Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Niggling doubts

However much we try to hide them, I think the most basic human emotions are insecurity and vulner-ability. That's how we feel when we come out of the womb, that's how we feel when we're old and fragile, and that's how we feel in between, despite the veneer of confidence we have to assume for the sake of our jobs, our families, our 101 responsibilities.

How often does some apparently poised, decisive, suave public figure confess that actually they don't feel that poised inside, they often feel nervous and stupid, or they feel like an undeserving impostor?

Deep down, however successful and happy people seem to be, I think there are always niggling doubts and fears - that our supposedly solid lives aren't as solid as they look, that our good fortune might not last, that an unlucky turn of events could unravel it all.

Deep down we crave reassurance, comforting words, signs that everything will continue, signs that we're truly loved and cherished, signs that the intricate scaffolding of our lives isn't about to collapse.

Of course we have to act confident to get things done, to keep other people's respect, to get what we want in life. But this air of confidence is something we learn, a cultivated show of strength that hides the vulnerability we don't want to display.

And we don't want to display it in case it's abused; in case we're seen as weak and submissive and ready to bow to someone else's will. So it's only sensible to keep it out of sight. But the vulnerability's still there, even if you can't see it. It doesn't magically disappear as we grow up. It hovers inside us like a chilly breeze, curtailing the sunshine.

Beware the seamless show of confidence. It might just be a confidence trick.


  1. I understand where you are coming from, Nick, but do not agree with your notion that

    "Every show of confidence is a confidence trick". It isn't.

    Some people are born confident and do have the luck that their upbringing does reinforce what I call self belief. And they go through life not bullshitting anyone.


  2. Ursula: No, I don't think people are born confident. Young children are far from confident, constantly looking to their parents for support and encouragement. I think confidence is very much learned behaviour.

    Not sure I agree there are people who never bullshit either.

  3. I guess no one is 100 percent confident 100 percent of the time, but I think plenty of people are born or naturally confident. In fact, I think some toddlers have the biggest egos out there. If anything, the world tears people down more than builds them up.

    Interesting topic, Nick!

  4. When I was young and had lost my confidence in something my old Dad used to say "Come on son, where's the good old British stiff upper lip then?"

    I would think to myself "It's just above this soft floppy trembling bottom lip".

  5. Bijoux: Sure, some toddlers are rampant attention-seekers and trouble-makers, but is that confidence or just infant impulsiveness?

    Keith: Indeed. The traditional stiff upper lip is usually bottling up a maelstrom of uncertainties and anxieties. A really unhealthy habit.

  6. Again, there is a mix here of what we are shaped to be and how we are wired to begin with. Some infants are just temperamentally more secure and outgoing, right from the get go. (They've done research on infant temperament, I'm not just theorizing here.)

    Most older kids and adults have some insecurities, in varying degrees of severity, sure. But I do think there are folks who are genuinely confidant most of the time. I had a, um, thing with a young guy who was one of the most confidant people I've ever met. When I was talking to a friend about it, she said, "Can you imagine what it would be like to walk over the wold with his confidence?" I couldn't, really. I think he was absolutely certain that he was great as he was and that I could not fail to see that about him.

  7. I too would disagree with you Nick having known very many confident people in my life, whether nature or nurture is a moot point.

    Recently I met a 13 year old girl who literally oozed confidence, sure of her talents and her place in the world without a trace of arrogance. She was delightful.

    I did not come out or get shaped that way and still struggle, particularly in the more public arenas I'm now thrust into.

    And I've known people who wouldn't know bullshit if they tripped over it. High integrity.


  8. I agree with those who say some people are a lot more confident than others. I mostly don't think about it much any more with regard to other people. Things are going well for my husband and me right now, but it can't last forever. So I'm enjoying it while we still have it.

  9. Agent: It's funny, I can't think of a single person I know who seems naturally and effortlessly confident. They all seem to have some sort of insecurity. Do I just happen to know lots of insecure people?

    Not knowing many infants, I shall say no more about them....

    www: I think apparent confidence can often be a type of arrogance. In my experience pure, untainted confidence is quite rare.

  10. Jean: I feel much the same, that I should enjoy what I have while I still have it. The clock is ticking and I won't be fit and healthy forever.

  11. Someone posted this on FB - if that kid is faking confidence, he's doing an outstanding job. I think he's just very secure in himself and his abilities: http://www.ellentv.com/videos/0_3vft4ld2

  12. Agent: I agree, he looks a really self-confident young guy. Of course I haven't seen him in his private life, so don't quote me on that....

  13. Ursula, I changed that rather extreme sentence "Every show of confidence is a confidence trick" to something more tentative.

  14. But of course. We just plod along and hope that our vulnerabilities are not too visible and subject to exploitation.

  15. Ramana: Indeed. And how liberating it is to have a close companion we can expose our vulnerabilities to and know it's safe to do so.