanks Granny.
One Researcher has always considered self-confidence to be like riding a bike:
You can read up on the theory for ever, but one day you're gonna have to get on the saddle and start peddling. True you may come off and graze your knee but it'll be easier next time. Same for an area of your life you lack confidence with, repeated experience will overcome your fears, even if you do suffer setbacks along the way.
h2g2 Gives You Confidence!
Confidence is something that you can build on in lots of different ways. Find activities that you enjoy and channel some of your time into improving your skills in those areas.
I boosted my self-esteem by finding that, as far as I can make out, my input into h2g2 is appreciated most of the time - and that I've a good bunch of friends and acquaintances here to help me through the hard times and laugh with through the good. The best way, in my humble opinion, of improving your self-esteem is to do something to help other people. Help yourself by helping others.
Or write an entry for h2g2!
A supportive home environment is critical! Telling your children that you love them, that you're proud of them, and that they're special - very, very important. Mister Rogers (an American children's television icon) often sings a song on his programme. It's called 'You Are Special'. Here are a few lines:
You are my friend, you are special.
You are my friend, you're special to me.
You are the only one like you.
Like you, my friend, I like you.
Simply brilliant, isn't it? And something parents all need to do more of. At the start of school this year, my eldest daughter's class was asked to write a sentence about why they are special. As one Researcher happily recollects...
My child wrote 'I am special because I am loved.'
Knowing that you're loved and special to others builds self-esteem naturally.A secure and comforting home environment can often be a great starting point for people, especially children, as they make their first tentative steps in the world. However, it is perhaps only the first phase as it is a child's first contact. Creating a safe, loving environment is a good beginning, and yet an individual will also be affected by how the rest of the world community receives and treats them upon branching out from the family nest. Their experience of that will help to shape in the long-term their inner securities. Bullying, academic disappointment, the long-term unemployed are just some of the factors that would knock any individual's confidence in themselves. It should be good to go back to that secure family home to know there is someone who wants them in the world, but the setbacks and 'kicks-in-the-teeth' of everyday life could shatter a person's belief in themselves and possibly prompting sour side-affects, like alcoholism or worse, just to soften the blow. That is perhaps the time when the strength of those relationships formed at home are tested most.
I know from experience that bullying can rob you of self-esteem, however in a family where children are encouraged to be open and not to be judged, they can discuss this if it happens. A child who is loved will be less prone to bullying, because of increased self-confidence. What you believe you can do, you can do. A child who is taught how to deal with the world and how to be successful will be better able to cope with disappointments and job losses as and when they happen and to bounce back.
Another Children's Song
Here's an extract from a children's song by Roy Bailey.
Oh you can be anybody you want to be
You can love whoever you will
You can travel any country that your heart leads
And know that I will love you still.
You can be by yourself, you can gather friends around You can choose one special one
And the only measure of your worth in this life
Will be the love you leave behind when you're done.
Maybe this is the right track to self-esteem. Parents program it into their children and this lets them know they are worthy. That way, life's knocks don't penetrate so deeply.
The Appearance of Self-esteem
When you lack self-esteem and confidence it is reflected in your body language. Your body is influenced by your mind and vice versa. When you are feeling insecure, pull your shoulders back, lift your head up, distribute your weight evenly, focus on breathing slowly and releasing the tension in your muscles. By maintaining a relaxed, open posture you are showing everyone that you are extremely confident, you will also find that you begin to feel it as your emotions start to reflect your physical self. The more this is practised, the more natural it becomes and you have to think less and less about it. The combination of 'tricking' your brain through your body posture, and the positive reactions you will get from other people, will help to build your confidence permanently.
Thanks to my parents, I've seldom suffered from a lack of self-confidence, but when I did, I applied a little trick. Body reflects the mind, so when you're bursting with self-confidence, you tend to walk straight, look up and smile a lot. I discovered that it's a two-way street. Namely, if you mimic body language of self-confidence long enough, the mind starts to reflect the body. It's not easy, so may the Force be with you.
Confidence is linked to assertiveness. You need to acquire skills to enable you to cope with the tricky situations that knock your self-esteem. A good book that might help is A Woman In Your Own Right by Anne Dickson. Dickson looks at very ordinary situations and how they can be improved. The reader is encouraged to examine their own lives, identify their problem areas and move on to find practical resolutions.
Focus on the positive. It is unlikely that you lack confidence or self-esteem in every aspect of your life. Identify areas you are confident in, congratulate yourself, and then analyse how you achieved confidence in these parts of your life. Use the same skills to develop confidence in the areas you feel are lacking it.
Get a Life, Get a Dog
Once you've been knocked down a few times, it's hard to get back up again. Well that's what one Researcher felt. That is, until he got a pet dog...
I have to take him out at least two times a day, and even when I'm at my worst, I still have to take him. Because I know he needs to go out I am less selfish than I was (if that's the right word) and I know no matter what, he has to go out. So, in a hard way, I have gained a lot of confidence. Added to that, I am forced to be among people more than I ever was before, and I have learned to stand up for myself.
But I would never advise anyone to get a pet unless they were able to give 100% of the love and care a pet needs.
Too Much Time
There are many reasons why this could, in principle, prevent from those feelings of low self-esteem. First, one will probably be in contact with friendly people. Second, one will probably have to do some research and compose a piece of writing. This can absorb the whole 'excess time' which would otherwise be available for potential self-pity and self-criticism.
One of the worst things that can happen to a human being is 'excess of spare time' - Strange enough, since most people usually whine about 'having no time', most people don't know what to do with 'spare time', once they get some. Few people really know how to motivate themselves by themselves, even fewer people find convincing reasons to do so. For that reason most people tend to become lazy, which is in most cases highly unsatisfying. And here comes the tragic part: The thinking about this unhappiness will bring up all possible frustrations and deceptions along with a whole bunch of self-criticisms. This deteriorates self-esteem.
Doing something, anything, really - it's essential to revert this vicious cycle. The important thing is that this 'something' has to be considered 'meaningful' (eg, fun, useful, entertaining, of learning-value etc) by the person in question. Writing an entry for h2g2 could be a good start.
How to Be Gorgeous
Apparently, this really does work. Honest.
OK, this is real. I've tried it. And it works. Say you're an average-looking person (works perfectly well for girls, I haven't yet tested it on boys as most boys and men I know do not care about their looks very much.) And you feel unattractive. You have good and bad features, the usual range of flaws, and a nice enough personality. How do you become attractive?
Believe it or not, you just have to act like you ARE attractive. Not just attractive: you have to act like you're the most gorgeous person that ever walked the Earth (or at least your portion of it). Wearing nice clothes helps (plumage does count), because it will help you feel gorgeous: but the crucial thing is, you have to take a leap of faith and act gorgeous.
It works. It really, really does.
A Change is as Good as a Rest
The message here seems to be 'do what makes you happy!'.
At school I was a typical wall-flower. Always felt less important or significant than those around me. I had friends, but was never one of the in-crowd (nor ever thought I could be). My opportunity to change came when I left school. Quite simply I decided enough was enough and took the chance to play at being a more confident person. Playing the role day-in day-out started to make it happen.
It doesn't happen overnight, however. I'd say it was five-six years before some of the new behaviours and self-beliefs became a reality. In some respects I'm still working on it 14 years later (put me in the middle of a busy pub and I withdraw back into the safety of the shell!).
The trick is to do whatever makes you happy. It's not a case of 'I don't care what other people think' because that makes it worse, it's more important to consider: how do I want to see myself through other people's eyes and how do I make it happen?
Personally I feel I'm a more rounded, more content and more complete person for the change. I have all new faults now! And enjoy each and every one of them.
The 10:1 Ratio
Psychologists have calculated that it takes ten items of praise to balance one item of criticism so be careful what you say. When preparing to give someone criticism also make a note of the good points before having to give the constructive criticism and also don't criticise all the points that need improving at once. Deal with the major issues first the minor ones can be dealt with at a later date if you have continual access to the other person.
Exercise Can Help
Studies of exercise have shown that taking up a sport/activity can help with low self-esteem and confidence. And it can help in the following ways:
Any activity/sport involves challenges. Usually not huge un-conquerable ones but little achievable ones. In mountain biking being able to clear (without putting a foot down) a technical section. In Yoga it could be achieving the 'Bow' position. Each time one of these is achieved it builds our self-confidence. We 'can' do something.
Exercise releases chemicals, endorphines and adrenalin (depending upon the type of exercise/activity), which gives us natural highs. These can help counterbalance the little lows of life.
Finally most exercise involves meeting people - often with a similar outlook (well you have the same interest at least) and friends can be the greatest boost to your confidence and self-esteem.
I agree, and here I speak with the zeal of a convert. I always hated PE lessons when I was at school, and have never made any serious attempts to exercise until recently. I had heard that exercise could lift depression and give you a natural, healthy high, but I found it very hard to believe. Why would repetitive effort make you feel good?
But it does! As you say, there is the pleasure of setting yourself little challenges and beating them one by one. I'm 42 and began from a very low level of fitness, but I've progressed from swimming 15 lengths of my local pool to swimming (and enjoying) 50 lengths in a matter of weeks. I can even spend some time working out in the gym without feeling as if I'm going to pass out now, and afterwards I really do feel exceptionally alive and well.
Exercise does boost your self-esteem, because you are taking care of yourself and improving yourself. The extra confidence you feel is well-founded, because as you get fitter you have more energy and can get more done. For years my favourite exercise was the pint lift, but now I visit my local sports centre almost as often as I used to visit my local pub!
Fight! Fight! Fight!
You can always build your confidence Bruce Lee-style:
Something that really worked for me was doing kick-boxing classes. It was weird how it worked; it didn't make me feel good because I could look at people and think I could mash them up in a couple of seconds (I'm quite a peaceful chap really). It was more like it turned down the level of fear within myself. Apparently lots of people do it for confidence reasons and it's a well-known effect. Plus you can do a whole range of Jean-Claude Van Damme moves after a while.
I started doing Bushido just under a year ago and it has helped me dramatically. It definitely reduces the fear within yourself, because you just get used to dealing with a more confrontational atmosphere I think. It also makes you feel good because there's so much that I'm doing that I never thought I'd be able to do. Once you do it it makes you believe that you can do pretty much anything if you put your heart and soul into it. I'd been taking this for granted for a bit, until I spoke to my brother who's a bit down at the moment, and he just hasn't got the belief to change his life for the better, and it made me realise just how much I've learned.
Regaining That Which is Lost
Everyone is born with a degree of confidence and self-esteem. If that were not true, we would never leave the womb, preferring the warmth and security that it offers. As a child grows this confidence needs to be built one. When the child reaches adulthood, they should be confident and bursting with self-esteem. However, self-esteem is one of those things that is very easy to lose and so hard to regain. The wrong word at the wrong time to a growing child can and destroy all self-confidence in an instance. Domestic upheavals and similar problems can all have a devastating effect.
So how do you regain that which is lost? The first thing you need is a soul-mate. This can be a spouse, a relative or friend, any sex but probably female. Females tend to be better at this sort of thing. Any age is acceptable, and we are talking about a Platonic relationship here, not a sexual one.
This person needs to be perceptive, compassionate and to be able to recognise the problem without having to be told. A suitable soul-mate will help and guide you without pushing. A characteristic of people lacking in self-confidence is that they have a strong aversion to being pushed into something. There is a very fine line between being pushed and being guided. The right person will have mastered this skill to perfection.
How to help yourself? Pick yourself a task that is within your capabilities but not so easy that it does not require a bit of effort. Take a course of some kind or go and climb a mountain - not Everest to begin with, something small. When you have done that, climb another mountain a little bit harder than the last one. There is nothing like success, no matter how small, to breed self-confidence. With the help and encouragement of your soul-mate, you will, one day, suddenly realise that you are smarter than you think you are and there is nothing beyond you capability if you put your mind to it.
I use the mountain climbing analogy with good reason. Climbing out of the despair of low self-esteem is just like climbing a mountain. As you reach the crest of one hill, there is another in front of you, but each successive crest is a little bit higher than the last. Suddenly without warning, you will find yourself on the summit.
Confidence absolutely comes with success - well, that's the opinion of some. And almost invariably success is a result of being good at what you do. The natural corollary is that confidence is borne out of competence (although competence does not necessarily imbue confidence). Further, confidence grows with age. Lack-of-confidence is largely a result of worrying about what other people think of you.
Firstly, as you grow older, you tend to realise that what other people think of you is largely unimportant. It is interesting, almost pitiful, to read all the teenage angst posted in the h2g2 conversation fora, realising that each of these oh-so-sensitive young people will need to reinvent the wheel before they discover life's real priorities. 'Don't sweat the small stuff' - you don't need to buy (or even read) the book, just to appreciate the message. For youngsters, the perceived big stuff (like clothes, zits) is actually small stuff. That is why rigid adherence to school uniform is so important.
Second, age brings wisdom, and hopefully the knowledge that you are doing your thing right. So long as I'm confident in my own knowledge, which I find that I rarely am not these days, I'll fight my corner with anyone.
Building Group Self-esteem
Sometimes esteem and confidence can be nurtured in the context of a supportive group situation. Here an expert kindly shares with h2g2 the benefit of their professional experience:
Having taken teenagers away on overnight retreats many times, I know that ice-breaking and building self-esteem within the group is essential to enabling each person to see themselves as part of a whole as well as individual growth. Each person is different yet the same at the same time.
One of the exercises which works well toward this end is sometimes called a 'trust walk.' One individual leads another around for a short period of time. No talking is permitted and the person being led must either keep his or her eyes closed or be blindfolded. All communication must be non-verbal. After about five to ten minutes the positions are reversed.
This is a very hard thing to do especially if you are simply asked to keep your eyes close. It's hard to trust that the person leading you is not going to lead you into a pond or over a tree root, if you are out in nature. It's just as hard if you hear traffic speeding by in the city. But the name of the game is 'trust walk'. So when a person finishes this, they naturally feel good about having trusted another.
Upon coming back to the whole group a carefully guided discussion ensues concerning trust, similarities, differences, and how they felt about themselves. This exercise than leads into deeper sharing.
If it works right, each young man or woman enters into the rest of the retreat with a better view of his or herself as well as a fuller respect of the group. Each persons self esteem is raised.
Alcohol and Self-esteem
There is a terrible irony about the relationship between alcohol and self-esteem. You can drink to boost your confidence, and it can work for a long time; but nothing wrecks self-esteem more surely than the realisation that you've become dependent on the stuff.
For years, I tried to bolster my frail confidence with the artificial temporary boost that a drink can bring. It finally got to the point where I needed a drink to cope with any kind of social occasion. Eventually I had to do something about my drinking, and recently I've been going to a support group for problem drinkers. There's a regular monthly meeting there specifically concerned with issues of self-esteem, where I and others discuss why we needed a drink to boost our self-belief, and how we can work to strengthen our confidence after kicking the booze.
The good news is that I've now stayed off drink for over three months, and my confidence has never been higher. I'm doing things now that I know I'd never have had the nerve to do when I was relying on Dutch courage. Giving up problem drinking is such a challenge that if you manage it, you can think 'If I can do that, I can do just about anything!'
'I Yam wot I Yam'
Frank Sinatra singing 'My Way' springs to mind when reading this particular Researcher offering:
Quite frankly I really don't care what other people think of me unless it is something that I do that upsets them. I stand on who I am and what I do, if that's not enough, move on. If someone doesn't like my personality there are plenty more to choose from. Some others seem to and if I usually like theirs, so much the better. If I was disgusting and obnoxious it would be of some concern to them and me but it hasn't been. I am loved and I love, do I really need much more than that? What talent I have is there and should grow with time hopefully, what people skills I have are based on consideration and kindness. Why should I improve something that seems to work the way I and my friends mostly want it to?
Religion, God and Self-esteem
And finally, it's good to see that h2g2 Community is as divided as ever when it comes to the thorny issue of religion. (You can read the other 9,900 words in the conversation at the bottom of this entry. Go on - you know you want to.)
As a Christian, I believe that my faith does have an affect on the way I feel. Don't get me wrong, I do feel down, angry and of little worth sometimes or even a lot of the time. I do find, though, that when I ask for God's peace, I find myself much more able to smile and be happy.
As a Pagan I find that the structure of my path serves to remind me of the bigger picture. This in turn reminds me to put my negativity into context and open my senses to the wonderful natural world about me.
As a Materialistic Atheist I believe that my problems are nothing more than imbalance among certain chemicals in my brain. The knowledge that this imbalance will not last is all I need to get through it. That doesn't make it okay at the time of course, but just being a load of atoms, it doesn't have any long-term effect on me. My soul doesn't need help because I haven't got one.