Dear Friends, Self-Confidence is not the Answer
I love how truth sneaks up out of the middle of nowhere and gives you a tight squeeze, leaving you changed and breathless.
Self-confidence is not something I excel at “summoning.” It deserts me when it is most needed and leaves me shaking, panicky, ugly, rejected and worn out. As many things as I’ve learned to value and appreciate about myself low self-confidence still grips me at unexpected times. It would be nice to have a warning now and then. Funny how life doesn’t work that way.
Unlike other articles, where the truth bomb releases at the end, I’ll just let you have it now because that’s how it got me.
Self-confidence is empty without self-worth.
There is no pep talk big enough in the world, no outfit beautiful enough, no voice that can say “I love you” often enough, no affection that can reach you if you do not believe that you are worth it.
This is apparently something much harder said than done because it requires affirmative action. Off the top of my head here are a few I’ve had to look at recently:
Self trash talk. Even something like being harsh over a mistake is out. Being honest about it isn’t, but beating yourself up over a missed step is not an option in discovering self worth. Words are powerful.
Allowing people to listen to me. I love listening, it’s one of my favorite things, but it doesn’t work so well in relationship when only one person does the talking. I had to start finding the courage to tell people things about myself and make relationships two way instead of me playing amateur therapist all the time. Sure, it boosted my sense of self-worth, but wasn’t fair to them or me.
Learning to say the words, I love you, and accepting them. Having the words said to us does something to us that gestures can not. Having the words said without the love to back it up is like self-confidence without worth, worthless. Neither showing people we love them, or saying it are stand alone. In the same way, we can’t be confident without self-worth, because they build on each other.
I grew up in a stolid German background that I value as a heritage, but it doesn’t leave me under any illusions for its weak points. One of those weaknesses is the understanding of emotion and the role it plays. Emotions in that time and place were viewed a little like non-necessities, like that pretty Sunday china that came out maybe a few times a year, or a chicken pox outbreak to be dealt with summarily. Anger was a somewhat acceptable emotion, and very subtle displays of grief and affection, but it was generally understood that stuffing it was the best.
People did feel strongly, I’m convinced, there just wasn’t much healthy expression of it which led to a unique set of problems. The aspect of it I think of today was our pride over lack of pride, or what we called humility if we dared have the pride to claim it. It was sort of a… nothingness, that was neither lack of pride or humility, but state of keeping ourselves in check. Very self-controlled. Very in control.
At least it looked in control, but in the end it didn’t give us any more solid footing than if we had learned the role that feelings play in our lives.
HUMILITY AND SELF WORTH
I used to think humility was a good understanding of how much I’m not worth, but it’s not. It’s understanding how much I am worth and why. Some people base their value on status, or family, or education, or job, or looks, which is all quite like quick sand when it comes to self worth. These things are external and can leave us in a minute, stripping us of everything.
True worth is something that can’t be taken away from us.
Have you seen the Greek statue of the sex slave about to be sold? Her attitude is one of peace, which doesn’t make sense. How? Or the story of Uncle Tom, in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s book, whose faith was almost immeasurably staggered after being sold away from his wife and children. One night, after a powerful dream in which he was assured that God was with him through the deep places, his heart rested; necessary because soon after he suffered under the lash of a sadistic master. Harriet writes:
"the blows only fell upon the outer man, and not, as before, on the heart."
Knowing what we’re worth comes from a spiritual place deep inside us where these blows of life have no real power. We still suffer, but the suffering is of a much different sort, and can’t disturb our peace anymore.
This is true humility: true self worth, and true self-love, because it stands completely aside from ourselves and yet means everything to us. It’s no longer a matter of saying “we are worth nothing” but instead “we are worth everything. Not because of ourselves, but because God.”
Humility and self-worth is not something we can attain or control, it is the gift of understanding who we really are. It’s not something we learn, it’s something we are.
Even as I write, self-confidence has been a pretty scarce commodity for me recently while navigating portions of life I don’t know how to handle. Doubt has been a constant companion, gnawing at my insides, telling me I’m probably handling all these new things wrong. Answers haven’t been plentiful, but I’ve found a couple of things that have helped me.
You can operate above your doubts, because doubt is a feeling of uncertainty, and feelings are not a true measurement of the state of things.
Let go of ego. That’s not self-confidence, it’s just a fake strength that gets in the way.
Once ego is gone it’s easier to go all in with confidence. Not confidence that things will turn out ok, but that we’re in the right place.
To live is uncertainty. We will face doubts. Most times of life are pretty uncertain when it comes to knowing if we’re doing well in motherhood, being a good dad, friendship, love, doing the right thing in our career, or making good decisions that will build a foundation for the future. There’s some things we can’t know right away, or perhaps ever, and frankly our self-worth shouldn’t be coming from these places. If it is we’ll live in a constant state of doubt. Those are all feelings that will vary.
This is where we are tricked about self worth. We tend to think one thing/s or happening or job description does define us, and it usually ends up being what we desire or prize most. To live somewhere specific, to own a certain kind of house, to get married, to have children, to have grandchildren, to have a certain lifestyle, to work a certain kind of job, or achieve a powerful position in life. It’s a lot of craving for certainty, for validation as a human.
Our expectations trick us into thinking they define our value, but, if you were stripped of absolutely everything then what is left of you is what actually defines your self-worth. It is the kind of understanding that allows the Uncle Toms and Betsy Ten Booms of the world to live with absolutely nothing, including physical freedom or basic necessities, in peace. Those things can take our comfort, our happiness, and our status, but nothing can touch the understanding you have of yourself.
There is nothing that gives us peace if we don’t find this spiritual identity, and nothing that can take it away again. I base mine on a relationship with God and the understanding that has given me of how much he thinks I’m wonderful, and loved.
That is just mine. Everyone must go looking for themselves, and I can’t tell you where to look. The only thing I can say is something my sister said last week:
“Follow your curiosity.” Make spaces in your life where you can be absolutely quiet, still, alone, and see what you find in those places. Meditate, or pray, but don’t just read or listen to the voice of others. Someone else’s journey can inspire and help us, but ultimately no one can make this connection but ourselves.
This proves true if you are a Christian, or don’t have any faith in God at all. At some point we must be alone with ourselves and make the trip to those bare, lonely parts of ourselves where not even our relationships reach, and confront what we find there.
Self-confidence can desert us without a moment’s notice because it is based on how we feel. Learning our truth worth is something that is only found in the deepest parts of who we are and can’t be take away by how we feel, or what is happening to us.
Follow your curiosity to a place where self-confidence can’t go. It’s like in all the old adventure books where they tell you, “it’s going to be hard, almost impossible. Few people ever find this place and you’ll face enemies, and pain. But if you can find it, you’ll have found treasure far beyond gold.” People who are willing to lose themselves, will find treasure beyond their wildest dreams or expectations.
Best of luck.