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Updated: Jan 18, 2022

We all want it. I often fake confidence, and I know I'm not the only one. But do we actually even know what it is?

I realized I didn't have a working definition of confidence that felt honest and true to me. My idea of confidence was as a kind of mask, an impression that I want to make, an image I can cultivate or project (if and when I have the energy to do so). But thinking of it like that makes it feel like some kind of trick, an illusion. True confidence wouldn't be contrived. Contrived confidence...isn't that an oxymoron?

So then... what is it?

And if it can't be forced, how do we get it?


My colleague, R, recently texted our group chat, saying:

I realize how insecure I feel all the time, scared of saying and doing something wrong. I realize that maybe some people (those who have secure attachment) don't do that except in stressful situations. Maybe they actually believe in themselves, see good in themselves, feel confident to speak their mind...I don't feel that way. When with people, whether I'm being light or not, more open or quiet, more spontaneous or reserved, I feel insecure after.

It's ironic, because what we fear is often wildly different from how people actually experience us.

For example, this is how I experience R: R has power like that of a lazy river -- calm and still but with the strength to carve mountains. They perceive from so many angles the nuances and layers of the situation or human or being in front of them. When they speak, I always feel that it comes from a place of integrity, wisdom, and love.

But I can relate to feeling insecure. If there are ten good moments in a conversation and one awkward one, it's so easy to dwell on the awkward one. It's hard to go through life like that. Always imagining that people don't like us or are judging us for something.

And it's a cycle, R says, This fear and insecurity gets in the way of connecting with people. I always have to fight off those thoughts, distract, or disconnect from myself.

So how do we break the cycle? First we have to be aware of it, which means:

  1. Being able to notice it, in the present moment, as it's happening.

  2. Being able to describe how it feels, physically as well as emotionally, as well as understanding what thoughts, behaviors, and beliefs are associated with it.

My personal work has revealed to me that most of my interactions with other people have been glazed in a veneer of inauthenticity. It became second-nature for me to portray myself in a certain way. I was acting, but I believed I was being me.

It's tricky, because the persona I was portraying is also an aspect of my true nature --- sweet, loving, nonjudgmental --- so there is truth in it. But subconsciously I was calculating, taking these aspects of my true nature (the "acceptable" parts of me) and using them to maintain a (false) sense of control. I stayed "safe" by acting quiet and sweet, and denying the other parts of me, because I was afraid of how others might respond.

We are taught as children, in a million little ways, that we are not loveable as we are. My mom told me a story about seeing a young child in the mall parking lot with a woman she assumed was his grandmother. The child was making a promise to his grandma. He was repeating this promise, over and over. The grandma, arms full of bags, was stressed trying to remember where she parked she car. Finally she snapped at the kid, "Just help me find the goddamn car."

This grandma probably also loves this child in a million little ways, and if a therapist were to ask this child in twenty years about his grandma, he'd probably likely report a positive relationship. He'd remember the meals she cooked, or the shopping trips she took him on, or the times when she tucked him into bed. He might not know why he's afraid to speak up in meetings, why he always feels like people don't care what he has to say. But what we choose to forget, our bodies, and our subconsciouses, remember.

My parents loved me, and yet I somehow still learned not to feel safe showing all of me.

In contrast, I am always grafeful and admire others who are themselves, especially when they are wild, messy or imperfect. Yet it's hard to give myself that freedom. It is hard to risk rejection.

I want everyone to love me

The Pathwork is a series of lectures channeled by Eva Pierrakos, a co-founder of Core Energetics, in the 1970s. Here is an excerpt from lecture #77 on self-confidence:

What is self-confidence? When your real being, your real self, your intuitive nature manifests, there is no uncertainty in you, no doubt about your right reaction or action, and no wavering. Your instant and spontaneous reaction is of such a nature that you know deep down, “This is right, this is so." ... Whatever the occasion, you lived up to it.

In the course of the work you are doing, you may have often wondered, “Where is my real self? What is it?” And you think of this real self as though it were something remote that can only come to the fore after you search for it in faraway places — within yourself, of course. It is a mystery to you; you are slightly awed and somehow imagine that the real self is something utterly strange and new. Therefore, you fear it just a little bit. But nothing could be further from the truth. You know your real self. You have nothing to fear from it. It is not far away — in fact it is close by, right under your nose, so to speak, only most of the time you do not realize it. You make no use of it and prefer to express the other self which you have become used to, but which is not the real you. It consists of the compulsive drives and impulses which you unconsciously think you have to express in order to be happy, or just to survive. Whatever comes from this level does not express your real feelings. Your real feelings come from your real self, which is right underneath the tense, compulsive, emotional behavior pattern. Once you stop believing, as you unconsciously do now, that the compulsive drive is necessary, and use instead your real feelings, your intuitive nature will emerge.

They call this compulsive drive "the forcing current," in other words, the ways in which we try to force our will.

What causes all your conflicts and deviations is your desire to be happy, or to be loved.

Being loved is a necessary requirement for being happy and therefore constitutes a major part of your compulsive drives.

Lately I've been practicing negotiating on Facebook marketplace. I get so scared, sometimes I can't even check the responses. I make my partner read them instead. What am I so afraid of? That a stranger won't like me? That I won't get what I want? I've started getting in the shower at those moments, because warm water soothes my nervous system, and saying out lout to myself, "It's OK that you feel scared. It's good to be yourself. If they don't like you, that's their loss." I repeat until I no longer hear fear in my voice. It comforts me to reparent myself like that, but still I wonder, am I forcing? Am I faking?

The lecture continues:

You emerge from childhood with the rarely conscious conviction: “In order to be happy, my will has to be done.” As long as you have not recognized this hidden conviction, you cannot arrive at the liberation you desire. The more your intellect conflicts with your hidden emotions, the more difficult it will be to unearth this deep-rooted misconception, which creates a tight, tense current — the forcing current. It creates constant struggle, tension, and anxiety. The more unaware you are of it, the more potent it is within your psyche. Unconsciously, you feel that getting your will is a matter of life or death. Not to get it represents the abyss; not to get it spells annihilation for you — unconsciously, of course. This fear is so strong that you often do not permit yourself to admit you have not got your will: you try to pretend that what you really wanted is no longer desirable. This is not merely pride, but it is based on the misconception that not getting what you want means terror, darkness, and unhappiness.

You are in constant fear of not succeeding and unconsciously you labor to hide the “failure” from yourself. Thus a current is set up, flowing in two directions. One calls for your pushing ahead, trying to force life, people, and circumstances to succumb to your will, to conquer the reality in which everything cannot go according to your desires. The second direction of this current concerns your fear of not getting what you want, or even the conviction that you never will, and causes you to adopt means which are so defeatist and negative that, again, you sabotage what you ordinarily could have.

So as we plough ahead, forcing our desires, we simultaneously doubt our ability to obtain them. Opposite sides of the same coin keep us bound in a pattern that pulls us in two directions, perpetually stuck us in a useless struggle.

The Real Self

I love this description of the real self as channeled through Eva in that same lecture on self-confidence:

Your real self and your real feelings are the same as creation, God, life, fate, the cosmic life force, the stream of life, or reality. In reality you are not unhappy if you do not always get your will, you are not unhappy if everyone does not love and admire you, you are not unhappy if others do not always agree with you, or have faults you cannot tolerate. Nor is it reality that you can never get what you really wish, that you can never be loved and respected, that life and the world are hostile to you and prohibit you from unfolding the best you have to offer. You do not have to fight; nor do you have to retreat and withdraw so as to avoid the danger of life. You do not have to beg, cry, submit and sell your soul in order to get what you want. Nor do you have to defend yourself against constant defeat — another supposed fact your subconscious often takes for granted. Your real self knows all this.

Only if you free yourself of the idea that you always have to get your will in order to be happy, will you be free of the “I want” current. And only when that is gone will you operate on the level that is real. You will know that happiness can be yours, but not always the way you want it, and when you want it.

In reality it does not make you unhappy to wait and occasionally to give up. Your unhappiness is an illusion.

If you are in harmony with the stream of life, giving yourself up to it, whatever comes your way will smoothly carry you forward.

This does not mean a fatalistic, passive attitude in which you wait without ever doing anything. It automatically creates the right balance between activity and passivity.

So confidence comes with the dissolution of the tense inner clamoring of "I want" and "I must." It is the manifestation of our intuitive nature.

You will have the deep inner knowledge — not in your brain but in your solar plexus — that your reaction, or your knowledge, or your decision is right, feeling neither guilt nor pride nor doubt. You will spontaneously be the best you can be: poised and unrepressed. You will say the right thing at the right time and know when not to speak. You will be relaxed and concentrated at the same time, fully aware and alive to the moment and its requirements. You will know that nothing that should be yours could fail to come to you. You will not need to be in a frenzy about it, worrying whether or not you do too much or too little. You will do what is necessary and eliminate that which is unnecessary, without fear and worry.

This feels like an impossible ideal. To make digestible, I think of confidence as spontaneity. Not planning what I'm going to say before I say it; not distracting myself from what others are saying by thinking about how I want to respond. The Pathwork describes confidence as serenity. I think of it as trust. I think of John Styn's book, Love more. Fear less. Float more. Steer less.

All of us earthlings have been swept up in the river of life. Maybe confidence is learning to stop flailing for shore. We're still swimming, still keeping our head above water most of the time, still breathing, but we're not fighting the current either.

The poem, "As I began to love myself" (author unknown) says of confidence:

As I began to love myself, I understood that at any circumstance, I am in the right place at the right time, and everything happens at exactly the right moment, so I should be calm. Today I call it SELF-CONFIDENCE.


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