Some Disjointed Thoughts on Self-Confidence

So long and fragmented has this post turned out to be, that I genuinely don’t expect anyone to read it in its entirety. If you do; thank you in advance.

Musings

Confidence – or, more specifically, self-confidence – is an interesting thing. This may sound odd but, I wonder where the concept originally came from? I mean; where along the course of human history did people really start to care what other people thought of them? I don’t know. No doubt the rise of marketing and public relations in the 1920s and 1930s had a big part to play. After all, the father of public relations, Edward Bernays (Sigmund Freud’s nephew) outlined what he described as “[t]he conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses”; which, in terms of marketing, boiled down to us as consumers having “our minds molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested”.  Back in those days, this manipulation was honestly recognised for what it was: propaganda – the title of Bernays’ influential 1928 book, in fact.

Well, this can very quickly digress into an academic inquiry which is not at all where I intend to go (although this history is, I think, fascinating and well worth looking into). I mention this as one possible avenue into the question of where the concept of ‘self-confidence’ stems from. Because I’ve become curious. This may be naive but, perhaps if we can understand its origins then we may have a better chance of overcoming the psychological obstacles it places in our paths. And let’s not kid ourselves or feign feelings: every single one of us struggles with issues of confidence in at least one form or another. How serious are its effects on an individual is never a sign of weakness on the part of the afflicted: I myself have recently come to appreciate how powerful the mind is, and how potent and overwhelming can be the thoughts which it can can heap upon us. Personally, I am still attempting to overcome some of the most painful and pernicious ones.

The point is, self-confidence is something we all share in experiencing, in differing measures; and I think we would do well as a society to build up each other’s, empathise, and support one another where, when and however we can.

Most Importantly

This post, whilst not amounting to much presently, is, in fact, a response to a post by #TalkMH‘s Hannah Rainey about body confidence.

Why has confidence and self-esteem become something so hard to attain?

she asks. This, in a way, is a similar sort of question I was getting at (or attempting to) in my opening remarks. Hannah is talking primarily about body confidence, which she accurately describes as “an incredibly important concept”. For her, low body confidence “means very low confidence” generally, which in turn “is having a detrimental effect on [her] mental health, relationships and general attitude towards life”.

Before I move on in the direction I intend to, two things need emphasising.

1) Hannah says she isn’t sure why she’s written these words, and believes the post to be “probably just a brain dump”. I’d like to say, for what it’s worth, that her post is categorically not a brain dump. If the concept of self-confidence is having any such effect on only one person out of the entire global population, it is already an issue – the awareness, knowledge and understanding of which – is in need of appreciation, dissemination, consideration, elucidation, mitigation and (eventually, if at all possible) eradication (to name a few ‘ations’).

Furthermore, the very real, serious and painful effects and consequences of such a mental process are hardly unknown. So even if the issue did indeed only afflict a single person out of every one of the Earth’s inhabitants, it is – again, already – one person too many. On top of this, we know it is an issue that effects countless people across every continent. Indeed, merely from my communication online and among a few people face-to-face, I am coming to understand society’s collective mental health – comprised of individuals’  experiences and states of mind – as, I think, a web on interrelated and interconnected crises, that requires serious and urgent attention.

So, Hannah: the thoughts you have expressed, and the sentences you have pieced together, here are in no bloody way a “brain dump”. They are valid and valuable thoughts on an urgent issue – so please never hesitate to express whatever is on your mind. As you doubtless know all too well from #TalkMH chats;* you never can know how what may seem like an insignificant or throwaway remark to one person, could be a revelatory and/or life-saving one to another.

2) Secondly, Hannah considers body confidence to be something which she “completely took for granted as a teenager”. I’m sure anyone who has discussed mental health and my breakup with me would say that what I’m about to say is rich coming from me, but; I think Hannah is being too hard on herself. Far too hard, in fact – completely-unjustifiably so. Perhaps people may disagree, but I don’t believe psychological/mental/emotional/[insert appropriate word here] wellbeing can ever be “taken for granted”.

We can have no idea what life is going to throw at us, and how anything that may or may not happen can and will affect us, nor to what extent. Similarly, it would not be an error on anyone’s part to feel that something is within their grasp and under their control one moment, only for it to fall out of either or both the next. The term “fragile”, I think – incorrectly – connotes weakness, so I will instead go with another word: our mental health – indeed, us as sentient beings, with a whole panoply of emotions, and being forever faced with an indeterminable variety of unpredictable experiences which could, can, would and will effect each and every one of us in incalculable ways – are delicate.

With this in mind, I don’t think we should ever perceive ourselves as having taken such things for granted. What is relevant, applicable or at the forefront of our minds one day, may not appear to command any significance the next. We can’t predict these hypothetical or actual alterations, and shouldn’t blame ourselves if changes – and their consequences – blindside us.

As I have done in another piece I will shortly be referring to; I should point out here that all of this does not mean that I am impervious to any of these thoughts, feelings and emotions – quite the contrary. I, to be clear – and probably like most of us – am far and away my harshest critic. And whilst I don’t think I spend too much time ‘telling other people what to do’, as it were, I know that conversely I am hideously inept at heeding my own advice, even if I can tell that to do so would be for the best. So, just to be clear – these reflections on Hannah’s thoughts do not stem from any sort of superiority complex (quite the opposite, as will become apparent).

Music

I have a habit of forever referencing, (over?-)analysing and philosophising about music. I love music. In my open letter to Geek Magnifique’s Mel and Lauren Chassebi,** I quoted a song by my favourite band, Less Than Jake (‘Out of the Crowd’).

I don’t compete because I don’t need to be
In front of someone who wants to compete with me

I commented that this was a healthy perspective, but not one that is always so easy to adopt. But it is, I think, in this context a useful aside. Our tendency to compare ourselves to others (which in turn affects our own self-confidence) is, at this stage in human history, so ingrained that even if we want to ignore others because we know life is too short and such competition is a shallow, futile and ultimately unhelpful waste of time, it can be damn difficult to do so.

Take another song of the band’s, ‘Last One Out of Liberty City’.

I know, I know, I know
I know just who I am
And what’s in my head
is that I don’t really give a damn
Just who you think I am

Three years on: more of the same, arguably. If only it were so easy to not give a damn, right?

The other day, this girl
came up to me and asked
If she used to go to school with me
and kinda laughed
And she said
wasn’t I the guy her friends always
called a waste of time?

This. How many of us worry about what others think about us? Do they like me? Do they think I’m stupid? I wonder what they think of my hair? Is this shirt the right colour? Will they invite me out again? I hope I didn’t make a fool of myself. What if I said something rude or inappropriate?

Wouldn’t it be nice, as The Beach Boys sang, to – as The Beach Boys didn’t sing – not give a damn?*** It’s hard enough to be happy in ourselves without worrying about what other people think of us. And, of course, it’s more than likely that those other people are, aside from worrying about what we think of them, spending just as much time as we are in their own battle for self-confidence.

Molting

So what about me and my confidence?

Well, I’ve never had a tremendous amount of confidence. Something over two months ago, my relationship ended. I was engaged to a girl in the States. It has been this break up which has focused my attention onto the issue of mental health. The collapse of the relationship hit me phenomenally hard. I discussed this in my open letter to Lauren and Mel and, without seeming self-obsessed or self-aggrandising, it would probably be easier to simply quote the specific paragraph.

The break up brought on serious, prolonged bouts of depression, with a cocktail of unwanted thoughts, leaving me feeling completely worthless. The strength of these feelings was entirely unfamiliar to me, although the truth is, I’ve always had something of an issue with confidence, and I’ve always been something of an anxious person, so perhaps such a crisis has been on the cards for years. But it has been this break up, and everything it has wrought and represented – the sense of betrayal, rejection and worthlessness; the lies; the idiocy and naivety I feel; the fact she moved on so quickly (not least with one particular person) and the consequent wonder of what I actually meant to her; the immense heartbreak; the gut-wrenching validation of painful suspicions; the mercilessly graphic images of them together; the fact that so much of what I thought meant so much to her can truly be overwritten so swiftly and so easily and happily re-lived with someone else; the loss of who I thought was my soulmate (she was convinced we were and I agreed); the fear that no one will ever again feel about me how she did at least in the beginning; the breaking of dreams, plans and promises; the loss of direction and purpose; the purging of pride; the overall collapse of my entire world – which has finally broken the levee.

This happened over two months ago. I wrote only yesterday about how I felt I have – despite keeping active, seeing friends and doing things which I absolutely and wholeheartedly enjoy – been feeling worse over the last week or so, with tears returning. We’ll have to see how I get on – but that’s me: not great, could be better (and far happier), but could be a damn-sight worse (and have been). And for the record, I am currently on Citalopram and working on seeing a counsellor.

But what do these 1900 (yes, you have, if you’ve made it this far, read that much) words have to do with body confidence? Well, everything and nothing, really. This has been a very long way of getting round to me and my confidence.

I’ve called this section ‘molting’, for two reasons. One: I like alliteration. Two: Part of me hopes that by sharing what I am about to share, I can feel somewhat fresher and – having been entirely honest – better about myself. It’s also in my nature to joke about things**** (even if I end up feeling upset about whatnot afterwards). That being the case, what follows is two lists of what and what not to putting on a dating profile.

***

Let’s begin with the (unfortunately) easy stuff.

What Nots (unmentionables)

– the word “propaganda”

I probably fall in love too easily. Not much more to say on this, I suppose. I am a passionate person and if someone makes my heart flutter then I see no reason not to spend time with that person. If we spend enough time together and (obviously) enjoy each other’s company, form a strong enough connection, and have enough shared interests, then; I’m going to love you.

I’m a fussy eater. Like, really fucking fussy. It’s a hindrance, for sure, and it is a constant source of embarrassment for me. I dread being invited out to eat because I never know what restaurant is going to be suggested, and that doesn’t matter anyway because I already know I probably won’t like anything on the menu. But most people likely to extend an invite know this by now, and more often than not have already taken it into consideration upon invitation. Of course – unless they say so – I don’t know that for certain, but I assume that they have and I feel embarrassed all the same. Unsurprisingly – and though this shouldn’t be much of a concern because I never go on dates (much as I would like to) – I have a residual fear of what I will eat if I ever did go on a date, especially if I really liked the girl; and what I will do when it gets to date #3 or #4 and I’m running out of chances of fluking yet another restaurant whose menu I actually like.

I’m a bit nervous about doing the wrong thing and, consequently, terrible at reading (if any) signals. You can deduce what I’m getting at here, I’m sure. I don’t think I’m a massively shy, awkward or socially-anxious person. In fact, just one alcohol is enough for me to not worry about talking to strangers, and even without Dutch Courage I could mingle in a room full of strangers (hopefully in not-too-peculiar a fashion!) But when it comes to the opposite sex – and again, I reiterate: I’m not exactly a seasoned veteran of such scenarios – I have such a lack of confidence in believing that a woman might actually find me either physically/sexually and/or emotionally/intellectually attractive, that I won’t ever think they might want to kiss me, and so probably won’t go in for a kiss goodnight. That’s really unsexy, right? Girls like a guy to make the first move, don’t they? Or is that just a screenwriters’ cliché? Who said romance is dead? 

(Please let it be a cliché/falsity/just plain bullshit.)

I could probably go on for much longer, but let’s mix it up a bit.

Whats (mentionables)

I’m passionate. This is completely true. My best friend, in a heart-to-heart on Saturday night, as I brought him up to speed with things, told me this is an absolute positive about me. I said I was worried that I’m going to get hurt again and again, because I will open up too quickly and be taken advantage of. In fact, I am currently reading the magnificently-beautiful Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur, and there is a poem that encapsulates my fear perfectly:

i always
get myself
into this mess
i always let him
tell me i am beautiful
and half believe it
i always jump thinking
he will catch me
at the fall
i am hopelessly
a lover and
a dreamer and
that will be
the death of me

My best friend, however, tells me that being passionate is no bad thing. More so, another friend of mine, he said, sings my praises for this very reason. Apparently people like someone who is passionate(?) Well, good. Because I’m fucking passionate. About music, about books, about friends and family, and about the one with whom I share a heart; romance; all-encompassing, stupendously-smitten, absolutely head-over-heels love; intimacy, kisses, smiles, laughs; and a cosy night in one another’s arms.

I’m getting better at eating. This is also true. I used to be seriously fussy. I now eat things my family never thought they’d see me eat. I love spicy food; I just cannot eat enough spaghetti bolognese; the variety of vegetables I will willing consume is growing; and I take my Weetabix without sugar. Also, if ever you need confirmation; I will tell you which restaurant is serving ketchup in a Heinz carton which isn’t actually Heinz. One day I should call them out on it; maybe I’ll get something knocked off the bill?

– I might be a good kisser.

Hahahahaha

(Who knows? Seriously, I wouldn’t have a clue.)

At this stage, I’ve listed more What Nots than Whats – if you include the one about “propaganda”; but who’s counting? Incidentally, you may have noticed that the genuine, properly-developed items on each list actually were different takes on similar themes. The point is:

None of us are perfect.

We all have flaws, things about us we don’t like, and those we wish we could change. But we also have things about us that other people admire. These things, just like the negatives we presume others are perceiving, we will, most likely, never actually have clarified. But, I suppose, if we can so easily presume that people see the negatives in us, then maybe we could try and work a little bit on developing a tendency to presume that people actually (perhaps; also) see the positives in us too.

I realise this is far easier said than done. And I also realise that I haven’t actually commented on Hannah’s original issue of body confidence. I hope she doesn’t think I have belittled the issue by going off in a completely different direction.

For what it’s worth: I am short and skinny. Until the age of about maybe 21, I weighed 6-stone. A few years later I began putting on a bit of weight and – what I disliked the most – a belly. In fact, people said it was barely a ‘belly’ at all; but the real issue, as Hannah so rightly observed, was how I perceived myself. A couple of years ago I began running every day in the summer, and doing about 120 (incorrect) sit-ups alongside each run. I also went from living off processed crap to just soups for a while. Last year I went to the doctors for an asthma check-up and the nurse said I was severely, clinically underweight for my age (probably 26-and-a-half at the time). I honestly can’t remember the weight, unfortunately (sorry). What I’m trying to get at, though, is the plain fact that these issues of health and wellbeing are not, I don’t think, always that easy to judge and satisfactorily-fulfil. Perhaps I was being unfathomably-naive but, I had no idea I was so severely underweight.

***

This has been a bloody long post. If you have got to the end – I sincerely thank you. If you’ve skimmed or scrolled down to this point – smart move.

More seriously, this has certainly gone fantastically-far afield from where Hannah’s post began. I hope you can please forgive me, Hannah; and that I haven’t detracted from your original thoughts. I think today’s, like all your posts, is so brave. Thank you for being an inspiration.

And if there is any other point to this post other than drawing (hopefully worthwhile) attention to – and not away from – Hannah’s blog; it is to say that self-confidence is an incredibly difficult issue, and whilst some of us may appear to deal with it ‘better’ than others, it is nevertheless one we all still have to deal with. So let’s support each other, and never shy away from, nor pass up an opportunity to, tell each other how amazing you and I truly are.

Thanks for reading.

***

* The #TalkMH chat on Twitter takes place to Thursdays at 8:30pm GMT.
** My letter was a response to both of their letters, which they had written to one another. Read Lauren’s letter here; and Mel’s letter here.
*** It would seem that in 1966, the use of the word ‘God’ in ‘God Only Knows’ was significant enough.
**** This is no guarantee of genuine funny. For that, check out Rachel Hawkins.

Edward Bernays, Propaganda (Brooklyn, New York: Ig Publishing, 2005 [1928]), p. 37.

Rupi Kaur, Milk and Honey (Kansas, Missouri: Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2015), p. 81.

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