by Bonnie Katz, MFT
Creating Unshakable Confidence
You don’t have to win beauty contests or medals to acquire self-confidence. Jack Nicholson possesses neither flawless skin nor the body of an Adonis, yet self-confidence oozes out of him. Confidence has absolutely nothing to do with what you look like on the outside and everything to do with how you feel on the inside-- the antithesis of what we are brainwashed into thinking by savvy marketing mavens. They bombard us with veiled messages that whiter teeth, silkier hair, smoother skin and a leaner body will boost our confidence and guarantee that Mr. or Ms. Right will be knocking on the front door. You can perfect yourself into looking Lady Kate or Prince William, but that will neither guarantee self-confidence nor the perfect royal life. Sadly, just look at what happened to Princess Diana. So, if perfecting ourselves doesn’t guarantee confidence, what will?
In my professional opinion, confidence is merely a by-product of self-acceptance. And that doesn’t mean when you lose the extra 20 pounds, it means accepting yourself right now , just as you are sitting here reading this article. I know how hard this is for many people. In fact, chewing on glass might sound easier.
Let’s take a look at how Cheryl struggled with her feelings of limited confidence. When I started working with her, she was battling with circumstantial depression. Originally from a small Midwestern town, she came to Los Angeles to pursue her dream of being an actress. She had been riding a wave of success in her hometown from being cast in all the leads in college to landing a local agent after graduation and steadily booking commercials and modeling jobs. But when she moved to Los Angeles last year, her success came to a screeching halt and the wave suddenly crashed. She found herself competing for parts with hundreds of other actresses who looked like her and in her words, “had more experience and talent.” But something had taken hold of Cheryl and her struggles to be successful were crushing her enthusiastic spirit. Her confidence was nowhere to be found because it was intrinsically tied to her accomplishments, and at this point they were nil.
As a child she was always told to “Be the best and nothing less.” There’s nothing wrong with striving for excellence, but effort above achievement was not appreciated in her family. She grew up with three older siblings who were all trained to compete with each other for their Father’s attention. If you happened to be the unlucky one with a grade less than A, you were barely noticed that evening at the dinner table. Consistently tying her Father’s love to her achievements solidified in her mind that she had to achieve perfection in order to be worthy enough to love. Her confidence in feeling good enough was based on a lot of conditions needing to be satisfied first. Cheryl never knew what it felt like to be unconditionally loved. This is where the beginning of her difficulties began. It was hard to accept herself if she wasn’t perfect. The upside to this glitch in childhood development is that it can create excellence, just look at Barbra Streisand. Part of what motivated her towards excellence and success was having a very critical mother. The down side is that her perfectionism is relentless even after an enormous amount of well deserved success. The inner critic cannot let go of the need to control the outside circumstances and rest in complete self-acceptance.
And so Cheryl and I began to work each week, getting to know and understand where the seeds of her perfectionism started. She learned to allow herself to grieve for the little girl who had to work so hard to be loved, and realized how a belief formed many years ago was no longer true today. Through Cheryl’s courage and determination she was able to get to know these powerful feelings that were influencing her actions and learned to make new choices for herself. Her sense of worth and self-confidence were no longer tied to her achievements, but to an appreciation and acceptance of herself. Cheryl’s confidence flowed in abundance from a bottomless well because she was able to be open and available for all the parts of herself, not just the ones that looked perfect. She learned that it’s not about cultivating one part of yourself and rejecting another, but looking open heartedly at the whole. The openness Cheryl experienced now allowed her to fall in love with acting again. She learned how to enjoy and be present for the whole process of it, not just when she landed a part. She knew that she was entitled to be loved for who she was not for what she did.
To jump start your journey towards confidence remember :
- Lighten up and have a sense of humor, staying open and present to whatever arises.
- When you’re feeling down on yourself, notice your storyline and question it. For example. “I can’t do anything right.” Really? I challenge that. I’m sure you could write a list of 10 accomplishments you have achieved in the past 5 months.
- Instead of trying to run away from or numb your feelings of self – loathing, get to know and honor them.
- Remember that all feelings are impermanent, they arise, they dwell and then they fade away.
- Confidence will only grow when you have unconditional kindness towards yourself.
- Don’t give away your power. You don’t have to be a victim of other people’s opinions. “No one can make you feel inferior without your permission. “ – Eleanor Roosevelt.
- Don’t compare yourself to others. Overestimating others leads to underestimating yourself.
- Invest your energy into being yourself not into being perfect.
- Be okay with everybody that doesn’t fall in love with you and still think that you are worthy.
- Remember we are all in this together. You are not the only one experiencing difficulty accepting
- “To the degree that we look clearly and compassionately at ourselves, we feel confident and fearless about looking into someone else’s eyes.” – Pema Chodron
- Stick with yourself through thick and then and never, never, never give up.
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
Some momentary awareness
Comes as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!...
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
Meet them at the door laughing,
And invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
Because each has been sent
As a guide from beyond.
I wish you strength and courage on your journey.
The names and circumstances have been altered to respect confidentiality.
Bonnie Katz is a licensed psychotherapist in private practice. She understands the unique demands and challenges of the acting profession because along with her experience as a psychotherapist, she has been a part of the acting community for the past 39 years. This unique combination enables her to have a deeper understanding of the struggles of actors. “Just as a musician must fine tune his instrument before a performance, to tap into their creativity, actors must learn to fine tune themselves through the process of self-awareness and self-understanding.” Her skills and training as a psychotherapist and mindful meditator enable her to work with clients in an atmosphere of warmth and understanding. For more information on Bonnie’s psychotherapy practice, visit her website. I invite you to Twitter with her. Click here for a free brochure on mindful meditation.