How often have you heard someone say "I just need more confidence"? Last week, I was sitting in my office with a client who is newly unemployed after her position was eliminated from the company. Faced with having to sell herself to prospective employers, she recognized that she had lost degrees of drive and belief in herself. "I just need to get my confidence back," she said, conveying the notion that confidence comes and goes and can be found again like in a game of hide-and-seek.
"We don't just get our confidence back," I replied. "It doesn't work like that." Confidence gets hindered when negativity and self-defeating stories take center stage. It's almost as though the doubt and hesitation that gets activated by our stress-enhancing stories casts a shadow overpowering the qualities of faith, assertion and self-support most needed for promoting confidence. Our stories tend to trump all else, regardless of their falsehood or truth. As I have learned over the years, the brain doesn't have the ability to distinguish between what is real and what is perceived. So in my client's case, she has taken defeat in the workplace and personalized it into a story about how she isn't good enough and doesn't quite have what it takes. That story is a complete distortion of the reality of her work history.
Regaining confidence happens when we get clear about the self-blaming, shaming narratives that automatically pop up in our mind and when we challenge the myths spurred on by our stories. We can't prevent our mind from stirring up fear, doubt or self-criticism, but we can get skilled and smarter about how our thought process operates and how it triggers exaggerated degrees of emotion, increasing the likelihood that we'll feel bad about ourselves. Confidence isn't a state; it comes and goes and requires us to be active in directing the show so that we don't get sidetracked with believing in self-denigrating viewpoints.
Much to her credit, my client got it; she recognized that being laid off has left her scarred and under the influence of a false belief blaming herself for lacking in some ways and therefore failing. She didn't fail. In fact, it was the opposite -- the company failed her. Like so many hard-working, capable people in the work force, she fell victim to corporate decisions to eliminate a person at the top so as to avoid paying the cost of pensions and other fees. She experienced what all too many have to encounter these days -- being demeaned in the process of ending her job, leaving her to feel the shame and humiliation that we feel when any of us have been mistreated and disrespected.
"You need to work at changing the story line and the language you are using," I say to her. "When you shift the structure of your self-talk to be based in more neutral language, you no longer will get triggered into high stress-producing emotions. It's then easier to protect self-esteem and maintain a positive attitude. Reminding yourself that your work competence is not reflected in a management decision to slash the bottom line, will help you be more sturdy and anchored and keep the story lines based more in facts and less in emotionally-loaded myths. Reminding yourself about your skills, your efforts, your integrity and your ability to build trusting relationships will help you stay afloat and focused on the positive facts about what is true about you. That's the trick to attaining and sustaining confidence."