Many people who come along for therapy note that they struggle with self-confidence. They often have an idea that self-confidence might be a personality-trait that some have been blessed with, and others not. Or they might have the idea that because of a difficult childhood or past knocks that theirs has been made deficient. Like many traits we aspire to in life, we can be under the misapprehension that we either have it or not. Or worse, that the way to go about getting it, is by developing an outer self that will exude this quality and win acclaim from others – and thereby feed us confidence from the outside in.
So what is the difference between inner and outer confidence? The two can of course co-incide. True inner confidence speaks volumes, but not always in the way you might imagine. Think of the person comfortably holding their own counsel in a difficult discussion, or the quite-yet-comfortable person sitting on their own at a party, taking the world in (and noticing that others are often drawn to their spacious self-ease). Yet these are not the images our society typically chooses to portray confidence. Instead we have muscular athletes, corporate successes, or those who seem outwardly shiny and bold. There is nothing to say of course that outer stamina, success, or bling means a lack of inner confidence (if they arise out of the right intention they can of course be an expression of it). But too often we mistake the outer for the inner, and believe that if we can just improve the outer, the inner will follow.
What I’ve come to realise about true confidence – the confidence that comes from deep within, rather than from outer accomplishments and accoutrements – is that it is an aspect of self-trust. Think of the people you trust most in your life. Why do you trust them so? In all likelihood it’s because they are true to their word. They honour their promises. They are thoughtful about the impact of their choices and actions on others, and they hold an inner alignment which means they ‘walk their talk’. The same holds true for whether we trust ourselves or not.
Inner-trust, and inner confidence, are born of our capacity to day-by-day, slowly-but-surely, start to honour our hopes, our knowings, and our needs.
True confidence is earned, and never granted.
It is built up bit-by-bit in every action we choose that we can honestly say has been true to an inner need or truth. It might be as simple as knowing that you’ve made the effort today to make yourself a healthy breakfast, or take time for meditation. It might be that you pulled back from engaging in your favourite bad habit, or honoured your need not to spend time with someone who treats you poorly (and this might be hard because it’s usually easier to avoid conflict). And conversely, our confidence is eroded every time we make a small betrayal of ourselves (just as trust in a friend is eroded every time they let us down). In fact sometimes the betrayal we make is unwitting, such as when we buy something to improve the outer, but are actually rejecting our inner.
Knowing yourself and acting in accordance with that inner knowing is the foundation stone for all wellbeing.
Confidence builds as we can look back and see the path forward we have carved, with baby steps, and can humbly but kindly pat ourselves on the back for tiny choices made. And when we ‘fail’ to honour ourselves in that way, we simply notice, and with compassion, promise ourselves to try better next time. We can sigh with regret or disappointment, but there is no need for self-condemnation. Being cruel to ourselves only erodes confidence the same way it does when you are cruel to a child. True confidence is built slowly, yet steadily, with a kindness and with a trust that over time we can become our own trusted, dear friend.
(Image by Tim Bogdanov, Unsplash)