The key to surviving the times of our lives is being able to learn from life’s valuable lessons. Whether it’s having to deal with life-changing events, being plunged into a dark night of the soul, or riding through those stages in life where everyone else seems to have it all together and you’re left wondering why you feel like you’ve hit an invisible brick wall. Your sense of purpose, direction and exuberance for life missing, nowhere to be seen.
These times can be painful and confusing if you don’t know how to move through them with self-awareness.
How Amber Found A New Lease On Life By Looking Inward, Not Outward
[A Case Study]
Amber* (not her real name) had a great job and was married with one child. On the outside everything looked good. She had ticked off just about every goal she’d set for herself. In her 20s she travelled the world and in her 30s met her husband and focused on building an impressive career. Amber loved being a Mum. Yet as she started to approach her late 40s, she started to feel empty inside and lonely in her marriage. Having achieved most of the things she had wanted in life, she couldn’t work out why she felt so flat. Things that used to excite and inspire her had lost their appeal. She felt directionless and nothing ever seemed to be enough.
Amber had become so fused with her negative, lacklustre feelings she couldn’t see a way forward. It felt like these feelings would last for her entire life. When you’re feeling flat, anxious or depressed your brain starts to normalise things after a while. It becomes your reality. You get stuck in a closed thinking loop.
You can’t solve a problem from your current level of awareness. You need to get fresh insights and guidance.
The Turning Point
What brought things to a head for Amber was the big gap left in her social life when some of her closest friends moved overseas. Making her more aware of how down and empty she felt. Things started to change when Amber realised she couldn’t sort this out on her own and came to see me to get some insights into what was going on and some practical strategies to fix it.
It was time for Amber to develop a more intimate relationship with herself rather than relying on excitement and other people in order to experience vitality and aliveness. Being constantly busy turned out to be a subconscious strategy for not having to deal with painful issues from her past. Always having friends around had helped fill an inner void.
When it comes to our personal growth, at certain times in our lives we get presented with opportunities to become more self-aware. Amber chose to learn from her pain rather than have to deal with these issues further down the track. She finally understood what was making her feel unhappy and unfulfilled regardless of what she did or achieved. It was about learning to become more comfortable and relaxed inside herself by focusing inward instead of always looking outward. This included committing to self-nurturing routines. Prioritising emotional nourishment rather than constantly looking for external stimulation and distractions.
If you’ve hit a crisis point or don’t know why you’re feeling empty, hopeless or powerless inside, it’s actually an important turning point if you decide to learn from it. But when you don’t, the lessons and patterns keep turning up until you do. You’ll just keep repeating the same old patterns that everyone else can see, except you.
5 Steps To Surviving The Painful Times Of Our Lives
- Acknowledge you need help and support. It’s a sign of strength, not weakness. Don’t isolate yourself.
- Talk to someone to get new insights into what you’re going through and practical steps to deal with it.
- Accept the choices you’ve made to date. Owning your choices will re-empower you.
- Learn how to connect with your centre and be able to just sit with yourself and where you’re at in non-judgement and self-empathy.
- Establish regular daily and weekly routines that nourish and support you physically, emotionally and spiritually.
We all have to deal with different stages in life. For some, the best time in life is in high school. For late bloomers, it’s breaking out of high school, academia, and stereotypes we are supposed to live up to that life really begins. Life is a series of cycles that sometimes involve unexpected twists and turns. No one escapes this. It’s part of being human. It’s about staying focused on the unique journey that you’re on and choosing to learn from life’s valuable lessons along the way. That’s what makes you stronger, wiser and more enriched inside.
* All identifying features have been removed from this case study.
Are you basing your self worth on whether someone likes you? If you are, this can become a slippery slope to low self confidence and low self esteem. Not knowing how to develop self confidence leads to inconsistent behaviours, sending out mixed messages to others and not being clear on what exactly it is that you want. Because all your energy and focus is on other people. So you’re never really sure about what you really want and need in order to feel happy, successful and fulfilled. It’s a painful and uncertain way to be in the world and negatively impacts all areas of your life – your personal life, your relationships and your career.
Knowing How To Develop Self Confidence Is A Game Changer
Learning how to develop self confidence when it’s not your strong point, is a total game changer in your relationships and life. Particularly if you’re someone who is highly sensitive to whether someone else likes you or not. Being overly sensitive to other people liking you often stems from not getting enough positive, valuing experiences growing up. Regular day to day experiences of positive validation, encouragement and recognition for just who you are, regardless of what you do or achieve, are the building blocks to healthy self confidence and esteem. It’s not getting enough of these positive validating experiences growing up that can lead to feeling insubstantial as a person. When you don’t feel solid and secure in your own right, it’s hard to fully immerse yourself in the present, because a part of you almost feels like you don’t really exist in the minds of other people. You don’t have a sense of your own agency. You don’t fully believe that what you do has a positive meaningful impact in the world. You’re almost apologising for your very existence by being constantly tuned in to everyone else’s needs and feelings except your own. Because growing up you worked out that that’s what got you love, approval and validation. But it’s based on a false sense of self.
Having a high sensitivity to what other people feel or think about you also comes from being around critical, judgmental or self-absorbed people growing up. When you’re younger you don’t have the capacity or life experience to understand where adults are coming from when they’re negative, critical or emotionally unavailable. Kids tend to take on the burden of this, interpreting it as having done something wrong, or not being good enough or worthy enough to be loved unconditionally. They don’t feel they have a right to be who they naturally are.
This is not about blaming parents or people from your past.
It’s about becoming more self-aware. Learning how to rebuild your confidence and self-worth.
When Perfectionism And People Pleasing Compensate For Low Self-Confidence: Case Study
Bianca (*not her real name) had just turned 30 and was constantly getting into a confused muddle when it came to dating. She would date someone for a few months and then get frustrated when the guy she was dating wasn’t responding at the pace and speed that she wanted. Being able to just stay in the present was almost impossible for her. There was constant anxiety around needing to know whether the guy she was dating really liked her. The more she liked a guy, the more she had a deep seated fear and belief that the relationship wouldn’t last. That he would lose interest in her and look for someone else. Someone who was sexier, more attractive, more desirable, [more …]. The negative comparison list went on and on in her head and eventually became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Guys eventually tired of Bianca’s mixed messages and vibes. One minute she appeared confident and together, only to then slip back into negative and self-defeating patterns and beliefs that sabotaged the relationship. Bianca just couldn’t relax and wait and see how things developed.
Rejection by guys would then send Bianca into a total tailspin. Her worst fears had yet again become realized. Her self esteem would plummet and it would take her months to regain her confidence and start to feel good about herself. Technically gifted in her chosen field of work, Bianca had wanted to progress to a team leader role to broaden her skills and career options. But the feedback she’d received was that the company wasn’t prepared to put her into the leadership talent pool until she sorted out the issues in her personal life which were impacting her performance and potentially derailing her career. Bianca’s manager knew she had the potential to achieve a lot more, so encouraged Bianca to sort out her personal life so that she could progress in her career.
When we looked at what was behind Bianca’s anxiety around dating and how she approached most of her life, it was around perfectionism and constantly needing approval from others. Never feeling good enough or worthy enough in her own right as a child, Bianca had become the ‘good girl’ at home and at school. Both parents were struggling with issues in their relationship whilst Bianca was growing up and were often preoccupied. So Bianca discovered that focusing on everyone else’s needs, being perfect and always doing well at school is what got her the positive attention she craved. It made her feel liked. But these feelings never lasted and were fleeting at best because they were based on Bianca developing a false sense of self, shaped mostly around perfectionism and other people’s needs and agendas.
How To Develop Self Confidence:
Self Acceptance, Self Empathy And Self Love
At first, learning to just focus on her own wants, needs and vulnerabilities seemed like a Herculean effort to Bianca. She had spent most of her life looking outwards, not inwards. Insight-oriented psychotherapy helped Bianca understand the forces that had shaped her and why deep down she felt so anxious and insecure. It was about getting to know and fully embrace who she really was and what she wanted. Bianca hadn’t felt entitled to receive love and acceptance for just being her, outside of her academic achievements and people pleasing. She’d grown up with a faulty belief that she wasn’t worthy or good enough to have someone in her life that would love her for who she was. It was realizing that she didn’t have to keep striving to be perfect. In her dating life her perfectionism and lack of self confidence was driving guys away.
Self confidence comes from quietly knowing deep down inside that you’re good enough just as you are. It’s being confident in your abilities and okay with your vulnerabilities. Realizing that being vulnerable and not perfect is a normal part of being human. It’s also about getting enough positive real time experiences where you feel valued. Knowing that what you say and do counts. That your feelings and needs matter. It’s also about being able to give other people permission to be who they really are. Accepting that they are allowed to say “No” to you, just as you’re able to say “No” to them. And that “No” doesn’t mean that you’re defective in some way or unworthy of being loved.
Bianca had to learn how to develop self confidence by not personalising someone else’s choice and right to say “No”. Accepting that it was okay to give herself and others permission to be who they are and not try and constantly control situations and outcomes. To let things move along at a pace that felt healthy and safe for both parties, which then started to free things up. Trusting that she would be okay regardless of whether it worked out or not with the guy she was dating was a huge mindset shift.
Discovering How To Build Self Confidence Made The Guys Bianca Dated Feel More Comfortable Around Her
The guys Bianca dated stopped feeling pushed around by her emotional insecurities and constant need for certainty that things would progress to the next level after only a few dates. Bianca is now into her second year of dating the same guy. A first for her. That’s because Bianca took the time to learn more about herself and how to develop self confidence that endured. She became more self-aware around her strengths, vulnerabilities and the beliefs and behaviours that kept tripping her up and impacting her present. Bianca has developed a new level of confidence that’s far more solid and real. Her self confidence is no longer precariously based on perfectionism and a constant need to be liked.
* All identifying features have been removed from this article to protect the privacy of my client.
Janelle Legge is a Psychotherapist, Leadership, Mindfulness and Wellbeing Consultant and Coach who specialises in Relationships, Career Success, Work-Life Integration and Wellbeing. Janelle sees clients in person in Sydney and works with clients around the world via Skype. To book a skype session with Janelle click here.
In The Talent Code, Daniel Coyle talks about how greatness is grown. It all starts with a success mindset where you choose greatness (it’s a choice that you make) and commit to repetitive practice to make it happen.
Here’s the brain science reason why.
It’s by increasing the myelin levels and layers in your brain and around your nerve fibres, through what Coyle terms deep practice, that your natural talents and learned skills go from fledgling or average, to uber elite mastership level.
Each time you practice something you’re growing myelin. That’s what brings you the high-level skills set and expertise that leads to success, and personal fulfilment.
So how do you sustain your success mindset and motivation levels to keep going with deep practice in a world of constant flux and distraction, or when you’re just not in the mood?
Knowing your purpose and mission, having a strong core self and positive self image, are your greatest advantages to going the distance.
When you can’t change a situation your challenge, and opportunity for self empowerment and growth, lies in looking at how you can change your thinking. It’s shifting your focus to what you can influence and releasing what you can’t.
It’s about opening up new possibilities and ways of responding. Replacing limbic brain knee jerk reactions and feelings of disempowerment with better insight, strategy, and awareness.
The key to this is deciding to not waste time and energy on people or situations you cannot directly influence. Choosing instead to focus on the areas where you do have influence. Stephen Covey writes about this in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. He calls this focusing on the Circle of Influence. And when you apply this principle your focus becomes clear and proactive. You’re instantly re-empowered.
Success oriented people focus their efforts on what they can influence. They also know it’s what keeps them energized, proactive and optimistic, regardless of what life throws at them.
Start focusing on your circles of influence and watch how it changes your life and results in profound ways.