On Finding Confidence

When it comes to confidence, no one has an answer that works for everyone. For some the issue becomes being more self-compassionate. Others may see it as a deeper access to faith. Some may need to explore the many psychological things that have happened to them that created negative conditioning — aka their voices of self-criticism. And some may need to do all of the above and more. So we all, in our own way have to figure out what works for us, what our vocabulary of self-confidence will be, not making the assumption that a single answer can be universal.

But if I could add one piece of advice it would be this, that there is no rescue from the loss of confidence. Nothing and no one can take the problem away. There’s no magical reprieve. All the power and fame you might be given, all the money, all the drugs, all the reassurances and approval of others will not make your insides different. It is up to you to figure it out.

The Zen buddhists call this, “jumping right down the dragon’s throat.” And that may seem like an incredibly daunting, if not frankly impossible task. So let’s talk about what that really means.

It means getting to the point where there is a rebellion, a thorough mental and emotional mutiny against all of the interior feelings and thoughts that prevent you from standing up in your own life. It means using your will as a human being to defeat the negative voices of self-criticism, the painful warp in your self-judgments. Usually, a person has to be good and sick and tired of the inner criticism, sick to death of it.

The trickiest part is knowing how to manage this inner revolution. When I’ve worked with clients on self-confidence issues, they say, “but I don’t want to become arrogant” or “I don’t want others to see me as ego-centric or insensitive” or “I’m not strong enough.” But, of course, these voices of self-criticism can be just the second level of the same dynamic, the suppressed demon showing up in other disguises, some of which can be very confusing. One of these certainly can be as an arrogant brat. So this means the fight is on several fronts, and you must keep going on all of them until they are defeated. This notion that one part of yourself is fighting another part may be disturbing. After all, aren’t we supposed to be whole, to feel a deep sense of integration, to not repress anything?

It’s an interesting conundrum. But at a certain point in our development, calling out this inner war for what it is, and the part of the inner world that is working against a more positive destiny, must be tackled.

If it helps, you may want to convert the image from something warlike to something a little more peaceful — harnessing an inner wildness, for example, or caring for an inner wild child. In this context, there’s a parental message — “no absolutely means no” — to both the critical self-messaging that continues to shame and the shameless brat that can show up nearby. You can see that both voices are immature.

What we do with these “children” is love them, and simply help them grow up through continuing guidance. Perhaps you recognize both in yourself, one a parasite called shame, one a shameless brat. You may notice the brat and end up with the shame, or see the shame and then end up with a brat.

So first you have to set the boundary and stick with it, building your strength as you continue to push through, and seeing all the disguises. Nothing can get you out of that responsibility. It may well be an act of pure self-discipline, and indeed you may feel like you are in the army. But then, as insight comes, you see that the “training” is paying off, and you know this — that no one saved you but yourself.

And that can lead to an enormous vote of inner confidence, just you to you.

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  • I find the image of jumping right down the dragon’s throat simultaneously attractive and intimidating (which, I suppose, is the point).

    Standing up in your own life may be both figuratively and literally essential for saving yourself. I recently started reading When the Body Says No: Exploring the Stress/Disease Connection, by Gabor Mate, MD, in which he makes a compelling case for the high correlation between a chronic unwillingness to set boundaries (e.g., saying “no”) and the onset of chronic disease such as cancer and autoimmune disorders.

    Not everyone who suffers from chronic underconfidence or unassertiveness will manifest chronic disease, but those who are genetically susceptible to disease are far more at risk if they persistently engage in those practices.

  • Wow! Thanks, Joe. This is a great connection and great reminder that our health may be at stake when we fail to set boundaries, including those we need to establish with ourselves. I very much enjoyed Gabor Mate’s book on addiction (thanks to you), In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, so will want to read this one, too.

    As for jumping down the dragon’s throat — well, let’s just say it means that which cannot be avoided!

  • Very thoughtful post Dan – and very useful for us, so mahalo.

    I have always thought of confidence as a result of our own self-mastery, and so I love your post as a refreshing reframing of what I have always believed. You are so right about this, that, “there is no rescue from the loss of confidence” other than our own. Great imagery in “jumping down the dragon’s throat” too!

  • Thank you, Rosa. I believe there are as many ways to reframe the challenge as there are people. And perhaps because we feel confidence — or its lack — in such a personal way. It is one thing to say it is about self- mastery and another to find our own best way to jump down the dragon’s throat. I appreciate your partnership and clear voice in the leap!

  • Good advice. Our minds are interesting and immensely power things. We’ve constructed ‘non-confidence’ (subconsciously or consciously), just as we can construct ‘confidence’ in the same manner. “Jumping right down the dragon’s throat”, aka, feel the fear and do it anyway. ‘The fear’ is merely ‘the edge of comfort zone created by the belief underlying the non-confidence’. ‘Do it anyway’ is stepping into a ‘new belief’ (at the exclusion of the former one) that generates genuine confidence. Such beliefs are a natural state, as is confidence.

    The big problem is that we entertain and accept beliefs that don’t serve us; and they’re mostly ‘unnatural in nature’. If we have to ‘push past them’, then the mind see’s this as struggle and responds accordingly – just as it has to try and ‘push’ a confidence that’s not there. On the other hand if we ‘allow’, things are processed very differently, and much quicker.

    How do we release these? Obviously that’s a much bigger discussion. But suffice to say, just like here; everything starts with ‘new decisions, based on new information’. An open mind is where it starts. For someone who’s feeling ‘un-confident’; it’s more about them holding onto and struggling with a belief system for safety. Verses understanding that security is mental – an internal function of which they have full direction and control. Once that’s fully understood, new beliefs easily evolve or can be programmed in.

    As always, ‘Self-mastery is the key’.

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