Confidence is important: your ability to act appropriately, to make the right decisions, or even to care for your friends and family and have fun, can all be debilitated by a lack of confidence, or of self-esteem.
Everything you do, while in this state, becomes a kind of foolish dance of inadequacy; everything you do becomes a reflection of what you think others are thinking of you, or a reflection of your own self-consciousness. While in this state of shot confidence, or low self-esteem, it seems that everyone around you can tell, can detect how impotent and clownish you are acting – and people are often cruel in these situations, taking advantage of your weakness, and pouncing on your inadequacies for their own pleasure or advantage.a
It can even become so bad that a person is in this state all the time; the people around that person get used to their stunted and pathetic behavior, and take it as a given that this is simply the way that person is. The person feeling the loss of self-esteem, because their measure of truth about themselves comes only from the opinions of the people around them, accordingly also come to believe that this impotent state of shot confidence is permanent, or simply who they are.
This state of low self-esteem, or of shot confidence, is, however, never a permanent thing, and it can never be someone’s own inner nature. It is simply a temporary state of things, wherein one is enfeebled towards legitimate and healthy thinking, speaking, and action. Anybody can wander in or out of this state at any time; and anybody can get stuck in it, lingering on in it for so long that it feels like the state is permanent. Sadly, it may even be possible for a person to spend their entire adult life in this state.
There are, however, for anybody who either slips in and out of this state periodically, or who has been lingering there for way too long, ways to get out:
1.) Stand up to the situation, firmly.
One of the things that characterizes the state of shot-confidence or low self-esteem, is that it is a retreat into oneself. In this state, we are backing off, or retreating from the situation itself, and focusing on ourselves instead; more specifically, we are focusing on what other people’s perceptions of us are going to be based on how we act. For example: at work, you are asked something very simple; something as simple as whether to buy green or blue napkins for the office party. We suddenly retreat from the question itself, and begin to think only about what others will think of our decision. “How will I seem to Bill if I get the Blue?”, “How to Sharon if the Green?”, and so on.
When we think this way, we are only trying to guess which choice will make us appear most favorably to others; meanwhile, the situation itself, namely, whether green or blue napkins would be better, is completely ignored. Because this retreat from the situation into ourselves causes us to completely ignore the situation itself, then we can only make decisions in a feeble, random, and misdirected way. As such, when you are faced with a decision like this, or with any situation at all, stand firm in the face of the situation itself; do no retreat from it, into silly considerations of how you are going to appear to others.
2.) Do not simply butter yourself up.
You may think that by simply looking in the mirror and saying to yourself “you’re wonderful, you’re special, I love you”, you can increase your self-esteem. This may be true in a sense, but only if we think of self-esteem as something superficial and unimportant, and as a matter of fact, the idea of self-esteem is considered by some to be the ugly stepsister of self-respect. The idea behind this is this: what we refer to as self-esteem, is actually not a positive thing, because it is simply an external show, or affectation of confidence that is not really there, because we have not done anything to deserve it besides tell ourselves, or be told, that we are special.
For example: according to psychologist Jean M. Twenge, in the 1950’s, only 12% of teens identified themselves as being important, whereas by the 1980’s, 80% of teens identified themselves as being important. While this might sound at first like a positive thing, keep in mind that the title of the book in which this study by Twenge is published is called Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled – And More Miserable Than Ever Before. There is nothing ambiguous here: kids may act more confident, or more self-important, in a way that seems that they have more self-esteem, when if fact they are not happy. Hence the distinction between self-esteem, and self-respect.
3.) Find a way to truly respect yourself.
Regardless of whether or not we call the kind of authentic confidence we are attempting to aim at “self-esteem” or “self-respect” is irrelevant. What is important, is that this self-esteem or respect is real, and not just pretend. If we simply butter ourselves up, or allow ourselves to be buttered up by others, and if we also allow ourselves to believe that this is where our sense of self-worth exists, then we are likely to end up like the teens in Twenge’s book above: with an outward show of confidence and assertiveness which is actually just a mask for how miserable we are.
For example: It is quite possible that the distinction between acting confidently and acting feebly is not the simple two-sided matter that we considered in the first place. It is possible that, when we shrink from a situation, retreating into ourselves, we might still be able to affect the kind of false confidence and self-esteem to convince others that we are not in this enfeebled state, shrunk into ourselves. The simple fact is, though, that even if we can convince other people that we are not acting in the feeble, random, and misdirected way that springs from retreating into oneself, this doesn’t mean we have the kind of self-respect or authentic self-esteem we want; it just means we are able to convince others that we have it.
4.) Don’t simply pretend you have self-esteem.
It is one thing to simply say, “you have to really have self-esteem, and not just pretend”, and another thing to really find that true self-esteem. In other words, it’s all well and good to say “find a way to truly respect yourself”, but how do I really do it?! This is a fair criticism; but, I think it is important to better define what we are talking about. We want to make sure that, when we are talking about how we can have a better sense of self-esteem, or how we can escape a state of shot confidence, that we are not just talking about making it seem, to others, or even to ourselves, that we have a better sense of self-esteem (which is exactly what most self-help writers talk about); we want to talk about how we can actually have it.
So, now that we’ve established what we don’t want to do (namely, simply pretend that we have self-esteem) we can talk more about what we do want to do. For starters, I recommend taking a page from the book of experience. There are certain times when you will simply have a good day – something that is unavoidable even for someone who has lingered long in the state of shot confidence. You will simply, for no reason that you can explain, feel great, confident, not inadequate, and will be able to involve yourself in things without retreating into yourself.
5.) Go with the flow.
This being the case, that you will sometimes just have a great day like this for seemingly no reason, should first of all be enough evidence that your state of shot confidence is not permanent, and is not a part of who you are. Secondly, it may be a way for you to “get in” to this way of being without explicitly putting a “self-esteem technique” into effect. If you find yourself in that situation, just roll with it, just let it happen, and try to keep it going!
They key to the whole thing may very well be to forget oneself completely: just think, when you are having that good day where everything just works, or when you are at your very best, are you thinking of yourself? Or, are you thinking about how others are perceiving you? Not at all, you are simply caught up in the joy of the moment itself. In this case, the best advice I can give is forget yourself, and simply attend to the situation.