Confidence. It’s a word that comes up often in therapy. Confidence, in the truest sense of the word, means “in trust”. Self-confidence, in turn, means trust in oneself. Although this concept appears easy, most of us struggle with it regularly. This topic comes up often as clients sit on my green couch for session. There have been recent studies that say that our level of confidence is handed down to us through genetics. While I do believe that some of our thoughts on confidence are inherently earned, they are mostly learned behaviors that we picked up by watching our parents, siblings, teachers, and peers interact and talk about themselves. For example, If I consistently pinched my arms while stating over and over how fat they were and how ugly they made me, my daughter or son may think that if they end up with “chubby arms” they too are ugly. Undoubtedly this would impact their self-confidence and view of themselves. One of my favorite psychologists, Maureen Healy, has focused her professional career around studying confidence in children and how to raise confidence little ones. Check her out!
But what about you? Are you having a hard time at work because you feeling like you are inadequate? Are you declining the date with the guy from the coffee shop because you feel like you will mess it up anyway, so what’s the point? Are you not speaking up at school or work because you feel like what you say is not as important as your peers? I hear you and I see you. Here are three ways to begin the climb to increase your self-confidence:
Prepare yourself for what it is you want. What it will be like when your self-confidence is at level you desire. Visualize your best self. What are you doing? What makes you happiest? Who is in your life, and how do you feel when you’re around them? More importantly, how do you feel? Imagine the goals you’ve completed and the accomplishments you’ve been awarded. I even challenge you to write it down. It’s a great journal prompt that you can refer back to when your feelings are disconnected or low. It can be a motivator and reminder of what you are working towards.
Clear out the negative thoughts by challenging them. When your brain tells you that you aren’t good at something so you should just quit, or that no one wants you at the party so you shouldn’t go - challenge that thought! Is this true? Does this have merit? A lot of times in those storms of negativity those thoughts and feelings are not true, but rather cognitive distortions. Even we can lie to ourselves at times, and often times we don’t even know we’re doing it. Just because we feel this way does not mean it is factual - even if it feels pretty convincing. If you take the extra time to stop and think before reacting out of anger, or turning down an invite out of fear, you may not have to miss out on things or relationships that bring you joy. On top of that, you are building up yourself confidence at the same time. Win win!
Good ole’ affirmations. I know that they can seem silly at first, especially if you have never tried them before. An affirmation is the act of giving encouragement. In this sense, you would be encouraging yourself by verbalizing your positive qualities. Say things like, “I’m a great listener”, “I work very hard.”, or “I am doing the best I can” (this one is a personal favorite of mine which I repeat weekly). When the negative thoughts from deep inside come into play, challenge them by reciting an affirmation to yourself in your head, out loud or even in a mirror. Affirmations are a positive step to take in moments where you may feel overwhelmed or down.
The above three are helpful to get you started in the battle for self-confidence, but they are not enough to win the war. The above evokes change. These three steps get you thinking and working toward making bigger steps to get you where you want to go. But now how to I get there? Therapy for 500 please, Alex! Working with a trained professional to help guide you, support you, and encourage you while you make these transitions will be the artillery you need to win the war. (Did I take the war theme a little too far?)
Cognitive behavioral therapy is a great treatment method to utilize when working on challenging the negative thoughts that come with low self-confidence. Cognitive behavioral therapy - often referred to as CBT - is a treatment modality that focuses on challenging and changing unhelpful cognitive distortions and behaviors, improving emotional regulation, and aiding in the development of personal coping strategies that target solving your current problems. So, what exactly does that mean? It means you work with a skilled therapist trained in CBT that will help you challenge those negative thoughts and replace them by developing coping skills which ultimately helps you to have better control over your emotions.
If you are in New Jersey and want to learn more about CBT and how it could help, reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are outside of New Jersey and looking for a CBT therapist in your area I recommend Psychology Today as a great starting place in your search.