Heartbreak. Disappointment. Stubbed toes.
Life’s perils are many, but none are as dangerous as the things you do to yourself that undermine who you are and what you can do.
These creeping, insipid and hidden patterns of behaviour are things that you might have been doing for years, without ever knowing. All you know is that you’re not where you intended to be. That your spark is dimmed. That you wanted so much more for yourself.
These then, are the 7 danger to confidence.
1. People pleasing
I like to please people. It’s awesome when someone looks pleased as a result of something I’ve done or is thrilled with something I’ve made happen.
Pleasing people is a good thing, unless it comes at the expense of your own sense of self.
You can try to solve someone’s problem for them, which can be a lovely and thoughtful gesture, unless it’s because you want their gratitude. You can give of your time or attention, which can be rare and remarkable, unless it’s because you want their validation. And you can diffuse a potential conflict by standing down, which can be a compassionate move on your part, unless it’s because you don’t want to attract judgement or blame.
Every time you endeavour to please someone—because that’s how you get to feel whole—you’re chip-chip-chipping away at your confidence like Woody the Soul-Sucking Woodpecker.
There’s a moment that keeps happening with clients, a moment so wonderful and painful and hopeful and emotional that it gets me every single time.
It’s when we uncover how their pursuit of perfection is really just masking deep feelings of not being good enough.
Perfectionism is a way of sidelining the feeling that you’re not good enough and forestalling the fear of being found out as not good enough.
It’s a fictional narrative that says, look, as long as I keep 3 steps ahead and do every single thing right, I might just get through this. Don’t know about you, but that sounds exhausting and about as much fun as a vacation in a cold-war gulag.
But more than that, perfectionism destroys any notion that you’re already good enough.
Life is, in what some people are calling the greatest understatement of our times, hard.
When faced with a fresh challenge, when a new situation demands we step up or show up, or even when a whole new day opens up ahead of us, it’s easy to doubt our ability to get through in one piece.
Self-doubt is the persistent wondering, down in the dark corners of your head or your heart, if you’ll ever be enough.
It’s the thing that drives you toward safety, because you couldn’t bear it if you tried and failed. It would be proof, yet again, that you’re not up to it. And the great part is that all the time you don’t try, your self-doubt will never win.
Only, it does win. Every single time you hold that little bit of you back it diminishes you. Inch by inch by inch.
By creeping fences, self-doubt destroys your confidence.
If self-doubt is the deep wondering whether you’ll ever be enough as a person, second-guessing is the worry that your actions and decisions will never be enough.
Did you take the right job? Did you move to the right city? Are you dating the right person? It also projects forwards. How do I know which job is the right one? How do I know where I should move to? How do I know if this relationship will work out?
Once again, I’m exhausted just thinking about how it would be to live like that. Every day, undermining your decisions by wondering about whether it’s right or whether it will work out.
It’s an attachment to outcomes and results and goals over having trust in your ability to make choices and deal with whatever happens.
5. Fitting in
I remember at college, thinking how great it would be to be part of the crowd who had the cool parties and had all the pretty people. They seemed to be having all the fun, but fitting in with them would have meant being something I wasn’t. I was geeky and academic and a little shy, and luckily I never tried to fit in.
But that urge is a mighty one. To be part of a group. To blend in. To fit.
The urge to fit in comes from a couple of different places. First, it’s the need to be part of a social group—programming that goes deep in our brains. And second, it’s the need to be safe and not be singled out, because that’s how you get judged and maybe rejected.
Each of these urges requires that you do what other people expect. All the time you tick their boxes you’ll be blending in seamlessly. All the reward of belonging, none of the risk of rejection.
Only, it’s not real. You’re pretending. You’re not showing up as you.
And the more you do that, the more you’ll forget what showing up as you ever looked like.
I have really high standards, and when I sense that I’m falling short or missing something, I can be pretty hard on myself.
At least, I used to be. I used to gather evidence to support the belief that I’d never get to where I wanted to go, and I used to find every detail to support the fact that I wasn’t good enough.
I searched for, found, sometimes fabricated and used data to beat myself up.
But why would someone do that? Gathering ammunition for the express purpose of beating yourself up seems crazy, like trying to fight fire with actual, burny, screamy fire, right? Well, the simple reason is because it’s easier to set yourself up as not good enough than to have your hopes crushed.
You diminish yourself so nobody has the chance to do it to you.
Which, of course, is like putting your confidence in a blender and reducing it to smooshy pink stuff.
7. Treading water
People wait. We wait for the perfect conditions to switch jobs. We wait for the perfect partner. We wait for the perfect time to speak up. We wait for the perfect idea before we start to execute. We wait for just a little more in the savings account before we go it alone. We wait for someone else to make a great decision.
The motivation for waiting and treading water is safety, of course. And safety’s great and all, but if you want your life to be all about safety then one of the safest places on Earth is six feet under in a casket.
Treading water is only ever a useful tactic if it directly honours or demonstrates one of your personal values. Otherwise, without the nourishment that living in line with your values brings, your muscles atrophy, your bones ossify and your life shrinks down to nothing
Treading water is too often trading possibility for comfort, and that has a real and tangible cost. Make sure you know what it is before you decide that’s the route for you.
The Balm to the 7 Dangers
These 7 dangers are perilous indeed. More perilous than a blindfolded skunk in a bomb vest balancing on a cliff-edge in a strong wind with a school bus full of kids beneath.
The balm—something that heals, soothes, or mitigates pain—at first seems complex, multi-faceted and impossible to systematise. but it boils down to this:
It’s an area I’m digging into more and more, because there’s truth here. Learning too. I think there are 3, vital elements to it.
- non-judgemental – doesn’t make judgements of value or worth based on moment to moment experience
- respectful – respects value, wholeness and boundaries
- allowing – allows the full experiencing of emotion and experience
This is a deliberate practice. A radical practice. A necessary practice.
And it’s a lifelong practice.
Those 7 perils are still there, and they’re always ready to pull the rug out from under you—and that will happen—but this compassionate knowing thing really is a balm.
It doesn’t fix things or give you an easy out.
But it helps.
And couldn’t we all use a little help once in a while?