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The 4 Fundamental Elements of Confidence

What does insecurity look like? Here are some common traits of an insecure person:

  • You’re offended over harmless comments
  • You need approval and praise from the people around you
  • You’re unwilling to try new things
  • You’re afraid of speaking to new people
  • You frequently doubt yourself
  • You’re arrogant or you overcompensate

An insecure person has no bedrock of self-trust to anchor themselves. Their foundation is compromised, and without solid roots, the winds of life blow them in every direction. This bedrock is what we’ll call confidence.

So the question is, how do you build it? What is the alchemical makeup of confidence?

Confidence is comprised of four elements. These elements react with and feed into one another. If you want to be confident, but don’t know-how, combining these elements is a good place to start.

The four elements are exposure, failure, reflection, and compassion.

Exposure

Where the fear, there is your task!” — Carl Jung

It’s self-evident that an unconfident person is afraid. They don’t trust themselves, so uncomfortable situations look like guaranteed destruction. Naturally, they prefer safety and familiarity.

Consistent exposure to what scares you is an essential part of building confidence. It’s usually not enough to face a fear just once. And some things will always evoke fear, but if you’re well adjusted to feeling scared, they won’t prevent you from moving forward. So in a sense, these can be conquered too.

I cannot speak for what scares you, or how you should address it. Only you know that. But what matters is you find small ways to shock your system on a regular basis. The intention is not to overwhelm yourself, but to inoculate yourself. You could start by making a fear hierarchy list. This is a treatment assigned to people who struggle with high anxiety and obsessive thinking. You write out a list of things you’re afraid to do in order of how much they scare you. Then you start by facing the smallest fear on the list and climb the ladder from there.

The more fears you face, the more you expand your capacity to experience life. And you’ll be able to take significant pride in your small feats.

Here are some examples:

  • Afraid of talking to people? Practice just saying hello to people or giving random compliments. Or you could take a customer service job where daily communication is necessary.
  • Afraid of independence? Start doing things alone, and see how it feels. Go to the movies, take hikes, join clubs, and if you really want to challenge yourself, consider traveling solo.
  • Afraid of violence? Join a martial arts gym you can commit to attending a couple of times a week.

I understand this is all easy to recommend on paper. But if you’re ruled by fear, this is how you find your freedom. If you can expose yourself to fears incrementally, and regularly, you can get where you’re trying to go.

The purpose of this element:

To show you what you’re made of.

Failure

“There is nothing that teaches you more than regrouping after failure and moving on. Yet most people are stricken with fear. They fear failure so much that they fail.” — Charles Bukowski

Screwing up is essential. This element begins when you attempt the things you have no business attempting. You find something you’ve been curious about doing and challenge yourself to actually do it.

This is what they mean when they say that struggle is good for you. In choosing struggle, you are creating an occasion to rise to, and a means of testing your limits.

You will be introduced to rejection, embarrassment, and inadequacy, in ways that you have voluntarily chosen. This isn’t meant to discourage you. It’s meant to show you what you’re capable of adapting to.

Again, I can’t determine what you should pursue. Music, art, public speaking, dance, whatever compels you. Maybe you’ll discover a natural talent. If so, the principle still applies. See how good you can get.

The purpose of this element:

To show you your potential.

Reflection

“Get yourself a break from self-rejection, try some introspection and you just might find it’s not so bad and anyway, at the end of the day, all you have is yourself and your mind.” — Henry Rollins, Rollins Band — Low Self Opinion

Reflection is the element that requires you to analyze.

Ask yourself what your strengths and weaknesses are. What could be the origins of your fears, anger, and biases? How should you deal with these emotions? What are the things you need in your life that you’ve been avoiding? What conversations need to be had? Are the goals you’re striving for your own, or have you adopted them from someone else?

You might be inclined to expand your knowledge by reading books and exploring the ideas of great thinkers. In considering your nature, your values, and your purposes, your view of yourself can change drastically.

Therapy

Many people refuse to seek therapy because they think they can solve their problems on their own. Wanting to be self-reliant is good, but it’s unlikely you’ll completely heal your traumas and hang-ups without having someone to share them with.

Someone trying to heal their pain and develop confidence should see a therapist as a source of guidance and insight, like having an advisor. They do not do the work for you. Quality therapists are there to be compassionate listeners, constructive critics, and to shed light on your blind spots. If you can develop a good relationship with a therapist (even if you must go through some duds), the experience will be invaluable.

The purpose of this element:

To show you who you are.

Compassion

“Self-acceptance is my refusal to be in an adversarial relationship with myself.” — Nathaniel Branden

This one is my biggest sticking point. But it might be the most important.

Self-compassion and self-confidence are not mutually exclusive. There is some controversy about this, but I believe self-confidence is intertwined with caring about yourself and treating yourself with kindness. Think of it as having your own back.

If you’ve been cruel to yourself your whole life, the self-compassion element is putting down the whip. Self-compassion is a natural extension of therapy and self-reflection. It also builds on the pride and self-respect you gain from fear exposure and learning from failures.

Self-compassion is finding a way past guilt and shame and making an attempt to forgive yourself. It is relinquishing the crippling need for perfection. It is understanding your inherent worth as a breathing human being. It is honoring your own suffering. It is rewarding, comforting, and appreciating yourself when all you want is to do is inflict punishment.

There can be no real confidence without self-compassion. And it’s a practice to be good to yourself. I often forget that.

The purpose of this element:

To show you what you’re worth.

Guideposts

These are only guideposts towards a more confident self. These generic elements do not speak to the color and dynamics of a real person’s life. How you arrive at confidence is unique to you.

Also, there’s nothing wrong with feeling scared or insecure. They’re natural feelings. They just shouldn’t rule your life.

Confidence is not unattainable, even if you’ve never felt it before. It’s a real thing. And once you’ve built it, you can feel it, like the ground beneath your feet.

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