Empower yourself! Raising your confidence and self esteem
“I’d like more confidence and self-esteem. I used to be confident, and I have no idea where mine went.” This is something that I often hear in my counselling room. Maybe you can relate? When you were younger you might have thought nothing of going alone to a party, meeting new people or travelling abroad and backpacking. And now, here you are married with kids and afraid to go for that job that you know you are well qualified for. Somehow, we don’t feel good enough. How did this happen?
What’s the difference between confidence and self-esteem?
Confidence is your belief in yourself, your capabilities and your way of relating to the external world. Self-esteem is your internal world; how you feel about yourself, your inner strengths and how much you value yourself.
We might look at confidence as something that is learned with repetition. For example, I may not have any confidence in my abilities to cook or ski. However, if I am shown how to do these things I can eventually practise and develop confidence in these areas.
Self-esteem is a little trickier. If we have low self-esteem we might feel that we would never be good enough to learn a new skill and develop confidence. If we feel good about ourselves, we are more likely to give new skills and tasks a go.
The inner critic
If you have low self-esteem, you might find that you have an inner voice that tells you nasty things about yourself that are not true, yet you wholeheartedly believe that internal bully aka the inner critic.
When you pay attention, you might be able to hear him or her. It’s that voice that whispers, “You’d like to try online dating? Are you joking? You might want to lose weight first.” Or “Don’t even bother going for that job. You will never get it. There’s loads more people that are better skilled.”
Do you recognise your inner critic? We all have one. Where did it come from? Maybe someone called you “a lazy child” or said that you would never amount to anything. Now there’s a part of you that believes that and tells you at every available opportunity. Maybe you went for a few jobs and didn’t get them. So you begin to judge yourself, telling yourself that you will never be good enough, you might as well quit. The inner critic can come from a variety of sources. The first step to changing it and raising your self-esteem is awareness of it.
There may be deep-rooted (false) beliefs about ourselves that repeatedly tell us an old story, “I’ll never be good enough” or “I’ll never fit in.” These beliefs can be changed when we realise what the beliefs are and how they are holding us back.
Often all it might take is a reframing of those old stories. Ask yourself is that true? Just because I was excluded from the group at 12 does that mean I will be or have been forever excluded for instance. When we call our old beliefs out into the light and expose them we realise that they no longer serve us. Gradually our confidence and self-esteem can increase with a little bit of time and work.
Or how about imposter syndrome? How many of us have felt that we are faking our role? You might as yourself “who do I think I am to take on this role?” Well, now ask yourself “Well why the heck, not me?” Challenge yourself.
There’s always a little bit of fear involved when we try something new but if you think back to your achievements and successes you might realise that this story that you are ‘fake’ is inaccurate. Be kind to yourself and speak to yourself as if you were one of your best friends. Saying things like “Of course you are capable. Remember when you achieved - you did really well then.” Validate yourself and your successes.
Being the ‘good girl/boy’
Chances are if you were the ‘good girl/boy’ in your family then you like to make sure that everyone is happy now. You might put others needs before your own and you blame yourself for things that go wrong.
If you were told that you were ‘so good for helping mummy’ and were highly praised, then this is how you felt that you should be in order to be worthy. If you like to help other people and make sure everyone is happy then that’s fine. But if you find yourself resentful, burnt out and overwhelmed by putting yourself last then this is where boundaries might need to be set.
Boundaries and self-care
Boundaries are about saying “I matter. My needs are important too.” And when you can assertively state your boundaries then your confidence and self-esteem will gradually increase. If you are always saying ‘yes’ to things that you would like to say ‘no’ to then you begin to feel like a doormat, and this will not make you feel good about yourself. If you base your self-worth on pleasing others all of the time then this will likely lead to self-esteem and confidence issues. Ask yourself, what do YOU need right now? Do you need more time? Do you need to say no to something to give you that time?
Putting boundaries in place takes confidence and practice. If you are used to giving in and saying yes all of the time then you might need a few lines that you can practice and repeat as a go-to response so that saying no becomes easier. Try, “Can I get back to you on that one?” so that you can have a think about what you want to do. Or, “I would really like to help you but I already have plans that day that I can’t change.”
Be honest, be consistent and be kind but firm when saying no. Don’t cave if the person tries to guilt-trip you. Stick with it and people will get used to the fact that sometimes you say no too! This sends them and yourself the message that you are important.
Increasing your self-esteem and confidence can take work. The work might involve facing your fears, or changing old narratives that you are telling yourself. Finding help with this through a counsellor can help to raise your self-awareness and find out what your deep-rooted beliefs are that might be holding you back. A counsellor will help you to validate your strengths and achievements and help you to face those fears.