Let me tell you about the time I literally hid in a supply closet.
The day began beautifully. My team and I were wrapping up an immensely difficult season, and we’d survived, so we set aside a day to celebrate. We thanked those who had helped us along the way, we applauded each other, and were planning to leave early for happy hour, which was an exceptionally rare treat.
None of that was standard, it was just something I wanted to give them. And I didn’t regret it, but I was very aware that no one was going to do the same for me. I was exhausted, too, and I was putting all of this energy into celebrating my team, and I felt profoundly alone.
At some point, I ducked into the supply closet to grab something, and I overheard two of the senior managers making small talk. Just chilling. It’s not like I wanted them to be stressed, but I wanted them to care that I was.
I couldn’t face them. I knew if I walked out there, I’d cry. They wouldn’t understand, because they never did. So I hid.
Around the same time, a mentor suggested that I needed to work on my confidence. Given that I was hiding in closets, it wasn’t an unreasonable suggestion.
What I recognize now, though, is that there’s a difference between confidence and security.
Confidence has to do with your belief in yourself, the quality of your work, and your ability to see it through.
Security has to do with your feelings of safety within the work.
You can be great at what you do, and yet feel insecure about your work because of broken trust, stress, or toxic relationships. Don’t blame yourself for other people’s behavior.
Or, you might be technically safe and secure as can be, but afraid to move forward because you don’t trust yourself to see it through. Don’t limit your future self because of past mistakes.
And here’s the thing: When we misdiagnose the problem, we look for the wrong solution.
If you’re trying to build your confidence within a toxic or broken situation, you wind up frustrated, feeling like something is wrong with you.
If you’re trying to increase your sense of security before you take a big leap, but the problem is confidence, no amount of stockpiling or safeguarding will be enough.
As with most things, none of us fall neatly in one category or another. Security and confidence (or the lack of them) are woven together within our lives. Toxic circumstances and high stress can destroy your confidence. Lack of confidence can lead to decisions that erode security. And sometimes, things just go wrong.
It’s still worth understanding, though, what’s happening, how we feel about it, and how we can move forward.
So, how do you know what you need, and what to do about it?
Think of a situation where you feel like you lack confidence, or you feel insecure, and ask yourself these questions:
What hurt the most?
For me, at the end of the day, what hurt the most was feeling unsafe. I’d poured incredible amounts of work into an organization that didn’t seem to care. They put me in an unfair situation, and took for granted that I would make everything okay for them, and didn’t care whether I was okay. I came through for them, they didn’t come through for me.
What hurt you the most? Is there anything you wish you’d done differently? Did you even have that option? Was anything unfair? Was there betrayal? Verbalize what happened, and how you felt about it.
Do you internalize or externalize disappointment?
We all face disappointments, but how we experience them depends largely on whether we tend to internalize or externalize.
If you externalize your disappointment, it may reinforce your frustrations. You may…
- feel a sense of sadness and loss.
- feel angry at the situation, or feel defeated.
- find yourself saying things like “it doesn’t matter what I do, nothing ever works out.”
- struggle to forgive others.
If you internalize your disappointment, it may reinforce your doubts and insecurities, regardless of whether what happened was your fault. You may…
- feel shame over the disappointment.
- wonder what’s wrong with you.
- feel like the way forward should be so obvious, and wonder why you can’t see it.
- struggle to forgive yourself.
Here, too, none of us fit neatly in one category, but knowing which we tend toward helps us move forward.
I’ve learned that I mostly internalize. I unintentionally carry old disappointments from season to season. They’re hanging over my head, just out of sight. Then, when I face a new disappointment, as inevitably happens from time to time, all of those old disappointments fall on me, too, crushing me.
Our brains are designed to apply past experiences to current ones as a way of keeping us safe, but it’s not always helpful. We need to learn to lead our minds so they don’t run away with us.
Where do you see yourself carrying past disappointments? Which feels stronger, the frustration or the shame?
Do you trust yourself?
Not trusting ourselves can derail us faster than just about anything. That goes for both relationships and careers.
Do you trust yourself to take the risk? To stay engaged even when it becomes scary? To keep showing up as your whole self? Can you even imagine what that might look like?
If not, what would need to change? Is there a relationship that would need to end? Trust with another person that would need to be rebuilt? Or is it an inside job? Do you feel like you’ve let yourself down too many times to believe in yourself?
Do you believe you need to be protected from something? Risk? Failure? Heartbreak?
Either way, the path forward begins with you.
At one point, a friend told me: “You’re waiting for them to see you’re miserable and change things for you, and they’re not going to. You make it too easy for them to continue this pattern.” It was some tough love, but she was so right.
Sometimes we have to ask ourselves: Where am I so committed to this version of reality that I continue to create it? Where am I perpetuating unhealthy patterns? Where am I giving people permission to treat me in toxic ways?
None of these are intentional, but in order to become more secure, we have to be the ones to set boundaries. We have to weed out toxic individuals.
And self-confidence is SELF confidence for a reason. No one else can give it to you.
Here are a few things to help you get started in moving toward confidence and security:
Understand that good thoughts aren’t enough.
In order to change your experience, your thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and actions need to line up, and they all need to point forward toward the healthy future you are working to create.
Be gentle with yourself.
These topics can scratch at some of the most tender places within us. It’s vital that we treat ourselves with kindness as we address them. When we shame or belittle ourselves, our bodies perceive that we are both attacking and being attacked, and they double down on stress response. Speak to yourself as you would a dear friend.
Be clear on your commitments.
The road toward any worthwhile goal is long and winding. Detours and setbacks will abound. Be clear about what you are committed to. What relationships and goals are worth the effort? What are you committed to building? Let everything else fall away if needed.
Know where to turn.
At the end of the day, I wouldn’t have made it through without faith. I believe in a loving God, and it was God’s love that gave me strength to go on when I couldn’t pull myself off the floor.
I still lean on my support system, too: Therapists, coaches, family, friends. When things are falling apart, the circle narrows, but know who will hold that inner circle for you.
If you’re craving support, I’d be honored to walk with you. You can schedule a free call here.
Choose one or two of these questions to sit with.
I know I’ve given you a lot to think about, and it can be overwhelming. Part of being kind to yourself includes having realistic expectations. Your instinct will tell you which questions are most important for you. Sit with those, and grant yourself patience and grace.