Saturday, 10 November 2012

It doesn't take much

My self-confidence has always been shaky. It's not something that comes naturally to me, it's something I have to nurture and work at.

Some people seem to just ooze self-confidence. They like nothing better than to burst into some social gathering and start chatting away to complete strangers as if they've been friends for years.

I'm not like that at all. I have to constantly psych myself up, overcome my inhibitions, calm my nervousness, let myself go a little. I have to push aside my self-consciousness and my extreme self-censoring impulse, take a leap of faith and surrender to the moment.

Most of the time I manage a convincing display of easy confidence. But it's all built on quicksand. It doesn't take much for that confidence to dissolve into inarticulate awkwardness. If someone's ignoring me, or scoffing at my opinions, or misconstruing me, or being harsh with me, my immediate instinct is to freeze, to shut down and say nothing until I feel more secure and appreciated. My instinct is not to fight back to bolster my self-confidence but to retreat into my shell.

People sometimes wonder why I'm not more combative, why I don't simply give as good as I get when someone mistreats me. Why don't I just go in with all guns blazing and tell them to take a running jump? Isn't it a bit pathetic merely to crumple and limp away?

But I really don't have the emotional toughness for serious battles with people. On the rare occasions when I've tried it, I only end up feeling exhausted, furious and torn-apart. It isn't in any way cathartic.

So I tend to just lick my wounds and slink off into a corner to be alone with my injured feelings. And to restore my laboriously-honed self-confidence yet again.

I'm really not as nonchalant as I might appear. Believe me, it's all smoke and mirrors.

PS: This deeply personal post is dedicated to the very lovely Kylie Tai


  1. Nick, I was like you in my younger life. One evening a lady joined our group and cut into the conversation all noise and no substance, she stumbled on for about ten minutes. At the end I wondered what exactly it was that she was trying to say. I began to REALLY listen to what others were talking about. I quickly learned the the gentle and softly spoken person often had a far more important message to share, while the empty vessels - fond of the sound of their own voices - made the most noise!

    That lesson alone, gave me the confidence to just be myself in any company.

  2. I can certainly relate, but I learned early on to never let my quivering self-confidence show and to minimize the situations where it mattered. When I think of it, it's rather amazing that I ended with a relatively successful career where I'm often the center of attention, teaching adults -- and enjoying doing it.

  3. I've gotten more into myself as I get older but when younger I had to force myself (almost in tears) to perform on stage or stay inadvertently and unwillingly at the centre of a conversation.

    When one of my more extroverted friends (he speaks at international conferences) told me I was one of the best raconteurs he had ever heard it literally changed my life. Gave me the courage to pursue bigger dreams without fear.


  4. I think for me, it depends on the situation. If I don't feel very engaged, I'm quieter. With close friends, I talk without hesitation. If I feel that I am around like-minded people, I am more likely to be gregarious than if I'm in one of those social situations where I don't feel I fit in (and don't particularly want to fit in). But I don't know that I care if people judge me. They can like me or not, that's not within my control so I don't worry about it.

  5. Grannymar: Ha, often true about the wisdom of the quiet individuals and the vacuousness of the noisy ones! There aren't that many people who can stop listening to themselves for long enough to listen properly to others.

    Mike: And do you ever show your quivering self-confidence to others or do you always keep it strictly to yourself?

  6. www: Yes, that must have really boosted your self-confidence getting such an extravagant compliment about your public speaking!

    Agent: I'm very similar. I'm much more relaxed with like-minded people and in congenial situations. And also if the topic of conversation is one I can strongly relate to.

  7. I'm like you. These days I avoid parties where the emphasis is on drink and empty conversation and over-loud music. I choose to spend my time alone or with people I know, and can talk with on an equal footing.

    It's one reason I began blogging, you know. I felt that I could 'talk' without fear - and one reason for that is that I have time to make sure I was saying exactly what I wanted to say, without anyone interrupting or negating what I had to say.

  8. *clams up and runs away*
    Don't be fooled by this over confident looking avatar. I was with my bestest friend in the whole world when it was taken.

  9. I think there's a difference between being outgoing and having self-confidence. I'm not necessarily outgoing in a group, but it's not because I'm not confident. Sometimes, I just don't feel the need to be the center of attention. Sometimes, I don't really care about the people in the group enough to make an effort. Sometimes, I'm just too tired to make small talk. Lots of reasons.

  10. Jay: "Parties where the emphasis is on drink and empty conversation and over-loud music." Eeek! Exactly what I try to avoid.

    Yes, blogging is a great medium for talking frankly and saying precisely what you want to say.

    Scarlet: You mean that silky-smooth happy-go-lucky social persona is all a sham? I've been wickedly deceived. I'm shocked and dismayed.

  11. Bijoux: I'm not sure about that. Don't you have to be self-confident to be outgoing, to take the plunge and engage with other people? Though I accept there are reasons why you don't necessarily want to be outgoing.

  12. Actually, I can think of some outgoing people who are very insecure, and that's why they have the need to make the focus be about them. Does that make sense? Then again, maybe I'm blurring insecurity with no self-confidence?

  13. Bijoux: Yes, I think you're right that some outgoing people are actually insecure and seek a sense of security from being engaged with others.

  14. nick i have no idea why this is dedicated to me, thats two mentions in a row!
    i know i have been on your case of late, you remind me of my very young self. i did too much navel gazing and nowhere near enough living.

    interestingly in the context, i am widely regarded to be loud and confident and tell it as i see it but i am quite shy, mostly only confident where i feel safe and try very hard not to be saying the wrong things but idont spend much time thinking about it. i just do what i do and occasionally regret something i say

  15. Why do some of you equate confidence, gregariousness, with wanting to be center of attention? Why do you, Nick, and Grannymar, put confident people down so badly? In the privacy of your blogs. I find it distasteful. Grannymar, a vessel overflowing is not 'empty'. Maybe not to your taste. But 'empty'? No.

    The truly confident will draw shrinking violets into conversation. Not everyone will be drawn. But please do not hold the confident responsible for your being of a quiet disposition. Anyway, every gathering needs different shades of personality. Let people be.

    As to you mentioning Kylie twice in a row (as noted by her): It's so obvious, isn't it, Nick? She went quiet on you. How to draw her (and Scarlet) back?

    Oh, Nick, sometimes in life we just have to acknowledge who we are and not, as you do, constantly point the finger at those who are different.


  16. I am self-confident socially, there's my shocking confession. I like engaging. At parties, over coffee, with groups and with individuals. It's not a sham, nor is it a defense mechanism for secret insecurity, nor a shallow bid for attention. I just enjoy other people.

  17. And p.s. "small talk," the "empty" bubbles of conversation at a party, can be lovely, welcoming, the stuff of social bonding. It's more than acceptable, and even essential, at times, when done right.

  18. Kylie: I dedicated it to you very tongue-in-cheek after your pleas that my posts should be more personal!

    Too much navel gazing, yes you're right about that. Like you, I'm more confident when I feel safe. And I probably worry far too much about saying the wrong things.

  19. Ursula: As usual, you've totally misunderstood me. I'm not putting confident people down at all, in fact I envy them their confidence. Neither am I blaming them for my quietness which is entirely my own temperament. Neither am I pointing the finger at people who are different - obviously some are confident and some are shy.

    When confident people draw others into conversation, that's a valuable skill. Unfortunately there are other confident people who simply ignore others and hold forth boorishly.

  20. Leah: "It's not a sham, nor is it a defense mechanism for secret insecurity, nor a shallow bid for attention. I just enjoy other people." I'm sure you're absolutely right. Again, I think I've been misunderstood here. Those hidden motives may apply in some cases, but of course confidence can also be simply that with no secret agendas whatever.

  21. Leah: You're right about small talk too. I still find small talk difficult but as you say it can be welcoming and bonding - and it can lead to something deeper.

  22. Gosh Nick, you wrote this so well, it is just how I feel myself and how I deal with it too

  23. Suburbia: Oh, thanks so much, that's nice to hear! I'm glad we understand each other so well on this particular dilemma.

  24. I don't think I misunderstood; I was responding to the totality of posts and comments and defending my personal confession


  25. confident people need love too! ;-)

  26. Sometimes I need props (good bag, the right outfit) to hide behind, to make me feel like I fit in. Sometimes I will hide in the Ladies' if I feel threatened.
    Most of the time I muddle through, depending on my mood/ inclination/caffeine or alcohol intake...

  27. Leah: Okay. And yes, you're right, confident people need love too. Especially when people simply expect them to be confident and they feel the weight of those expectations.

    Speccy: I guess props are very important for women, less so for men. I wouldn't hide in the Gents though, it's usually pretty uninviting!


  28. "People sometimes wonder why I'm not more combative, why I don't simply give as good as I get when someone mistreats me. Why don't I just go in with all guns blazing and tell them to take a running jump? Isn't it a bit pathetic merely to crumple and limp away?"

    Those aren't the only choices. To me arguing with nasty people is like wrestling with a pig. Remember what George Bernard Shaw said:

    "I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it."

    Why not stop giving the other person so much power over you? Why crumple? Why not choose a more powerful nonverbal response?

  29. Jean: Well, I do look for an effective nonverbal response if there is one. But often that's just passive aggression and it's not dealing directly with what the other person has said or done.

  30. Nick,
    So you think being combative, going in with all guns blazing and telling them to take a running jump would be a better approach? It depends on the other person. If the other person's purpose is to get a rise out of you then an emotional reaction can be like wearing a "Kick Me" sign. You will have reinforced the other person's behavior. This is especially true if there is an audience that the person is playing to. It depends on the situation and the other person.

    I don't see that the term passive-aggressive is relevant here if it's a social situation. The definition seems to be

    "A pervasive pattern of negativistic attitudes and passive resistance to demands for adequate performance, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by four (or more) of the following:

    (1) passively resists fulfilling routine social and occupational tasks
    (2) complains of being misunderstood and unappreciated by others
    (3) is sullen and argumentative
    (4) unreasonably criticizes and scorns authority
    (5) expresses envy and resentment toward those apparently more fortunate voices
    (6) exaggerated and persistent complaints of personal misfortune
    (7) alternates between hostile defiance and contrition

    It also does not occur exclusively during major depressive episodes and is not better accounted for by dysthymic disorder."

  31. Jean: No, I never said it would be a better approach. I seem to be comprehensively misunderstood. Except by Suburbia who totally gets it.

    You seem to be greatly exercised by the idea of passive aggression! Personally I try to avoid it, it's very destructive and unhelpful. And actually I think most of your definition could be summed up as "obstructive"!

  32. Wow. A fairly straightforward blog post and fisticuffs in the comment thread.

    I get what you mean Nick. Some people aren't too worried about social situations, some people are.

    Personally, I'd take a room full of strangers over my tax return any day. And no, I'm not being flippant. I'm totally serious. I get The Fear with that kind of stuff.

    But, isn't it wonderful that we're all a bit different? How dull if we were all the same.

  33. Roses: I know, so many misunderstandings and misinterpretations of a very simple point. I can see you get it as well.

    I don't get the Fear with tax returns as I don't do any, but I totally get the Fear with any kind of DIY. It stresses me out big-time. I'd prefer any number of strangers to putting up a shelf.

  34. ....don't get me started on DIY. I'd rather go to the dentist that get a can of paint out, or a drill.


  35. Nick,
    I just think you're using the term passive aggression incorrectly and are limiting your choices. If that's working for you go for it! I've actually taught classes on dealing with difficult people and think it's a fascinating subject.

  36. PS This is your blog. If what you want is kindred people who feel the way you do, I'm happy to keep quiet. It's just that I was like you years ago and it wasn't much fun. That's why personal growth, developing self esteem, dealing with difficult people, becoming stress hardy, etc. became my hobby. For me it's a lot more fun, but that's just me.

  37. Roses: We're of one mind there!

    Jean: I think I have plenty of choices other than passive aggression, so I'm doing all right. And no, I'm not looking only for kindred spirits, I welcome different views. And actually I have a lot of fun despite all my personal kinks.

  38. Or even because of my personal kinks....

  39. Well, actually I don't think it surprising that this post has generated so many excited comments. When a person confides their own personal feelings and discusses their own approach to life, others can easily listen and maybe offer some calm objective support. When a person weighs in on how the Other handles things, well, we might identify with the Other and feel compelled to speak up, to defend that Other, etc.

    It becomes more a topic for personal debate than it would had you and other commenters not weighed in on people's behavior other than your own. Not that there is anything wrong with that by the way! But expect to get some errr lively comments

  40. Leah: Oh I don't mind a few lively (sharp-edged) comments! They're just as welcome as sympathetic agreement. And yes, once you bring in the Other, things can get very heated. But I wouldn't know about the Other, I'm sure she can speak for herself.

  41. Not me. I love the sound of my own voice, or so I'm told. Fortunately, I like being by myself as much as anything, so I don't inflict myself on people that much. However, people love to see me show up at parties where there aren't quite enough people. It's like spinning plates on sticks. But exhausting.

    I appear to be rambling. Best thing to do in a social situation is ask people about themselves. Most people are delighted to fill you in, and walk off thinking you're brilliant.

  42. Murr: Spinning plates on sticks, great metaphor. And I can see that could be exhausting!

    Yes, I often ask other people about themselves, I love to hear about their quirks and personal views. Sometimes they respond eagerly, but sometimes it's like getting blood out of a stone!

  43. I'd refer you to those two great philosophers...
    Popeye: I yam what I yam.
    "Dirty" Harry Callaghan: A good man always knows his limitations.

    If that's the way it is - that's the way it is - accept it and try to be happy. (I'm speaking generally here, not implying you're not.)

  44. Paul: Oh, I do accept the way I am. I just work around my strangenesses and do my best to enjoy them rather than complain about them!

  45. It takes all sorts don't you think, Nick. Life would be intolerable if everyone was like some of the more bumptious people we meet - including certain politicians!

    A really horrible kid was shouting out his comments recently in a show I went to. I think everyone wished his parents would take him home and put him to bed. But they were smirking and grinning and obviously thought he was such a character.

  46. Though there is rather a chasm of difference between a rude child interrupting a show and someone who is at happily at ease talking to people...

  47. Jenny: Oh indeed, heaven preserve me from those loudmouth, bumptious types!

    It really annoys me how many parents justify their children behaving utterly obnoxiously on the basis that they're just "being a bit high-spirited."

    Leah: There certainly is. The rude children need a bit of social education - and fast.