We are the change

What Exactly is Self Confidence?

Self confidence is the foundation on which every aspect of our life is built.  If we lack it our life will never achieve its full potential.

Although we think we know what people mean when they say, “I feel confident” or “This experience has robbed me of my confidence” this is not necessarily the case.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • “What does self confidence really mean to me?”
  • “If I were truly confident, what would be different? How would I feel? How would I think? How would I act? How would I respond to life’s challenges?

Most people present a confident persona along the lines of “fake it till you make it”. I used to do this a lot. The problem was that, when I was confronted with a challenge, my confidence would completely disappear.  This type of confidence is fragile because it is not based on a solid foundation.  This is also why so many people feel like frauds and are afraid that, sooner or later, they will be found out.

This kind of so-called confidence causes us to project a certain image which excludes a large part of ourselves such as uncertainty, vulnerability, sadness, pain, anger, irritation, frustration and other negative qualities – everything that makes us human.

As uncomfortable as it may feel to face the truth (and the whole truth) about ourselves, dealing with and accepting our negative traits is the only way we can become truly confident.

Accepting our flaws has two huge benefits:

  • It makes us less judgmental, less critical, and more tolerant and compassionate. How can we judge another when we’re flawed ourselves?
  • It creates in us a solid sense of confidence because there’s nothing anybody can hold over us. This enables us to withstand unexpected and unwanted challenges without being blown off course such as rejection, criticism, divorce or redundancy.

Self confidence is an umbrella which covers a variety of behaviours that sap our energy and undermine our relationships which, when they go wrong, cause our confidence to be undermined.  Here are some critical behaviours that reduce self confidence:

Non Love (Part 1)

This covers a wide range of behaviours all of which undermine who we really are.  Here are some examples:

  • We beat ourselves up (which we do 24/7)
  • We pretend we feel OK when don’t because we don’t want other people to feel uncomfortable
  • We pretend we’re strong and in control because we don’t want to be seen as weak (or don’t want to see ourselves as week – it goes against our self image of being strong and independent)
  • We don’t ask for help because we tell ourselves we don’t to be a burden or be seen as needy and demanding
  • We stay in a job that kills our spirit because, we tell ourselves, we have a mortgage to pay (the reality is that loving our work and paying the mortgage are not mutually exclusive)
  • We don’t ask for what we need and want
  • We pretend to be an “innocent bystander” in our relationships. We’re thoughtful and reasonable while “they” are (fill in with any adjective that fits your current judgment)

Ask yourself: What else would you add to this list?

The fundamental point is, as Shakespeare so wonderfully wrote in Hamlet:

“There is nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so.”

Non Love (Part 2)

This is how we allow other people to treat us – thoughtlessly, carelessly, offensively, hurtfully and so on.  The antidote is to establish personal boundaries and then to enforce them. This doesn’t need to be a shouting match; rather, it is an educational process which takes time and consistency.

The first step is to list how you want to be treated, e.g. I want to be listened to, I want to be treated thoughtfully (be specific as to what ‘thoughtfully’ looks, sounds and feels like to you) – include behaviours that make you feel manipulated, controlled and put down.  Also include your belief around how other people expect you to be.

The first step is to list how you do NOT want to be treated. Be specific.  There are some obvious examples such as sarcastic behaviour, putting you down in public, standing you up, etc.

But there are more subtle behaviours that no longer work for you – if they ever did such as:

Discouraging you from doing something that really matters to you by pointing out all the reasons why it wouldn’t work, you have no track record and frankly, dear, you just don’t have what it takes.

This is what happened to me when I finally decided I didn’t want to be fat anymore. At first people were supportive but, after a while, the snide remarks started “you look a bit haggard, darling. Are you eating enough?”

“Go on, a small piece of this chocolate cake won’t do any harm.  You can always catch up tomorrow.”

Perhaps it’s time to review what kind of friends you have in your life.

Ask yourself:  Who supports you?  Who tries to sabotage you?  Who saps your self-confidence?

Record your insights in a journal.

Non Love (Part 3)

This is where we treat other people badly. We criticise and judge, we nag, control and manipulate, and make it clear they’re not good enough.  Or we put them down in an effort to feel better about ourselves.

Another manifestation of low confidence is playing the blame-game whenever something goes wrong.  We do this in two ways:

  • It’s their fault “this” happened and/or
  • If only they changed then everything would be OK

The truth is that nobody will change just to please me, however much I want them to – or demand or insist or shout at them.  In case you’re wondering, I’m referring to my own contribution to the death of my marriage.

Accepting this reality is empowering because it opens up new options and possibilities.

Imagine you’re in the middle of a particular situation:  You’ve asked, e.g. your partner, for something and they haven’t done it.  Your strategy up until now has been to nag and nag and complain and complain. Nothing has worked and you’re feeling angry, frustrated and resentful – which, of course, shows in how you engage with your partner.  Mine chose to retreat into passive resistance which frustrated me even more.

But I’ve come a long way and now I know something I didn’t know then:

We all have three options:

  • Accept that you can’t force anybody to do something they’re unwilling to do (even if it’s their turn!) In this particular scenario the real question is: How important is this “something” to you? Can you accept them not doing it WITHOUT feeling resentful?
  • Negotiate a mutually agreeable outcome, or
  • If it’s something fundamental to your relationship then perhaps it’s time to reconsider the longer term prospects

My definition of self confidence is to trust myself, including my judgment and my intuition. People often say to me that they’re bitterly disappointed with themselves because they’ve made so many bad choices, including choice of partner.

I tell them that no choice is bad – it’s a learning opportunity about what does NOT work for you; a process of elimination.

You may have heard this story hundreds of times but it fits here quite nicely:

We all know that Thomas Edison invented the light bulb. However, he failed and he failed.  A journalist came to interview him and asked, “Mr Edison, you keep failing to invent this so-called light bulb of yours. How many times have you failed so far?”

Edison replied, “So far, I have identified 1,000 compounds that do not work. Each failure causes me to learn something that brings me closer to success.”

The rest, as they say, is history.


Over the next coming months I will examine the various components that will enable you to develop a strong sense of self-confidence and I look forward to your comments.


Sue Plumtree, Executive Life Coach.  Author of ‘Dancing with the Mask: Learning to Love and be Loved’
Tel  + 44 (0)20 8940 7056
Mobile  07903 795027
Website  www.sueplumtree.com
Twitter  @sueplumtree
Facebook  Sue Plumtree

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  1. Jane Hafren says

    I so agree with what you say, Sue. I think the hardest parts about learning true self confidence are these two:

    1. Being willing to be vulnerable: Knowing and owning those times when I don’t feel truly confident and being unafraid to express myself when I’m in that place. My old way of thinking would have said this was sabotaging behaviour, whereas now I subscribe to Brene Brown’s philosophy that our vulnerability is our greatest strength. Have you seen this link? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iCvmsMzlF7o.

    But it does take real courage to do this, and many things about our society tell us this isn’t a good approach to take (eg. think of how politicians who change their minds get treated by the press…)

    2. Loving the seemingly unlovable parts of me. I have so many times in the past talked about getting rid of my anger and frustration, particularly at a whole range of injustices or perceived injustices, (like racism or sexism or the trade system that helps to keep poorer parts of the world poor) or getting rid of the lazy parts of me, the parts of me that delight in getting distracted and so on… It doesn’t work that way – those bits are still part of me.

    The acceptance that I hope I now have (hey most of the time, not every moment…!!) that it’s every part of me that makes me me and I’m okay with that is something I am truly grateful for. I believe the more I can accept myself the more I’m willing to accept others – even the ones who used to really rattle my cage! I once heard Marianne Williamson talking about this and she said something like this. When we think: ‘Oh, I really don’t like ‘x’ person, God just pipes up: ‘Oh, really? I quite like him…’

    Self love can sound like supreme arrogance, I know, but I have come to believe it’s the only way to self acceptance, sanity and joy.

    Thanks again, Sue. Great article. I look forward to the series.

    1. Sue Plumtree says

      Thank you for your wonderful comments, Jane and thanks especially for sending me the link to Brene Brown’s talk.

      It reminded me that this is what my journey is all about: allowing myself to be vulnerable. And it explains how I happen to attract such wonderful people into my life – by not pretending to be something I’m not. In fact, I gave a talk once about the true meaning of strength which was, of course, allowing yourself to be vulnerable.

      Thanks again!

  2. Christine Norman says

    A very thought provoking article Sue, which made me think about how complex the issue of self-confidence is. I used to think that if only I had more confidence my life would be different. However I now recognise that I don’t have to be a different person but just accept myself for who I am ‘warts and all’, and that is very empowering. I like the thought that ‘our vulnerability is our greatest strength’.

    As a range of behaviours which undermine who we really are I would add:

    1. We want to be liked by others so adopt the behaviour that we perceive will make us more likeable.

    2. We stand back and wait for others to take the initiate in a relationship.

    I look forward to reading more from you Sue.

    1. Lisa Settle says

      Great article Sue, such a worthy subject for discussion. My confidence ‘journey’ has been an interesting one and of course not yet over. As the journey goes on I am feeling more and more comfortable with who I am. By attempting to master my own traits, I have become more aware of my own behaviour, which has helped me become far more accepting of others. The development has been a major confidence boost.

      Can I share this:

      ‘Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world
      Today I am wise, so I am changing myself’


      1. Sue Plumtree says

        What a great quote, Lisa. And it’s so true! I transformed my whole life by changing myself first.

        The whole issue of self confidence is totally misunderstood. I think people generally believe that self confidence and vulnerability are mutually exclusive. What a burden to have to be certain of everything all the time! Imagine the fear of “being found out!”

        One of the most important steps is to accept ourselves warts and all, and it’s also one of the hardest! But once you do, as you experienced it yourself, you are more compassionate, more understanding, more patient and kinder both with yourself and with others.

        Thank you for your support, Lisa

      2. Joanna says

        I love your quote Rumi! i think I will pin it up somewhere in my office so I can see it and my clients can too!

        Sue, a great article, I think if your inner you is confident and happy then your outer you reflects this. Speaking as a health practitioner, becoming more confident can only have positive health benefits.

        Looking forward to the next article!

        1. Sue Plumtree says

          Hi Joanna, thank you for your comments. Love your point about the connection between health and feeling good about yourself.

    2. Sue Plumtree says

      Thank you for your insightful observations, Christine. I used to be top of the range in people pleasing behaviour. I’d turn myself into a chameleon trying to be all things to all people which, of course, doesn’t work.

      Your second point reminded me of a conclusion I came to some time ago which was: If everybody waited for someone else to take the first step, imagine how many wonderful people we would fail to meet!

      Thank you for your support, Christine

  3. Jane Hafren says

    I just wanted to agree with this comment of yours, Lisa Settle:

    ‘Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world
    Today I am wise, so I am changing myself’


    Makes me laugh at how often in the past I have thought – ‘Oh if only they would….x, y, z… whatever…!’ Completely pointless! thanks again…:)

  4. Jennifer Johnson says

    I wish I had those words pasted in front of me as a young teenager. People know how to push your buttons once they find your insecurities. If we learned what they were or at least understood them when we were young, we would have more self confidence as we aged.

    1. Sue Plumtree says

      Hi Jennifer, I recognise that feeling! It would have made things so much easier. On the other hand, would we have become as insightful without those experiences?

      1. Jennifer Johnson says

        Good question Sue. I suppose the answer is no we wouldn’t. Now I’m a ‘grown-up’ I notice immediately when someone is trying to hurt me, due to their own self confidence or low self-esteem issues. Instead of feeling like the victim, I have the urge to want to boost them up and support them.

  5. Sue Plumtree says

    What a loving response to somebody trying to hurt you, Jennifer! Yes, I agree with you that people’s hurtful behaviour tends to be due to the fact that they have themselves been treated hurtfully.