In honour of American Thanksgiving this Thursday, and my recently renewed interest in confidence, I thought I’d merge the two topics and tell a story about Thanksgivings past.
Five years ago, when I was twenty-two, I went to a Thanksgiving dinner at my then-boyfriend’s buddies’ place.
I had pretty low confidence at this time in my life generally. But social gatherings with people whom I found intimidating? Recipe for disaster.
At first it was okay, but very quickly, I started to get quiet. Everyone was gabbing and joshing around, and I was quiet. Sure, I laughed along, nodded in the appropriate places, agreed with a point from time to time. But I had nothing to add or contribute to the conversation. I felt numb, powerless, disconnected, and I had no idea why.
It’s not just that I was afraid to share my opinions, It was more like I didn’t have any opinions at all. My identity had simply dissolved. That inner voice that normally told me who I was and what I thought, had gone silent.
This is a horrible feeling that I rarely experience anymore, but I used to feel all the time.
What is confidence, and why does our personality “disappear” when we’re lacking it?
Confidence is having assurance in yourself. It’s trusting that your character will carry you through situations, and it’s the belief that you have the ability to change your life and the world.
Conversely, a lack of confidence means a lack of power. When you’re feeling insecure, you feel helpless, weak, unsure of yourself. You also become reliant on external validation. Other people’s opinions mean a lot. Behaviourally, this means that you take fewer risks, you don’t express yourself, you take up the minimum amount of physical space, follow others, and so on.
Your confidence fluctuates throughout the day, depending on what you’re doing, where you are, and who you’re around. If you happen to be around someone who makes you uncomfortable (either because they themselves lack confidence and are judging you, or because you simply perceive them to be judging you), there’s a good chance that your confidence will wane.
And when your confidence wanes, you begin to take on the traits of an insecure person. You begin to embody passivity and powerlessness. You get silent and become disconnected from your needs, thoughts and emotions. You may hear other people’s voices and opinions in your head, but it’s hard to distinguish those from your own.
The reason this happens is that you feel vulnerable, and so your body tries to protect you by shutting down emotionally. Your body’s intentions are good, but in reality, shutting down only furthers the insecure mood.
Breaking out of it
To break out of this state, you need to begin embodying a confident person, and often this means doing the opposite of what you feel like doing: putting yourself in the spotlight, taking the initiative, talking about things that are personal. The body follows the mind and the mind follows the body. If you begin acting like a confident person, you’ll start feeling like one too.
Here are a few tips for regaining your “voice,” when it seems to have disappeared.
Move. Be assertive
Get out of your seat, walk through the center of the room, even if it means people are looking at you, go grab a second serving of turkey, just begin taking up space and asserting your presence. If you have the choice between taking action and not taking action, take it.
Don’t wait for someone to ask you questions, just start sharing
Obviously don’t just start yakking about yourself out of nowhere. But as soon as you see even a slight opening, just jump into it. Your passions and projects are where your personality resides. Find a way to talk about what you’re up to, even if it’s just with one person on the side.
It’s important not to share expecting a reaction. If you open up, that’s a win. Period. Don’t anticipate a reaction or draw any value from their response. Simply share for the sake of sharing, because it’s fun to talk about the things you’re excited about. Once you do it, pat yourself on the back (metaphorically).
Often when we’re feeling insecure, we ask a lot of questions to avoid opening up ourselves. But confident people are leaders. Physically, this might translate as walking through a doorway first. Emotionally, being a leader often means going there first.
Go have a conversation with yourself
Go to the bathroom, look at yourself in the mirror and get back in touch with who you are. List off all the qualities that make you awesome. Even if you don’t believe them in the moment, do it anyway.
Be silly about it, joke around with yourself if you need to. Just do whatever you can to remind yourself who that rad person is staring back at you.
Phone a friend
Find a quiet place and call a close friend that you’re comfortable around. You can talk about how you’re feeling right now or you can just chat about anything. Just talking with someone that you’re used to being yourself around will awaken that dormant personality inside.
Leave the situation
If all else fails, just leave. Really, there’s no reason must be there. You always have a choice.
Of course, when you’re feeling insecure you don’t believe you have any choices. But you do. If anyone asks, just say that you aren’t feeling well, and then leave. You’ll begin feeling like yourself again very very soon.
I’ll be spending this Thanksgiving with a bunch of other couchsurfing “orphans” in San Francisco. I’ll be around a big group of new people– something that would have terrified me a few years ago. But now, I’m cool with it. Now I know how to be myself around strangers, I feel that “assurance” in myself.
And if my does confidence slip? (And it does, from time to time.) Well then I know exactly what to do to get back.