Weak and Insecure: How to Grow Your Strength and Confidence at Work and in Life
If you prefer to listen, here’s the podcast version of this post on Soundcloud and iTunes.
This is for anyone who is insecure or has a hard time with confidence at work or socially. This is part one of a two part episode. Part two will be solely focused on how to ask for a raise and how to tell someone your value when you apply for a new job. For this post I am going to focus on tools to enable you at work and in life in the face of fear and insecurity. Maybe you are introverted or sensitive, so this prevents you from speaking up or saying what you think. Or maybe when you do assert yourself it hurts to hear what people say back to you that’s critical. Maybe you feel intimidated by those around you and they use that knowledge to make you feel worse.
There are three parts! The what, why, and how – the tools! Whoo!
Part 1: The What
Insecurity, fear of standing up for yourself, speaking publicly, feeling painfully overly sensitive to the opinions of others. Maybe you don’t feel confident in your own worth and you have a constant inner narrative that’s extremely toxic and torturous. You live in a constant state of, “…they probably think I am fill in the worst thing possible.” You constantly read into others– how they’re thinking you are wrong, stupid, unattractive, untalented, etc. And this process of thinking about what others are thinking is wrong with you takes over your mind and distracts you – hurting your work, productivity and every day functioning. Maybe you replay things over and over again from different angles, attempting to decipher what they meant when they said this or that. All your perceptions of your self are tinted by this negative fear- so if it’s work, you might think everything people are thinking when they smile at you is, they feel sorry for you because you’re untalented.
This painful insecurity defines the path of your life because it means you have problems asking for what you want and standing up for yourself. So if you have a strong feeling that something could be better, you talk yourself out of your feelings because you think everything you think is probably wrong. And maybe when you do speak your opinion, you immediately go into a tailspin about what others are thinking. And when people DO express negative opinions or reactions to you, it’s felt as a huge blow, because they throw you into defense mode.
In relationships or socially, you might feel like no one shows up for you the way you show up for them. You tolerate a lot of crap from romantic partners and friends, and they never give you what you are craving in terms of support or thoughtfulness. Or maybe it’s the opposite: you cannot let them come too close because it’s too intense and excruciating to feel vulnerable and exposed to them. This lens of self-critique reshapes everything you experience – so when a partner gazes at you naked, in your mind they’re thinking, “…you need to lose weight.” So in general, you keep the attention off of you and on them and their issues. It’s just easier – and safer, that way.
And in an unseen but felt way, your life is guided by this theme of fear, low self-confidence and low self-worth. Instead of an upward incline, it’s a jagged plateau full of mental battles and fearful anticipations. You want to do the things that everyone else does – like, speak up with confidence, demand a raise, not take no for an answer, let go of what other people think, have faith in the value of your own opinions, and be a boss. It’s just that pesky inner voice that seems to get in the way.
Insecurity and low self-worth can also manifest in the opposite form. It can give you an elitist attitude, one where you look down on others around you at focus on how bad they are and how amazing it is that they don’t know it. You might see most people as stupid and be frustrated and lonely because no one else seems to see it as vividly as you do, so much so that you feel personally insulted by having to witness their idiocy.
Another form that insecurity takes is hearing everything others say as if it had a negative connotation, when it’s directed toward you. In other words, you might hear even a direct and neutral comment from someone as criticism, mockery or an attack. It’s a knee-jerk reaction that makes you feel personally insulted by things that others think, when in reality, most are benign and not something personal, at all. It’s just the lens by which you hear things when you have low confidence. It hurts because you’re vulnerable and you see and feel the reflection of your own opinions, but overlaid onto the personalities of others. When you’re confident, things others say have no power or validity related to your person. They are just the opinions of others, and you are fine that they exist, but they are not able to shake your own opinions of yourself. You can instead consider them and reflect on what they have to offer. And if they don’t serve you, you can let them go.
Part 2: The Why
- Specifically, why you got stuck with this pain in the first place and how it operates within your life, currently.
Genetics is a huge determinate – meaning, your emotional character. This is is what dictates your built in ability to tolerate fear and feelings of powerlessness. Plus, your emotional character influences the kind of feedback you receive from the outside world. Some are born more shy or loud or sensitive– which will provoke different feedback and highlight different strengths or weaknesses.
Second, childhood experiences – specifically parenting style and your parents’ emotional character. So if your parents were anxious, they likely protected you from experiences and also educated you to fear and avoid certain things. One reason we have anxiety around certain experiences is we have avoided them, and therefore they scare us more. When you avoid something too much – it becomes more insurmountable to you. That’s what actually creates feelings of insecurity and anxiety: fear of the unknown. If you’re a sensitive person and your parents protected you from lots of things that scared you, you likely became increasingly intimidated by those things over time. Overprotection from things creates more anxiety. On the other hand, if your environment put you in contact with something scary more often, you likely had less anxiety around that thing long-term. If something upsets you, you can train yourself to not be affected by it – by habituating yourself to it. By leaning into it. Pushing yourself deliberately to experience that thing more – in an increment that is within your control.
Third, a major life change that made you feel powerless and stressed out for a long period of time. Maybe you felt threatened because you felt different than others, fearful of your environment, or just overly stressed for a prolonged period of time. For example, if you moved to a new place and you were different than everyone, you might have internalized your wanting to blend in and being unaccepted as, “because I’m not as good” so that you might control the feelings of painful anxiety. Suddenly you can take on a self-made belief that your feelings of insecurity are due to your weird nose. That if you had a different nose you would be liked by everyone. The self-made label gives you the ability to manage the pain of the fear, and therefore it’s much more tolerable. For more about how this works in humans, you can read Living as a fraud or listen.
Fourth, if you had a caregiver who was destructive to your confidence – either covertly or overtly – meaning the various ways that parents can engrain negative beliefs into your understanding of yourself. This is also covered in the Living as a fraud post. Your parents are basically living out their wounds onto you – so if you had a caregiver that constantly told you that you weren’t good enough in words, or with their actions – like with abuse, this will be internalized as “truth” for you as an adult. So much so that you won’t be able to see it one day. It will be so deeply internalized. Because, logically – why would a parent say or do that if it weren’t true? It doesn’t make sense to a kid any other way. That’s why therapy is awesome: you call that negative belief out of the cobwebs and dispel it by placing it into context. You can see that your parents were wrong, how it affected you and hurt you, and then mourn that fact. Then you cry about it a lot – because you didn’t get the unconditional love and support you should have from them, and that sucks. I digress.
Hurtful parenting can also create a pattern in you, as a child: you might live as the person your parents have convinced you to be – someone unlovable as they are. So you might live out your whole life as a bad kid with a rotten core, proving to yourself – with your actions, that it’s true. It’s very confusing as an adult, because your whole life has shown you only one idea of yourself. So be aware that parents who don’t give unconditional love bring up kids who act like unlovable kids – and then as adults – their entire life’s path PROVES to them that they are bad people: untrustworthy, unlovable, stupid, worthless etc. Sound familiar? Go to therapy…
- Why insecurity has such a powerful affect on your life path– professionally and personally.
You’re compromised. When you care too much about what others think of you or you’re intimidated by others, they unseat your self-perception and ruffle you into acting defensively. The goal with confidence is not to be a jerk who’s difficult to work with, it’s just to be convicted in yourself and the value of what You think. It’s to be in constant contact with that voice – know what it thinks, trust it, and come from that position without hiding or questioning yourself. It doesn’t mean that you’re going to be mean or dismissive to others and their opinions. Quite the contrary. It means you won’t take their aggression personally, you can hear them with open ears, and their feelings won’t affect yours. Your opinion is solid because it’s yours. This balanced confidence translates into an ability to acknowledge and honor what you want for yourself and not silence that voice or talk yourself out of things by saying things like, “I feel bad…” Don’t say that. You shouldn’t feel bad for having an opinion. It’s what you are paid to do. To think. To use your logic and never abandon it. Your view matters. Don’t let others scare you out of it.
When others affect you, get a rise out of you, get under your skin, or make you feel awkward or insecure – you change yourself accordingly. You react and get off-balance: A victim of their actions and opinions. You become less you, and with that – less effective, less powerful, less rational, less honest in your values and beliefs. Their terms are something you interpret and then try to align yourself with – even if that’s happening subconsciously. Suddenly you live under the dark cloud belief that “you” are not ideal, and instead you’re striving to interpret the way others think you should be – chastising yourself for falling short of what others are. And nothing you do feels good enough or right enough, because there’s no real correct answer: you can’t grow the brain of another person, so “good” is an ever-moving target. And that pursuit waters down your life and everything about it. You can become a victim to the system that you find yourself in – whether that’s your job or relationships.
If you don’t fit the mold of what others accept, you feel disabled by your unfortunate circumstance. Your weakness becomes the reason you can’t advance, and sometimes you accept that belief and succumb to it. This is when others happily use it, too. It becomes a tool by which others exploit you or give you sub-par treatment. And that becomes a pattern. This negative system exists, you are victim of it, you believe in its power and succumb to it, and others happily take advantage of it. The pattern continues on. This is when you grow full of resent and anger about your life and how the system doesn’t resect your value and has treated you like garbage. This quiet belief has turned into an understanding of the limits of the world, affirmed and solidified by your experiences.
I am well aware that the world is judgmental and you can’t get around that. Image counts; how you were brought up, where you were brought up, how you speak and how you behave, counts. The opinions of others matter when it comes to working with others. People are profiled based on many social cues and they get more benefits based on the category they represent – and that’s unfair! I know! This is about becoming aware of the “system” that oppresses you, how it works, and taking control of what you can use to your advantage. It’s about choosing to use your power, always. Never focusing on what is done to you and instead focusing on what you can do – and shifting the way you work it based on what’s available to you. Not being a victim to it and simply reacting to others. It doesn’t mean it won’t still hurt – or it won’t suck and it shouldn’t be different. Change is slow! I know! Society needs to catch up on a slew of fronts. But taking this path means you get access to a whole lot more positive change. Because you’re doing what you can about a bad situation – and that attitude becomes the baseline of who you are as a person. You are direct, empowered, unafraid, motivated, honest and claiming what is rightfully yours. Still being respectful and excellent, but adding a healthy cup of “I can and will do what I need to. Don’t waste my time.”
This came about in my life in this way. I worked in a corporate office with only men. There was one girl in my department. I used to skate to work and wear miniskirts. I was loud and irreverent and exactly myself. I never didn’t say something I felt. And I never got promoted. I was a threat to all the men above me. And it wasn’t my fault – it was because I’m a girl, and I was young, tattooed, with dirty tennis shoes and dyed hair. I wasn’t speaking their language. And then I made a conscious decision to start dressing and acting like a person they could wrap their head around. I wore more corporate outfits. Spoke in a different voice. I controlled all that I could in the situation – and it worked to my benefit. And no, it wasn’t “me.” It was an act I chose to play to make it just about work and not about all these other cues about myself. In other words, I empowered myself. I made myself into someone more acceptable and understandable to those around me. It was an experiment in communication. And yes, then I got promoted. It looked something like “maturity” to others, but to me, it was a method of shaping the perception of others. To this day, as soon as I get home after work, I change into ME again – with tennis shoes and shorts and a t shirt. And that’s fine with me.
I am not telling you to do the same thing or saying that you have to alter your clothing or anything about yourself. I am saying that you should approach your life with your eyes wide open to all possible tools. Be willing to empower yourself with all known factors. Even the seemingly small ones that shouldn’t be factors. Your language and behavior have a powerful effect on others. And yes, often in life there will be people who can’t understand you or accept you no matter what – because they are blocked by their own personal issues. But at least you can see that and not take it personally – and then move on to what you can affect. When you know who you are – you get to make empowered decisions and keep the outside world separate from you. And when it comes to putting on a suit, it doesn’t mean you are betraying yourself as a person. It means you are using a tool to help yourself get what you want. When you stay tuned to what you can do in every situation, you have a lot more tools at hand. If you’re in a game, you can’t just say you’re not going to play it. This is about leveraging all that you can to put the odds in your favor. So if you’re invisible to other people or walked all over or discounted by them and it isn’t working for you, rise above that and look at it from a bird’s eye view. What else can I use to my advantage? How to I come at them from a different angle? I am not saying that you have to do what I did and change the way you look to make others read you better and feel more comfortable promoting you. I am saying you should decide all these things for yourself. Become more tactful. Take YOU personally out of it and look at it from a higher vantage point: what is this other person’s issue? How can I shift that?
You must choose to become the one that is confident, self-aware, and empowered to choose how they want to tackle any situation. And that process starts by simply ACTING as if. You get nowhere by hurting from or hating on what exists. You get everywhere by controlling what exists by using the knowledge you have access to. You tell others in a very blunt language who you are by how you portray yourself. And with this episode, I want to empower you to use those cues to your benefit. Even if some of them don’t feel quite natural to you. Eventually, it fit like a glove. It is what it is. Don’t let yourself get too caught on what it “means” or why it’s wrong and should be different. Get more of what you want. Grow your power and your voice. Choose and stop reacting.
This is about coming from an honest awareness of yourself – believing in that self, trusting it, valuing it, and taking control of external factors accordingly. It’s to ultimately empower yourself to live more authentically as the person you’re capable of being. When you are empowered to choose you will grow into the direction of your choosing. YOU steer the ship vs. your reactions to others steering you. And that person exists inside of you right now! They’re trapped inside there, right now – probably depressed or enraged from swallowing the frustration and resent caused by not being able to live your life fully. So with that, let’s get to the tools!
Part 3: The Tools
With all fears and anxieties, we each have a different level of tolerance and different abilities to confront stressors, but one first broad suggestion I’d like to offer you is push yourself to interact more with what intimidates you, but in controlled and manageable increments. It’s about habituating yourself to this stressor with practice over a long period of time. For example – this is totally different, but it helps illustrate how this works: I had a terrible fear of maggots because they’re disgusting. And they were in my house and I couldn’t stop thinking about them. So my therapist said to go look at them a lot. And I was like wtf. But I did it. And then I got used to them. They’re still disgusting but I don’t have an overwhelming obsessive fear of them anymore. So the trick is to expose yourself to them and confront them in measure.
Know your Kryptonite – Journal exercise!
Get to know your triggers inside and out. What are the anxieties you have about yourself? Know them down to the words that form in your head when you experience them. Recognize them when they pop up and pre-decide your antidote. What will you tell yourself when this thought process arises? Write the answers down. I recommend getting little monkey stickers and drawing little talk bubbles that come out of each monkey’s mouth. Whatever form it is – write them down so that you can see them and remember these trigger thought processes.
For example, let’s say you hate presenting in front of others. And when you do this, you always feel that others are making fun of you. So record all the thoughts you know will pop up for you. Write them down. Come up with an antidote responses. Like, let’s say your brain says to you, “You’re so talentless and you sound like you don’t know what you’re talking about.” Your antidote would be a list of the nice compliments your coworkers have said to you about how capable you are.
Or, let’s say when you get any kind of criticism, your brain immediately goes to the idea that you’re going to get fired. This is a super common one for a ton of people. The antidote would be, “There it goes again, like clockwork! Just because I got a criticism monkey says it means all the success I’ve had is invalid. That’s the irrational loop of my post-criticism logic.” Or if you don’t have a connection on a first date – maybe your inner voice goes to “It’s because I am too fat.” “Shut up monkey!!!”
Here’s a tool for when you’re freaking out about what others think and you’re torturing yourself. Be your own public defender and write out only the facts: things that happened in person – that you have proof exist. So, nothing like, “I think they meant xyz” will hold weight in court. Because it’s not proof! Whatever the concrete facts in your situation are – write them down. What is the real evidence? From this point, deduce the logical truth of your situation, and dispel the over-anticipation and fear. Why? Because you’re not psychic and you can’t read other people’s thoughts. 99.9% of the time if you think you know what other people are thinking, you are actually wrong. You should only base your opinion on what you know on what has actually happened. The rest is theory and suspicion and most importantly it’s actually driven and created by the fearful emotions. Your brain is so unreliable when you’re fearful, therefore its logic is inadmissible.
Give That Monkey a Pencil!
I recommend drawing a monkey at the top of a page of your journal or just a regular piece of paper – but basically, make a title that signifies, “Monkey Voice.” Now, whatever the negative chatter in your brain saying, write it down. Purge it all onto paper. It might stream out in a weird form – maybe one long linked set of words or it might be hard to write fast enough to keep up with your thoughts. You can either tear it up or scribble it out – or just see it there on the paper. The most important part is to see your thoughts as something outside of you in black and white. In all their terrible glory. It’s when you keep a habit of doing this that the thoughts have less of an affect on you. They lose their potency. Remind yourself that it’s just this annoying illogical thing that will always live somewhere in your head, but your job is to know it exists and ignore it.
When you can externalize the voice of anxiety, it loses its power to affect your behavior – because it’s something you are conscious of vs. unaware of as separate. If you continue to practice externalizing this voice, it will infect your person and mind a little bit less each day. Keep them in front of you – on paper in black and white. Witness how insane, irrational and fearful the thoughts are. Let that monkey ramble on as much as it wants. Another great tool I just learned about is called “Anxietybox.com” created by a programmer dude named Paul Ford. It’s currently broken because after he was on a This American Life episode, too many people tried to log on. But he takes your negative chatter and turns it into spam – super funny spam, if you want to try it out. I haven’t tried it myself but it sounds rad!
The Grossest Thing You’ve Ever Heard
This is a tool for being in front of people and getting really freaked out to the point that you can’t talk or read. While you’re in the green room of your terrifying experience, think about the play by play of the grossest (and preferably funniest) story you’ve ever heard. Like literally tell it to yourself in your mind. If that doesn’t sound appealing, you can also get dressed – from scratch, in your mind. Like picture your closet – then pick out a shirt. A pair of socks, etc. And if you don’t want to do that one, you can also pick something random and visual, for example purple elephants – and then tell yourself NOT to think about that thing. So keep saying to yourself, “Don’t think about purple elephants.” This one’s from a mom in Australia who made a book for her daughter.
Have a protective outfit that makes you feel super powerful. Like a great suit will make you sound different than a regular pair of jeans. Like a coat or a pair of shoes. Pick it based on how it actually makes you feel. Invest in it. So make it more fancy or elegant. And only wear it when you need that extra protection, including on the phone – your voice will change when you wear something powerful. I have boots that do this for me. When I want to feel protected I wear a certain pair of black leather Fendi boots. Yes. I said Fendi. They’re awesome. I look like I have a hidden pair of ninja stars somewhere.
Warning the next tool might offend some people out there – so apologies in advance!!
Big Fat Dick
OR Giant Penis. Whichever sounds more memorable to you. Sorry if this offends any of you! But it will last in your mind right?! Well, for those of you who don’t know, this is a label for that walk and attitude that people have when they supposedly (ahem) are well endowed. You can look at the guy and be like, “that guy has a giant penis,” because he appears confident when there is lack of a reason to be. It’s a mental label for the person’s attitude. So this is a tool for anyone, male or female, penis or none – and it’s basically to train yourself to act more confident. The funny thing about your body is it’s able to create the chemicals within your mind just by placing your body into confident positions. So if you’re about to go into a situation that intimidates you, or you have to act confident and powerful, act like a person with a giant penis. What does that look like? Basically there are a series of aggressive or extraverted stances that others read as confident and authoritative. This is from a TedTalk by Amy Cuddy about body language. The short of it is – before you go into the environment – or even while you’re in it and you need a burst of confidence, lean back with your hands behind your head and your arms splayed out – a “relaxed” position. That’s one of them. Another is one that Amy refers to as “The Wonder Woman” where you stand legs apart, hands on your hips and your elbows out. Other notes are to lean your body into conversations, take up lots of space wherever you sit. Lift your chest up and don’t slouch. All of these body positions will create more of the confident chemicals in your body if you do them for two minutes. I highly recommend trying it!
Single White Female
Yes, I mean the 90’s movie with Bridget Fonda and Jennifer Jason Leigh! No, I’m not telling you to go stalk someone but I am telling you to grow your confident power-self, it’s a lot easier if you start by mimicking someone who you admire. So pick someone – a friend or coworker, who embodies the things you want to have and basically model yourself off of them. Dress in ways that emulate their style, model the way you interact with others off of their social graces, and even train yourself to act and speak like them. Regardless, it will end up being a version of YOU and not just you acting like them. So don’t worry – it’s not a fake-you. It will evolve into something new and authentic to you.
And that’s it!
Before I close I want to say thank you to my latest SPONSORS! Thank you to Lisa and Margaret for your monthly sponsorship – It literally made my cry when I saw the email notification. And Maralyn on Patreon – thank you so much! It touches my heart and also shows me that I am actually helping you with my work, so thank you! It takes hundreds of hours so that means the world.
The choices you make today, matter. Even the little ones. All of them create the next link of the train track that is taking you to your future. So when it comes to your voice, your opinion, your career, your place in life today– you tell the world your value. You must create it. Know it. Come from that place in all you do and let go of what others think of you. You cannot control the feelings or beliefs of others, and they should never alter who you are. No one else can tell you your worth or your limits, because they don’t have the authority. Only you do.
As you grow older, the choices you have will grow more and more limited. As you’re living them, you don’t realize that your choices will play out in ripples for many more months and years than you expect they will. One thing always leads to the next few things. So don’t take the way you approach your life casually. Don’t make your opinions trivial. Like, don’t dismiss what you want as something you can always remedy later – down the line. Invest in yourself. And don’t let the opinion of a room alter how you show up for yourself in your life choices. If you believe something or want something, say it. Don’t let it stay trapped inside. Voice it or at least know it and work tactically in favor of it. Otherwise those words will fester and eat into your feelings of value.
This life is all what you make it for yourself. No one else is going to make it for you, so let go of what people think you should do and choose what’s in your own best interests, while acting with the utmost kindness and respect. Foster and hone a sense of openness, because that is how you receive more tools and insight that will ultimately help you. Stay open to receiving feedback – try hard to listen for the truth that you don’t want to hear from others, and allow yourself permission to take them on or leave them. Above all, listen to that tiny voice of truth inside yourself, and hone you’re your ability to hear it – hand it a megaphone. Honor it, because it speaks the truth of what you want. Abide it and you will reveal your value to the world.
I hope you enjoyed this – I send you my love. Smile!! Xoxo Sarah May B.
understanding emotional development, all in the mind
tedtalk about body position – body language.
Featured image via Flickr