How to feel more confident and less anxious
Can we strengthen our self-esteem, improve confidence, and ease anxiety? Yes, we can. How many of us can honestly say: ‘I like and appreciate myself; I know what I can and cannot do; failure, someone else’s opinion or a nasty comment cannot change that’?
I often ask my clients: Wouldn't it be great to have that kind of self-confidence and self-esteem? It will require some hard work to get there (I am not going to lie!) but it will be worth it because if you truly, in your core, believe in yourself and your worth, you will never need to seek constant confirmations of your worth from others. Whatever you do, you will feel less anxious (or not anxious at all!) because you will be able to evaluate everything you do with a realistic but kind and compassionate eye. Compassionate and kind to yourself.
We often feel very anxious because we feel like we are on the stage of life, performing an audition, and judgment from others is what can give or take away the value of what we are doing. Disconnecting our feelings of self-worth from those judgements is the greatest gift that we can give ourselves, because it can literally transform our whole lives, and this is very often the focus of my work as a counsellor.
The key to this journey is to really get to know ourselves. To recognise what we can do, what kind of talents, resources and support we have at our disposal, and at the same time to recognise what we are lacking, and cannot do, or do less well, and embrace it.
It is not about feeling overconfident, taking risks or having an inflated ego. It is the kind of confidence which will naturally flow from your consistent knowledge about yourself (which you can continuously add to over the years) that you can trust.
This knowledge is clarity of what we like and what we don’t. What kind of people we want and need in our lives, and who to avoid. What emotional states we will usually struggle with, and which we cope with relatively well. We know and understand our needs. This knowledge and being able to trust it, is priceless, especially at the times when going gets tough, which is usually the time when people come to counselling.
When life throws a difficult situation at us, our self-knowledge will help us to ease the blow, deal with such situations better, and feel less shaken by it. To give an example – imagine someone who is experiencing a loss, separation or illness.
They are very aware that they are experiencing something painful and difficult, and they allow themselves the right to grieve or feel sad. They don’t question that right by thinking: ‘Should I be feeling this sad, should I be feeling this anger or jealousy, how long should I be feeling this?’ They don’t think: ‘Maybe I am being oversensitive, everyone else is okay about it now and I cannot stop thinking about it, maybe I am not sensitive enough as I cannot feel anything’.
With this self-knowledge comes a certain kind of peace. The person from the above example knows himself well. ‘I have been in this situation before, I know how I normally react and what I need’, ‘Today, I am experiencing it differently because I am a different person now, older and more mature’, ‘Yes, of course I am devastated, as far as anyone else can see she was ‘only’ my grandmother, but she brought me up and she was more like a mum to me, I am going to grieve and cry for as long as I need to’. Can you sense the compassion and kindness that our example fellow is giving to himself?
This self-knowledge cannot stop life throwing difficult and painful experiences at us. Nor can it make us somehow immune and stop us from feeling sad and suffering, but it can be an anchor in the sea of life experiences both good and bad, and allow us to ‘stop feeling bad about feeling bad’, which I often see in my clients, as they often struggle by adding this additional layer of suffering to an already difficult situation.
Ok, this is all very well, you may think, but how do I achieve this self-knowledge, and where do I start?
Compassion and kindness to yourself are the foundations on which to build. It is a paradox, but it is much easier for us to focus on our weaknesses and unpleasant, difficult emotions like fear, guilt, sense of betrayal, because they are very intense, and they are related to other people, and so they are easier to talk about.
In order to find our inner strength based on what we like about ourselves, what we are pleased about within ourselves, it requires an internal dialogue that we have with ourselves. We need some time to be alone with our thoughts, to discuss things in our head, to recognise those good qualities inside us. That is not an easy task, and the process of counselling can be very helpful for people to do that.
Why do we find it so hard in this internal dialogue with ourselves to recognise all the reasons why we should be pleased with ourselves and recognise our positive qualities? It may be the way we were brought up or our culture, where complaining and listing our weaknesses and shortcomings became the widely accepted norm, and expressing our satisfaction and pride is viewed with suspicion.
The whole educational system is based on the belief that it is the job of others to judge us. Similarly, how many parents instil in their children the need to build the trust within themselves, to trust their feelings, needs, judgements, and decisions? Perhaps not enough of them, and the ability to trust ourselves is the cornerstone of our self-esteem and confidence. The process of counselling can greatly help in engaging in the process of self-discovery and building the anchor of increasing self-knowledge to help us weather the storm of life’s up and downs.