I have always been described as confident. People who meet me and speak to me may get that impression, as I talk a lot, and am pretty friendly. However inside, I’ve dealt with a million doubts and self-esteem issues since I was a teenager.
It began in secondary school. In primary school I had friends, I played with other kids at break time, and got invited to parties. I was fairly popular. But when I got to the busy, intense world of secondary school, everything changed. I don’t know why exactly. Maybe because I was fairly smart. Maybe because I was poor or didn’t know how to do my hair. Whatever the reason, I became a target. The bullying began quickly, and followed me throughout the rest of my school career. I was laughed at, left out, ridiculed, and called names. I suddenly felt very alone.
At about this time, my Mum was trying to go back to college so she could get a job. She was also beginning to get ill herself, and looking back she was struggling mentally too. I didn’t feel like I could tell her about what was going, I didn’t want to add any worry onto her plate, so I kept it hidden. At home my brother would tease me and mess with my stuff, and slowly but surely, any shred of self-confidence I had vanished.
Eventually I moved to another school, and I thought that things would be instantly better. The bullying stopped, but the marks it had left on me didn’t go away. I was still awkward, anxious, and constantly thinking people were talking about or laughing at me. I found it really difficult to make friends, and the friends I did make I never felt truly close to most of them, as I thought eventually they would all just leave me.
My self-confidence left in secondary school, but my fear of being abandoned by people close to me began much earlier. When I was about six my father stopped coming to visit me completely. Up until that point my supposedly fortnightly visits with him had been sporadic at best, but at least they happened sometimes. After a big argument with my Mum he wrote (or his wife did) saying he wasn’t going to visit me again. I was upset, and so angry that I didn’t know how to express it. Though I didn’t realise it at the time, I internalised that and made it mean that I wasn’t good enough, and that people would leave me even if I thought they loved me. An awful lesson for a six year old to learn, and one that went on to shape my childhood, teenage years, and most of my twenties.
If I look on the brighter side, that moment taught me that I should be independent, and not rely on other people. Other people would leave, so the only person I needed was myself. The trouble was I also felt like I wasn’t good enough, and so being trapped with myself became a singular misery that I couldn’t explain or escape from.
Over the years my confidence has taken a lot of knocks. I didn’t get the grades I was capable of, in part due to my Mum being ill, but also due to a lack of confidence in myself to do the work and ace the tests. I didn’t get into the university I planned to go to. I got rejected by jobs, by guys, and by people I thought were friends. I got a really, really bad mark for my final year poetry. I had to leave jobs because I felt overwhelmed and unable to cope. I moved places for boys, and it didn’t work out. I was cheated on. I applied for so many internships and grad schemes, but my career still went nowhere.
Right now, my confidence is a little rocky. I’ve been working part time in retail for nearly 5 months, trying to figure out my next move and actually make something of myself. But I also have a super supportive relationship, and a few good friends who mean the world to me. For the first time in my life I’ve had space to begin working on myself in a healthy, incremental way. For years I’ve had an all-or-nothing perfectionist mindset, meaning every time I mess up a little or take a step back, I make that mean I’m not good enough, and chipping away at my confidence in the process. I say no more. I know that progress isn’t linear, nobody is perfect, and doing things in small steps is a much healthier, and more sustainable way to make change in your life.
I don’t have all the answers to building self-confidence or self-love. But I think being more aware, and trying to focus on my wins and successes, instead of beating myself up for the times I fail, is a good first step. If I can write down 1 thing I did well each day, and one thing I’m grateful for, maybe over time I will build up those muscles and break down the ones whispering about the things I didn’t do, or did wrong.
Society doesn’t make it easy to develop confidence. The media bombards us with the ‘ideal’ images of skinny, successful, pretty, rich people. Social media, if you don’t protect your feed, can be full of the same. Comparison is bred in us from a young age, and that means when you don’t measure up to what you see others doing, you feel rubbish about yourself. Then if you talk about something you’re good at/doing well, you feel as if you’re bragging or being big-headed. There’s something of a taboo around confidence, especially for women but I know it can affect people of any gender. So what are we to do?
The thing is, we should celebrate our achievements, shout about them, and own them. And we should do the same with others. Instead of looking at someone you follow who is ‘successful’ and feeling envy, why not try expressing joy or gratitude for their example, and congratulating their success? Even if they appear super confident, chances are they’re human and have wobbles and doubts like anyone else. A lovely message can mean a lot in the age of internet trolls and keyboard warriors.
With all of this being said, I am challenging myself, and you (if anyone is actually reading!) to do 3 things:
- Write down something you did well/rocked/achieved every day
- Write down something you’re grateful for every day
- Leave a positive comment on the blog/Insta/Facebook/Twitter/letterbox of someone you admire, celebrating their success. Try to do this at least once a week
Will you take on the challenge with me? Let’s #celebrateconfidence together!