Tag Archives: confidence

Confidence and Community

Nervous people are less likely to try things. People with low self esteem don’t take risks so easily and may not put themselves forward. Sometimes, what it takes to lift a person so that they’ll take a chance and have a go, is heartbreakingly little. 

I’ve seen this across all the spaces I’ve worked in. Giving people the smallest boosts to their confidence can have huge consequences. Just letting people hear that they’ree good enough, welcome, acceptable, that their contribution is valid can be enough to change what they’re able to do. For anyone leading a space, handing out praise is a powerful choice that invariably brings greater engagement and effort from people.

This is something we can all do. Taking a moment just to acknowledge what someone else did will help boost their confidence. ‘Thank you’ gets a lot done all by itself. Telling people what you liked about what they did will boost their self esteem. The more we build that for each other, the more can happen in a space – be that a moot, a learning circle, a closed ritual group or anything else of that ilk. It applies just as well outside Pagan spaces, too.

Giving positive feedback also has a really interesting impact on the person doing it. It’s a powerful thing, giving praise and encouragement to someone else. If you want to lift your own confidence, then offering encouragement to someone else is a really good way to do that. Of course it also tends to lead to positive interactions. People liking each other’s stuff is a good basis for friendship. If you’re a shy and socially nervous sort of creature and assume that the people who do stuff you love won’t care about your opinion… I can promise you that anyone who appears to be a functional human being responds with delight to being told someone liked their stuff. There are exceptions but they tend to be self-announcing and a bit of observation will flag them up.

When we support and encourage people, more happens. A ritual where very few people feel able to speak or take an active role is a much poorer thing than a ritual where everyone is engaged and feels able to give of themselves. It’s the same in social spaces and creative spaces. The more able people feel, the more good stuff happens. The things that we can do to be part of that are fairly small and startlingly effective. Finding the courage to approach someone and say that you liked what they did is so powerful.

On the creative side, the vast majority of people – even the ones you’ve heard of – are struggling to make things work financially. Second jobs and/or poverty are normal. Most creative folk aren’t in it for the wealth! Which means that positive feedback is precious, and can be the difference between someone keeping going and not keeping going. So if you ever have an opportunity to tell someone whose work you love that it means something to you, get in there. You could be the difference between them keeping going and giving up.

And just to reassure you, this isn’t a thinly veiled request for positive feedback. Those ‘likes’ people leave here on the blog posts day to day are always helpful for keeping me cheered and motivated. I’m currently in good spirits about my creative life, there are lots of good things going on. 


Self Esteem and Privilege

Self esteem has far more to do with privilege than it does with either your innate worth, or your sense of self worth, or anything you might do to try and feel good about yourself. The more privilege a person has, the easier it is for them to feel good about themselves. Not only are they practically lifted by their advantages, but they will be praised and socially rewarded for having those advantages in the first place. At the extreme end of this we have the example of the UK government – murderously incompetent and full of self praise. No matter how they fail, they demonstrate arrogance and supreme self confidence.

At the other end of the scale, those who are struggling are socially punished for struggling. To be poor, or ill, is to be blamed for being poor and ill. If you belong to a minority, mainstream culture will punish you for existing – as trans, queer, Black, neurodivergent, disabled… To have been unlucky, got into debt, struggled with addiction or become homeless, been a victim of abuse or other crimes is to meet with blame, shame and stigma. How can a person have good self esteem when their society punishes them for their lack of privilege?

If you have a lot of privilege, no one demands much of you. If you have little privilege, then society measures your worth in productivity and encourages you to feel bad about inactivity. If you don’t currently have a job, or are too ill to work, or too ill to work full time, or you need to rest, you won’t be encouraged to feel comfortable about that. Government ministers will call you lazy and workshy, and begrudge you enough support to afford food. If your work isn’t well paid, you will be treated as though you don’t deserve to be able to afford food and shelter.

All the self esteem advice is about not pinning your sense of worth to external things. I’ve never seen anyone talking about how much of a privilege issue this is. Without privilege, you aren’t allowed to do that thing. Feeling like you have intrinsic worth is difficult when your society treats you like that isn’t true. For anyone who faces disadvantages, self esteem isn’t something you can just magically grow and without external validation feeling good about anything can be really difficult.


Confidence is a form of magic

So much of what we do depends on having enough confidence. Day to day life is full of decisions – many of which we may not even notice making on a normal day. However, if fear has paralysed you, or experience has shattered your confidence, those small decisions can become overwhelming. Shower? Breakfast? I think often people fall down on self care because they just can’t figure out what to do, and end up doing nothing.

Every communication we enter into depends on confidence. If you don’t expect to make sense, then speaking at all is hard. If you don’t have the confidence that you will be listened to, heard and taken seriously then communicating is hard. This is part of why it is often so hard to ask for help when you’re in trouble.

It is more normal to frame this in terms of what we can’t do when anxious, but I think there’s some use in flipping it over. Almost everything we do depends on confidence. Without confidence it is so difficult to make choices, act or speak. How much confidence a person has is going to greatly inform how effective they can be. Curing someone’s anxiety is far more complicated than the idea of boosting their confidence, but the effects are going to be much the same.

We can all support each other in being more confident. We can cheer each other on. When we shoulder burdens together we can better manage the difficult choices. When we put our faith in each other, and make that explicit, we can lift and empower each other.

Confidence is belief. Belief is most assuredly magic. We could all use more of that, but it’s a magic we can make together, and for each other.


External sources for internal viability

The advice around mental health is consistent. Don’t base your self esteem on external sources like approval or achievement. Don’t base your will to live on things outside of yourself, or other people. Don’t make your sense of self about how other people treat you. We’re encouraged not to be too focused on things we see as evidence of success or on the opinions of other people.

All of which assumes you have some kind of internal resource to draw on where you can realistically base those things. I blogged a while ago about what it’s like having nothing to reboot from, and this line of thought follows on from that. 

Internal resources are something most people will build during childhood. The experience of feeling secure – practically and emotionally – is a key experience. The child who grows up feeling loved and wanted, respected, valued and worthwhile will internalise those values. If you grow up without those experiences, all of your sense of self worth depends on the conditions you are in, and the conditions placed on you. The less-functional childhood doesn’t offer unconditional acceptance, instead the child learns the terms on which they might earn praise, approval and other affirmations.

For some children, there is never the experience of being good enough. This can particularly impact on children who show early signs of being talented, gifted or unusually clever and who are then burdened with high expectations and come to feel inadequate as a consequence. I hear from my neurodivergent friends about the ways in which not being able to do what the neurotypical kids did impacted on their childhood. It’s not always about deliberate cruelty, control or neglect – although it can be. Well meaning parental ambition can really mess a kid up. 

If you have nothing to reboot from, you may find it really hard as an adult trying to build a sense of self worth from scratch. But here’s the thing – happy children don’t actually do that by themselves. They develop self esteem from the supportive, encouraging feedback they receive from the people around them. Trying to grow confidence or a feeling that your life has meaning as a solitary, inner process is hard, perhaps impossible. The key is to find people who can help you with that.

Unconditional care isn’t something that only parents can provide to children. Your true friends will value you for who you are, and they won’t make you jump through hoops to win approval. There are many people out there who will treat you with respect and dignity simply because you exist. There are people who default to kindness. If you grew up without this, you may find it hard to trust or recognise, but that’s the inner work to focus on. Work out how to find the people who make you feel good about yourself. Start imagining that you are allowed to feel good and be happy, and that you don’t have to jump through hoops to earn that. Find the people who don’t want you to jump through ever more hoops.

Mental health is not something that exists in  isolation. There’s always a context. How we treat each other has huge implications for our wellbeing. Some people grow up with the confidence to know that they deserve kindness and respect. Some people don’t start from there, and can struggle to imagine deserving to be treated well. No one can fix that on their own, but we can do a great deal together. 


Losing my Intuition

Reading Natalia Clarke’s book on intuition in magical practice made me think a lot about my own history with intuition. In my teens, I pretty much steered by my gut feelings, and in my twenties, that changed. It wasn’t loss exactly, more a series of experiences that damaged my trust in my own gut feelings.

I dealt with several people in succession who were manipulative, gaslighting types. One in a work context, one in my personal life. Before I realised what was going on with them, I was fed a lot of information that contradicted my gut feelings, and I did not know what to trust. I’ve never been a massively self confident person, and was persuaded that my intuition was wrong and not to be trusted. To further compound this I had people claiming magical knowledge that was so alarming and uncomfortable that I pulled away from all of that sort of thing in self defence.

My Druidry became more agnostic, sometimes more atheist, because belief no longer felt safe. I couldn’t afford any sort of woo-woo. It was a lot to lose, especially my ability to trust in my own judgement and gut feelings.

The thing about abusive people is that they will tell you they know best. If you resist, it is further proof of how wrong, silly, and misguided you are. What they do to you is always justified. The same is true of toxic systems, that will tell you why you deserve how you are being treated – the appalling treatment of disabled people in the UK, the way police shoot innocent Black people in the US, the history of oppression for any group that has been oppressed includes messages about why the dominating culture feels entitled to do this. Worthlessness is taught. It can be hard to trust your own judgement when you’re subjected to this kind of treatment.

I abandoned my intuition. I did so in order to try and stay sane and survive situations that were really unhealthy. I found that I needed to be able to evidence and justify anything I wanted to express – and even that didn’t reliably work, but starting from ‘I feel’ was likely to cause more trouble than it was worth. I fought a losing battle to be allowed to be a person, and I cut off a lot of parts of myself to try and survive. An animal in a snare may gnaw its own leg off to escape, and for a long time, that was what I was doing.

I read Natalia’s book, and I asked whether I could change things, and make room for my own feelings and intuition. I set a process in motion. I’ll be back in future posts to talk a bit about how that worked for me.


Crisis Tactics

One of the things it is common to lose to abuse is a sense of where your own edges need to be. Abusers will work to erode your confidence and self esteem, because when you don’t feel you can say no, you’re more vulnerable to their predations. Standing my ground, defending myself, flagging up problems and expressing distress all still put me in a place of expecting to be knocked down harder than I was by the initial problem. It’s hard to hold boundaries when you fear that protecting yourself will invite twice as much trouble.

I’m not living in that kind of environment any more. However, that knee-jerk reaction remains. If I need to express distress, then fear of what that will bring is with me. Until I’ve tested something like this, I don’t know how anyone will react to me – will they double down? To navigate this I’ve given myself a set of rules. Having established this rule set means that under pressure and feeling emotionally vulnerable, I have a set of defaults to work with.

One. I am entitled to say no to anyone for any reason and I am not obliged to justify that decision. If someone hurts me and I want to just back off and not deal with it, I am allowed to do that.

Two. If I express distress then there are a number of acceptable responses – anything with an element of care, concern, apology. Anything that accepts my response as valid even if it wasn’t where I was supposed to end up. Anyone kindly explaining why it wasn’t meant that way. Any kind of ‘oops’ or ‘oh shit’ noises. I may need further conversation to sort things out, but any of these responses are worth working with.

Three. If I express distress and am met with blame, criticism, mockery, dismissal, being told why I shouldn’t feel like that, being told why I ‘made them’ do it or why their position is justified, or anything else of this shape, I am entitled to end the conversation and step away from the person.

Four. How much slack I cut is totally up to me. How much I am willing to forgive is totally up to me.

Five. How much I love a person is not a reliable measure of that person’s inherent worth. If a person does not value me enough to care when they have upset me, then they do not merit the gift of my care and attention. I am allowed to feel that I have made a mistake in investing in them.

Six. How a person treats me when I am upset is not a measure of my worth – although it may well be a measure of my worth to them, which is not the same thing.


The power of belief

Normally when we talk about belief in a Pagan context, it’s about what we believe in. However, there is also considerable power in who we believe in, and who believes in us.

When you believe in someone, it’s often because they lead and/or teach. That belief can bring all sorts of problems and benefits with it. The inspiration we can draw from good leadership and informed teaching is valuable stuff. The cost of belief in a fraud or scammer is enormous. And in between those two points are the people who are better at PR than they are at content, and whose shinny, alluring surfaces turn out to have nothing much underneath. Your belief in someone is a powerful thing.

Being believed in can be transformative. When I first met Tom, I was not in a good way. I had little confidence in myself and a great deal of anxiety about all the many things I’d been told were wrong with me, or not good enough. He saw something in me that I could not see in myself. He saw a person worth bothering with, worth getting excited about even, and he put that where I could see it. Repeatedly. I was intimidated by the distance between how I saw myself and how he saw me, but I also wanted to be the person he thought I was. Trying to live up to his faith in me has required me to grow and become a better sort of person. He’s also helped me question many of the things I’d been told about myself.

When we invest faith in each other in this way there isn’t the same kind of power relationship you get with leaders and followers. We can believe in each other. When we are able to believe the best about each other, we can lift each other up and inspire each other to be the best that we can be. When we share what we can see of each other’s potential, we can help each other reach into that.

A lack of confidence isn’t something most people achieve on their own. It’s a common side effect of abusive and bullying relationships. The person who has no confidence has far less means to resist a bully or abuser so dismantling confidence is often a deliberate part of that process. Lack of confidence can come from ancestral stories, it can be a wounding passed down through generations. It can come from prejudice and from ignorance. People whose dyslexia wasn’t recognised, whose autism wasn’t diagnosed, whose dyspraxia wasn’t acknowledged and all other things of that nature may have had a terrible time in the school system and come out with little self esteem. It takes the confidence of others to help undo that and to change the story. It’s very difficult to fix on your own what’s happened as a consequence of other people.

Placing your faith in another person can be a powerful gift. It can be a life changing action. To imagine that someone else sees you as worthy, and worthwhile can change everything. There is, without a doubt, magic in the power of belief.


Identifying your basic needs

One of the things that goes with poor self esteem is struggling to get basic needs met. It can be both a cause and a consequence of the esteem issues, creating vicious circles from which it is hard to escape.

People with good self esteem feel entitled to have their basic needs met. If their needs are not met, they treat it as a problem. For the person with poor self esteem, not getting your needs met can be evidence that you don’t deserve the basic care others receive. It can be proof of not being good enough. It can seem reasonable, if you feel you don’t deserve to be well treated. If you’re always told to put others first, if no one around you treats you like you matter, if your needs are minimalised, ignored, or worse yet, laughed at, this is difficult territory.

There are some basic things that all humans need. We need rest, food, and shelter. Anyone with any mobility needs opportunities to move. We need stimulation and interest in our lives. We need to feel valued and accepted. If you are denied something basic it can erode your confidence that you deserve any of the most basic things. Confident people tend to take what they need, or demand it, and make a fuss when basic needs aren’t met. People with low self esteem can find it hard to flag up such problems.

Whether the problem exists in the current environment, or in the past, is well worth a look. If you find it hard to express need or to raise it when needs aren’t met, there’s probably a history to this. At what time in your life were you denied your basic needs? If you can identify it, this helps greatly. If you are still in that situation, it is, I promise you, the situation that needs to change. Ask why it is hard to seek help, or to make sure you get your needs met. Ask what or who you are afraid of. Ask what expectations you have, or think others have.

The most fundamental need of all, is the need to feel entitled to the basic things that keep humans functioning. If you don’t feel entitled to be treated like everyone else, this is a tough thing to overcome. I think it helps to figure out why this is the case. If you’ve got anyone you think is on your side, talk to them. If you have trouble thinking about what you would need, think of someone you love, and then think about what you would want for them in the same situation. It can be a good way of going around an issue.

If your self esteem has been damaged such that you struggle to get your basic needs met, then one of the things you need is a kinder and more supportive environment in which you can build a better sense of self. Move towards the people who treat you well, and do what you can to get away from the influence of anyone who treats you as though you do not deserve the most basic things. No one develops poor self esteem alone. It isn’t a failing on your part. It isn’t something inherently wrong with you, it’s something born of a context. If that context is in your past, you have a better chance at letting it go and rediscovering yourself. If you are in a situation that is sapping you, it may be harder to get out or to seek better spaces, but I urge you to try, and that no one, ever deserves to feel worthless.

If you find you are living in an abusive environment that you’ve tolerated because you thought you were worthless, please take note: Leaving is the most dangerous time. When you leave, you are at greatest risk of violence. Get help. You deserve help, and help can be found. Talk to the police.


Being attention hungry

I tend to be critical in my posts on drama, and attention seeking behaviour. I find it exhausting to deal with and I don’t feel much empathy for people who need to generate drama in order to be in the middle of things all the time, so I have challenged myself to try and look at this from some different angles.

Being attention hungry is a real thing. It can have deep roots going back into childhood. The need for affirmation can be all about low self esteem and lack of confidence. My answer to this comes from parenting – which is to reinforce the behaviour you want to see. Validate someone when they aren’t doing drama and you can change everything. Give people space and opportunity to prove themselves in other ways and they may not need to do drama at all. It definitely works with small children.

There’s an emotional intensity to drama. If life seems dull, thin and narrow, then drama can be an antidote to banality. People can end up creating it because they crave interest and excitement. That same intensity and excitement can draw people in who claim not to even like drama – I’ve certainly been that person. The answer is to find real stimulation and value, because drama tends to be empty, hollow and unsatisfying.

Just because it looks like drama to me, from the outside, doesn’t mean I’m right. I may have a poor grasp of what’s going on. I may not understand the significance of events, someone else’s triggers, how much they had invested, how much is at stake and so forth. I should not be too quick to discount other people’s problems. It may be more honest to say that I’m sorry but I just don’t have the spare energy right now, rather than making my inability to help the responsibility of the other person.

It may be that the person I’m dealing with feels very small and very powerless, and whipping up drama they are in the centre of is how they cope with this. If I support the drama, I may reinforce the idea that only drama makes them important or powerful. I should look at how I am treating them outside of drama situations and see if I can improve things there.

It may be that the person doing drama has learned growing up that this is the best way to get attention, or get things done. They may have learned habits of thought and behaviour from family members, or soap operas. If I get cross or upset with them over the drama, I can only feed into the drama and keep it attractive. I may be able to protect myself by very quietly withdrawing my energy from the situation. If I’m dealing with learned behaviour, then I need to model the behaviour I want to see rather than enacting the drama and then wondering why it won’t go away.

The problem could be one of perspective. People who have spent their lives in relative ease, privilege and comfort can get upset about things the rest of us find it hard to make sense of. If you expect life to be hard sometimes, then you just knuckle down and deal with the tough bits. If you expect it to all go effortlessly your way, then you may have no ability to cope when it doesn’t. Fragile egos, first world problems, and no perspective can have people whipping up drama around minor incidents because they don’t know how small their shit is. People who say they are triggered when they are uncomfortable, and so forth. Sucking up time and energy because of privilege isn’t cool, but education can be a slow process, and often an unwelcome one.


Owls and flowers, a divided self

I first encountered Blodeuwedd as a child, and was instantly struck by the woman who is made of flowers and turned into an owl. From very early on I understood flowers as pretty, delicate, socially acceptable femininity. Owls were clearly dangerous – night creatures, predators, pointy and unacceptable. I was already encountering issues with my own unacceptability.

Through my teens, I focused on trying to keep the flower face visible, and to hide my owls. I found that my ideas, passions, hungers, needs were all things the people around me didn’t much like. I tucked them away. Somewhere around that time I also encountered the language of seelie and unseelie, and that seemed like a good match, too. I have my acceptable, hard working, house elf seelie self, and my dark, unspeakable other half. I became increasingly troubled by my unseelie owl side, and kept on squashing it down.

It’s only as that side of me resurfaces that I properly appreciate what it is. Much of my confidence, my ease in my own body, my sexuality and passion is tied up with my unseelie side. Wicked humour, and a willingness to be considerably less gentle with people who mess me about. Self defence, and self assertion, going after what I want and need for me, rather than what everyone else wants and needs… these are the things a younger me deemed unacceptable and hid away in the darkness and did not speak of.

The best of my creative energy comes from the parts of me that I’ve deliberately suppressed. Perhaps it has an impact on my physical energy too – that remains to be seen. My scope to be fierce, intense, full on, and to feel more wholly myself is part of what I have called my unseelie side.

I have ventured to let parts of this out before, in brief, uneasy forays, and then watched people I loved back away from me. I had considered this part of me unlovable. This time, as I’ve started easing off the mute button, and taking off the flower mask, I’ve found welcome and encouragement for what’s underneath. This is the point in the story when I get to say yes, you wanted me to be flowers, because that was easy and convenient for you. I am not what you wanted to turn me into. I am myself, and I have claws.