Confidence is inner agreement. When we are confident, we tend to feel less personal tension, as our inner resources are in harmony with each other. A common aspect of anxiety and depression is the loss of confidence. People who were previously confident can find themselves crippled with uncertainty, unsure about the simplest things, needing perpetual reassurance.
RETHINKING OUR WORLD
In a sense, lack of confidence can be a good thing. If we have been living ‘wrong’ lives, inauthentic or unworkable, then it’s ‘right’ that we might suffer a correctional crisis, in order to break down our dysfunctional values and habits, and make us rethink our world from scratch.
Tennis players sometimes suffer crises of confidence, in which their game just ‘feels wrong’. At such times, they often seek the help of a new coach, to see if they can reintegrate their playing in a more helpful way. A wise coach will pay careful attention to the whole experience of the player, using intuition as well as method to try to find useful new ways of improving.
In the same way, a good psychological coach, counsellor or therapist will work sensitively with a client to regain confidence. One of the difficulties is that an unconfident client can appear, on the surface, very confident. They may be protecting themselves from scrutiny by coming across that way, whereas inside they are burning up with uncertainty. It takes time to build up the trust to show one’s unconfident side.
Once able to show their vulnerability, a client may try to lean on a therapist for certainty. A wise therapist will refrain from weighing in with too much concrete advice, since the aim is for the client to feel the weight of their own decisions again. It is a fine balance to remain supportive, whilst leaving life decisions to the client.
Confidence in relationships can be highly complex. In any pairing or group, there is a power negotiation, in which some people take on a more dominant role, and others a more subservient role, depending on the situation. Some balance is required. If one person repeatedly insists on a dominant role, then there is potential for abuse.
Persistent control by a dominant partner can strain a subservient person, if the dominant partner constantly undermines their values. The more subservient party can end up in severe inner conflict. On the one hand they want a harmonious relationship. On the other hand they are being pushed further and further away from what they really think and feel.
FINDING CONFIDENCE IN RELATIONSHIPS
If we are trying to find relational confidence, a two-pronged approach can help:
- Firstly, we can find empathic listeners (counsellors or trusted friends), who are prepared to hear us attentively, and give weight to what we think and feel. This can help us to rediscover our own tune, to regain confidence in terms of our felt values.
- Secondly, in our more difficult relationships, we can look to shift the power balance. I often suggest to clients that we start small, trying assertive behaviours in manageable stages, and seeing what results. Sometimes this is enough to begin a journey to greater confidence in action.
Sometimes we are subservient because we have learned the habit in childhood. Perhaps we had a parent or carer who was most comfortable when in charge, and therefore we slip easily into a subservient role. If so, like a tennis player changing their grip or playing style, it can be difficult to re-learn relationships a different way. We may have to work hard to shift our usual instincts, and our new, stronger power relations will feel uncomfortable and fake at first.
In therapy, we will often work week to week on an experimental basis. A client might decide to try a particular behaviour change, and then report back the following week as to whether it is working.
Lack of confidence usually means we are suffering from inner tension. It can be a sign that we need to change something in our lives, to find a more authentic way of living. Sometimes a lack of confidence is learned relationally. Perhaps, in early childhood, we fell into a subservient relationship, making our needs secondary to another’s, and this way of relating became a habit.
Counselling can help us to hear our own inner voice again. It can also help us to renegotiate relationship patterns that may have been ingrained since childhood.