Image suggesting self-confidence
Building and Increasing Your Self-confidence

Increasing self-confidence (2)

Continued from here

Once you have identified the beliefs which make any situation stressful, you can begin to change them. But changing beliefs about the world like this can be difficult.

We all hold many inaccurate beliefs, either because we have simply never questioned them or because they have some personal value (for example, many of our incorrect beliefs reinforce our self-image and thereby maintain our self-esteem).

Here are some of the major categories of belief which contribute to stress problems.

Believing that your life is controlled by events in the world around you, and that other people make you act as you do.

These two beliefs are closely related. In actual fact, most people's lives probably are controlled to a large extent by what goes on around them. And it is not hard to see why.

Unless a person makes firm decisions about the course he wishes his life to take, and then begins to act in a way that will bring his plans to fruition, he will inevitably be buffeted about by circumstances beyond his control.

Of course, therapy is always one option which can help to provide emotional stability and bring life back in to balance.

Fortunately, one can learn to control one's life - at least to a much greater extent than many of us do at the moment. What of the belief that other people make you act as you do?

A moment's thought reveals how misguided statements such as: 'He made me so angry.' 'Now see what you made me do!' are!

You respond to events around you with anger, for example, because in some way you believe that anger is the correct or appropriate response.

You say that other people 'made' you do something because that is how you perceive the situation - not because it really is like that. In reality, we can all learn to control our lives and our behavior and our actions - even though it may take time.

Believing that the way you see yourself is correct, when in fact it is not. You may perceive yourself as possessing more or less attributes than you have in reality.

In either case, if an event or situation challenges your self-image, you may experience depression or anxiety.

Yet it is extremely difficult to see through the personal beliefs, attitudes and prejudices which contribute to an inaccurate self-image.

And it is extremely difficult to ask for - or obtain - unbiased, objective, helpful guidance from other people.

One way of overcoming these difficulties is to spend a few minutes each day quietly reflecting on how you behaved, how you would like to have behaved, and what part of your behavior caused you to feel stressed, during the events of the day.

This kind of 'debriefing' can be extremely helpful in providing a focus for self-change. But don't let it become obsessive.

Believing that you are inferior to other people. Feelings of inferiority are extremely common; indeed they are probably one of the most common sources of emotional distress in our society.

 Feelings of inferiority may start as a perceived inferiority or disadvantage in one area of life or personality (a lack of charm, good looks, education, intelligence, social ability and so on) which then generalizes to a vague feeling of inferiority to the world in general.

Yet most therapists would tell you that although the majority of people think their moments of self-doubt, their innermost secrets and desires, their emotional experiences and behavior, are unique to them, in reality we are all basically the same.

Of course, we all have different personal attributes and success in life, but it is also a fact that for any particular personal ability or attribute, we are all inferior to some people and superior to others.

You must remember that social status, education, upbringing and so on do not indicate a person's innate 'value' - even if society tends to adopt that attitude.

There are many other more praiseworthy qualities: sincerity, loyalty, honesty, affection, to name just a few.

Image suggesting self-confidence

You should also remember that even the people you envy and admire do not lead perfectly harmonious lives - in fact, everyone has basically the same human problems.

Finally, trying to make yourself into something you are not, in order to overcome feelings of inferiority and 'compete' on an equal level, is futile.

Although taking greater care of your appearance, improving your knowledge and social skills, and so on, obviously help to increase self-confidence, the real cure for feelings of inferiority is to decide that you are not inferior but are equal, and to overcome the beliefs which stand between you and happiness.

Believing that you must do everything as near perfectly as possible.

This belief has been called 'the curse of perfectionism'. It prevents you from obtaining satisfaction or fulfillment from what you do; it causes you constantly to examine and recheck your actions, it makes you feel a failure if you achieve less than perfection.

Anyone with this problem needs to learn to relax, take pleasure in his achievements, and enjoy life more.

Believing that failure reflects on you as an individual.

We have already explained that failure may lower a person's self-esteem.

This is especially true when someone has learnt to judge his sense of self-worth by events outside himself - for example, by what he achieves or by material worth, status, respect from others, financial or business power.

In such cases, failure to achieve something takes on a greater significance: in that person's mind, it implies he is 'no good', 'useless', 'a failure'.

Such a person should remember that failure in what he does is not the same as failure as a person. Furthermore, one cannot compensate for a low self-esteem by achieving material worth or any of the other attributes mentioned above.

Believing that your emotional security depends on a particular place or person. Dependency is a major cause of stress.

People, places and relationships change spontaneously, and such change can easily cause depression in a person who has located his emotional security in something outside himself.

But in addition, the threat of change can cause separation anxiety and a loss of self-esteem.

So remember in particular that being alone or not being in love only threaten your self-esteem and make you feel depressed if you are not sure of your own self-worth: hence the saying: 'You should learn to love yourself before you begin to love other people.'

In passing we should also mention that the fear of rejection is closely related to a weak self-esteem and a high level of insecurity.

To avoid the lowering of self-esteem which can result from rejection, a person may cut himself off completely from all the situations where rejection may occur.

Hence a person may be isolated because he cannot handle his fear of rejection.

Believing that worry is effective. Worry is futile and emotionally exhausting.

Believing that because you have failed before, you will fail again. Research shows that we judge ourselves by other people's reactions to us.

And, as we have already explained, the way we judge ourselves determines the way we behave.

Thus a person may become entangled in a series of negative expectations about himself and his abilities, which directly determine the way he behaves.

In the next section, we shall describe some ways in which these negative expectations can be defeated.

Visualization is a powerful tool for changing one's self-image. This is because visualization can alter the way you see your own behavior and also alter your expectations of the outcome of any situation.

To use these relaxation and visualization techniques, you relax and then, with your eyes shut, visualize yourself (that is, produce vivid mental imagery of yourself) taking part in each aspect of the events which currently produce anxiety.

You may feel some anxiety as you go through the visualization; if so, relax once more and then continue where you left off.

Thus, for example, if you find it difficult to speak to members of the opposite sex, you might wish to visualize yourself in a scene in which you introduce yourself to someone and then talk to him or her in a relaxed way with no feelings of anxiety.

Once you have successfully visualized yourself coping adequately in a particular scene, relax once more.

For a few minutes, do not think about the scene, but simply maintain a relaxed state of body and mind. Then return to the same scene and go through it in your imagination once again.

You may feel some anxiety, but this should be less than before.

Obviously your aim is to see Yourself coping in the previously feared situation without any feelings of anxiety, therefore you should go through this cycle of visualization and relaxation until that is what you have achieved.

No matter what scene or situation you are visualizing, make an effort to see yourself as an integral part of it, not just as though you are watching it as a detached observer.

Sometimes it is useful to visualize a series of scenes, each one of which is currently more anxiety-provoking than the last.

An alternative approach is to prolong your visualization until your anxiety begins to decrease of its own accord.

If you adopt this technique, once again your aim should be to see yourself as a part of the situation.

Imagine each part of the scene as you would like it to be; if your anxiety increases to an uncomfortable level, stop briefly and relax until it is under control. You may need to repeat your visualization once or twice a day for several days until you feel confident of your ability to cope in the real situation.

Used correctly, these techniques have the power to change the way in which you perceive any situation, and also to modify your expectations of the way it will affect you.

 In other words, you begin to see yourself as able to cope; your self-image in relation to that situation is modified. However, as we mentioned before, thought alone is not enough: it needs to be followed up with action.

This is a very important point.

No matter what you fear, you will have to expose yourself to it before you can completely overcome your anxiety.

For example, if you never attend an interview, you'll never be employed; if you never speak to a member of the opposite sex, you'll never get a date; if you never pluck up courage to speak to strangers, you'll never make new friends; and so on.

In other words, you have everything to gain by turning your visualization into reality.

However, this must be done in the correct way.

Clearly it would be unreasonable to expect that you could cope with any situation, no matter how stressful, immediately.

 You must therefore set yourself realistic targets which will allow you to increase your confidence and overcome your anxiety gradually.

Don't, for example, resolve that you will suddenly become the 'life and soul' of any social situation, but pick a more realistic goal, such as introducing yourself to two people each time you meet a group of strangers. Moreover, don't just make vague resolutions.

Specify a time or date by which you will achieve your goal - and reward yourself in some way when you are successful (for example, see a film, buy yourself a new shirt or a bottle of wine, or do something you really enjoy).

This kind of positive  reinforcement can be of great value. Much more information and many suggestions about goal-setting can be found in The Success Factor by Robert Sharpe and David Lewis, and Shyness: What It Is and What to do About It by Philip Zimbardo.

BOOSTING SELF-CONFIDENCE

How much does self-confidence depend on the possession of a comprehensive set of social skills? Zimbardo (1981) has suggested that there are two sorts of shy people: the first have a complete set of social skills but lack the confidence to use them; the second simply don't have a knowledge of social skills.

In his book on shyness (mentioned above) he outlined a system for the development of social ability covering the following areas:

  • developing a manner which attracts and holds other people's
    attention
  • developing the confidence to approach feared situations by adopting a particular 'role'
  • setting goals
  • practicing conversational skills, including: making introductions, initiating and maintaining a conversation, giving and accepting compliments, planning subjects about which you can talk knowledgeably, and ending a conversation or social meeting
  • evolving the ability to socialize freely and making friends from acquaintances
  • handling interpersonal conflicts and becoming more assertive
  • planning what to do in different situations

You may object to the idea that one can overcome anxiety by planning 'strategies' like these for use in social interactions.

However, there is no doubt that a certain amount of forethought can considerably reduce worried anticipation and anxiety before any situation or event, in addition to controlling your negative expectations about the outcome of that event.

If you feel that social skills are one of your weak points, such a program may be very helpful. We are, however, concerned here with a more direct approach to boosting self-confidence. To use the self-hypnosis technique we have described elsewhere:

A suggested approach for Stage 2 of the tape recorder technique: Your feelings of self-confidence are increasing all the time now.

Each day you find your self-confidence is increasing, so that in business, at home or in social situations you are more relaxed and calm. You are more confident when talking to other people, more relaxed when you meet people new to you.

These feelings of self-confidence are continuing to increase gradually as each day goes by. And as your self-confidence continues to increase, you find that you can successfully achieve those things which have made you feel anxious in the past.

[If necessary:] And as your self-confidence increases, feelings of inferiority are troubling you less and less often, less and less severely all the time. Very soon they will have gone away completely.

Remember that there is no single correct way to be socially skilful. If you watch a group of people who seem socially adept, you will probably see that they all have different individual styles.

Some are 'good listeners', while others will be witty conversationalists, and so on.

You may find that by watching other people, you can model your own actions on the parts of their behavior which seem most appropriate to you.

In conclusion, we emphasize once again one of the themes which has run through this whole website: ultimately, any change in any aspect of your personality can only occur if you wish it should do so - and if you then take appropriate action to make it occur.

Please be aware that the most acute stimulation of anxiety can occur in relationships and sexual situations. You can find advice on overcoming all kinds of sexual dysfunction here.

 

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