Guest post by Dr Geoffrey Arnold
Part 2: Towards Increased Confidence
In Part 1 we looked at the nature of self-confidence, what it means to be authentically confident. The key features identified were self-trust and belief in abilities.
In Part 2 here, the focus shifts to some practical things that can be done to build confidence. We start with a brief anecdote (using an assumed name) and then consider two practical strategies. Part 3 will discuss more practical strategies for developing confidence.
The Case of ‘Meredith’
Meredith arrived for counselling having recently experienced a number of apparent set-backs: the break-up of a relationship, the taking of leave due to stress in the workplace, some health issues which doctors seemed unable to diagnose and a growing estrangement with some family members.
She described herself as feeling “adrift” from any sense of purpose or meaning to her day-to-day experience of life. In discussing what the goal might be for her counselling she suggested that her problem was a general unhappiness in her life, an unhappiness which she largely attributed to a gradual loss of confidence in herself. She described a feeling of nervousness and difficulties in concentration which plagued her work performance. When it came to the question of her own efforts to address her problems she described her current life as one of “treading water” rather than making any progress.
Meredith realised that her goal of developing more ‘inner’ self-confidence was not something separable from her relationship, health and work-related issues. Her expectation of counselling was not a speedy resolution of her issues but she was wanting support in exploring concrete and practical ways of gaining more confidence. She said she had felt “stalled” long enough and was “keen to try things”. (In psychological terms, her ‘state of readiness’ for change was high).
Meredith understood that, along with any ‘practical’ measures, she would need to make adjustments to the tensions within her thoughts, feelings and personality structures. So what kinds of suggestions might be offered to someone like ‘Meredith’ who is typically seeking not only more self-understanding but also some concrete ideas for developing more confidence?
Practical Suggestions for Developing Self-Confidence
Develop a Rapport with the Right People
One of the best tips a counsellor might provide for the person struggling with confidence is to develop a rapport with key people who are genuinely affirming and supportive. How can these people be identified?
Firstly, these key people are generally people who listen well. Most importantly, they listen empathetically and can be trusted with the expression of feelings and personal meanings. They encourage the development of positive self-evaluations rather than imposing their own evaluations and judgements. Their perspectives are honest but they also encourage the hard work of real change.
Develop a More Conscious Approach to Internal Dialogues
Another suggestion counsellors commonly make is to become more conscious of negative feelings and negative self-talk. Negative self-talk involves negative (and often highly disparaging) thoughts about oneself. These thoughts often form part of a kind of ‘conversation’ or ‘internal dialogue’ that takes place in the mind. These negative thoughts are sometimes referred to as ‘the tapes’ that are played over in the mind, often undermining confidence and a sense of wellbeing. The high repetitiveness of the same negative thoughts is often not recognised because the thoughts are often randomly cycling around.
Sometimes the negative thoughts need to be directly challenged. The person for example who thinks “I didn’t do that job very well, I must be useless” can challenge that notion by considering all the things where he or she has proven useful on other occasions. So, one way of challenging negative thoughts is to think of opposites (the opposite to ‘useless’ is ‘useful’) and start becoming more aware of the evidence for the more positive view.
Negative Self-Talk is usually a Distortion of Truth
There is no real point to negative self-talk patterns. It certainly is not in the best interests of anyone for negative self-talk to erode personal confidence or wellbeing. Criticism of oneself (from any source) can be examined for merit, but disparaging oneself through negative self-talk is simply corrosive to mental and emotional health. There is, in other words, a difference between honest self-examination and corrosive kinds of negative self-talk.
Excessive negative self-talk also goes hand-in-hand with the development of depressive and anxious states. Along with these mental and emotional effects, there are also physiological reactions to negative thoughts – every negative self-disparaging thought may have a small adverse effect on some functioning system of the body. We know that the accumulation of negative thoughts and negative feelings brings the tension that can, over time, undermine physical health. But the interaction between mental and physical health is often less understood.
The problem with unchallenged negative self-talk is that it can become ‘internalised’ over time, accepted as ‘the truth’ and left unquestioned. Authentic questioning brings the superficial unthinking habits to the surface. It is not fearful of the process of honest self-examination. But it also opens up the windows of personal ‘mind space’ for the fresh air of new perspectives. It leaves room for positive evidences to revitalise perceptions of self. It also reaches for the ‘bigger pictures’ that give more context, insight and depth to the questioning and answering process. In these ways, it is not only more self-charitable but also more balanced in its way of judging truth and what is of value in life.
There is, for instance, a difference between a ‘partial truth’ and a ‘whole truth’. One of the key things to recognise about the insidious nature of negative self-talk is that it often twists a ‘partial truth’ into a ‘whole truth’. Even if there is some element of truth to a negative thought it does not mean that it represents ‘whole truth’. A ‘part-truth’ that becomes accepted as a ‘whole truth’ is actually a distortion. The more we understand of the ‘bigger picture’, the closer we are likely to be approaching a more truthful picture.
Reaching for the whole truth is not a matter of understanding things perfectly but rather seeking out what is fuller, what is healthier, what is more in one’s best interests and what is potentially more liberating. Some things about ‘truth’ (such as the truth of our personality) may be simple to recognise and understand, but other things are always going to be more complex. So the point of challenging negative self-talk (with its partial truths) is to position oneself closer to ‘the whole truth’ rather than to claim to possess the whole truth in any complete, perfect or ultimate sense.
Meditation is not for everyone, but there also are a variety of meditative practices that can ‘interrupt’ and divert the streaming of negative thoughts. It is not necessary, however, to have some kind of counter-measure to all negative thoughts. Even some repetitive or ‘insistent’ negative thoughts can be very helpful in signalling things that need more attention, such as underlying emotions and patterns of thinking.
The ultimate goal is not to eliminate all negative thoughts but to make adjustments and become more confident in a balanced and realistic way. But the process of making these adjustments to the ‘inner life’ (patterns of thoughts and feelings) can require time and patience. These patterns of negativity often have been operating for many years and are fairly entrenched. Some negative thoughts may have occurred hundreds of times over the course of years and may need to be attended to more than just a few times. But the on-going effort is worth it, if for no other reason than valuing one’s own human dignity.
In Part 3 of this series, more ways of developing confidence will be listed and explained, including suggestions for dealing with anxiety and ‘nerves’.
Dr Geoffrey Arnold is an experienced counsellor who has worked with people with anxiety and depression issues (including ‘at-risk’ of suicide), grief, and general adjustment to life’s challenges. He is also a marriage counsellor and educator. He has a multidisciplinary PHD in education, philosophy, psychology and theology that focused on the big topic of ‘wisdom’.
To me, Dr Geoffrey Arnold goes by the name of Dad, Dadsie, Daddy, or Daddo. He is my rock. The person who I’ve always been able to rely on. The person who has been my guiding light through every crisis, small or large, that I’ve ever experienced. He is the most caring and giving person I have ever met. The first person to help loved ones, and strangers, who are experiencing difficulty. The ultimate advocate for the underdog. He has saved more lives than he will ever know. He is my hero, in every sense of the word. I’m so happy to be able to share some of his knowledge with you on my blog.