The Confidence Curse

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I was talking with a friend the other day, when he mentioned, “Self-confidence is one of my weaker traits, despite all appearances.” And my first thought was–yes, I totally agree. It’s strange, really. I had a great childhood, a supportive family, and the best friends a girl could hope to have. There is no discernible reason why my self-confidence should be like a soft whisper amidst the screaming rock concert of my fears and doubts.

This lack of confidence is a strange beast. It defies all logic, and certainly makes even less sense when picked up and carefully scrutinised. It’s the insistent conviction that every criticism–however kindly or unkindly meant–is yet another gaping crack in the armour that hides your flaws, flaws understandable in others but, for some reason, not in yourself. It’s the whisper that says, because you have failed at perfection, because you have failed yet again to reach that impossible standard you set for yourself, you have far less worth as a human being than anyone else.

Rationally, I know that it makes no sense. Yet that doesn’t stop me from feeling a disproportionately acute sense of failure when I screw up, or when someone tells me I’ve screwed up. It doesn’t stop me from mulling over an unfavourable or outright hostile response from someone else, wondering what I did wrong and how I could have rephrased my words.

I’ve found that there are two common strategies to counter this. The first is to get defensive. Reject the criticism and explain your reasoning and logic, despite the fact that it’s unlikely you’ll see eye-to-eye with the other person. But at least you tried. They simply don’t understand because they’ve never walked in your shoes. You had good reason, you were in the right, and therefore, your worth stands undiminished. You are still as good as all these other human beings. Your weaknesses are still safely hidden (hah!). All is well.

…except that, well, it’s not. I learned pretty young that being defensive simply makes you a horrible person to be around. Everyone’s walking on eggshells, wondering what will set you off next. In the end, everyone makes a hasty retreat when you enter the room. Not so fun.

So I learned to use the other strategy. Expose your weaknesses. Exaggerate them. Trumpet them to the world.

Because if you do it first, it doesn’t matter if someone else does.

They can’t make you feel worthless because you’ve beaten them to the punch. Criticism is far less painful coming from yourself, because they’re the very flaws you point out to yourself every day. And there’s no room for disappointment on the other end, because, hey, you already warned them.

You still run the risk of coming across as whiny, or self-pitying. Everyone’s had enough of that person who’s always saying they can’t do a thing, and being a sad sack about it. And that’s where I learned my third big lesson. Humour can transform anything. Self-deprecating humour, especially, pulls triple-duty: It makes fun of your weaknesses, lets others feel better about themselves, and most importantly, it makes them laugh.

But in the end, the core problem still remains. I realised this as I lay on my bed the other night, running over some random forum user’s attack on something I posted. I realised I was getting upset over some stranger’s words, allowing them to disturb and define me. Allowing that stranger to put a measure on my worth, as though it were something that could be given and taken back by mere human beings.

It was stupid.

I can’t say that by coming to this revelation, my self-confidence problems have now been magically fixed, and a lifetime of habit has been erased. But I can say that by critically thinking about it and bringing it into the light of day, I’m far more likely to pull myself up short in the middle of such thoughts. I’ll question my feelings and my reactions, and ask myself just why I’m so troubled over someone else’s words.

It’s still baby steps. But instead of laughing at myself, I think that this time, I’ll be proud of it.


Leanne Yong is an aspiring Aussie author who is working on her second young adult novel. Check out her blog at Clouded Memories for more information and a journal chronicling her latest foray into novel writing.

Photo by Neil Fein, via Flickr.

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