Confidence, confidence, confidence! Women today are told that if they can simply “be confident” then everything will work out for them: men will be attracted to them, they’ll command respect from others, they will achieve success at work, and the list goes on and on. But hearing the words or saying them to ourselves simply doesn’t cut it. So what makes it so challenging for women today to maintain a sense of confidence?
Females are encouraged to be passive, agreeable and polite (yes, there are cultural variances on this). Women typically ask rather than take. “Could I ask you a question?” “Would you do me a favor?” Assertiveness not only gives off an air of confidence, but it also tends to be associated with male qualities. Therefore, women are often taught that being assertive is not lady-like. Not to mention that too much assertiveness can be perceived by men as threatening or unattractive.
According to the European Journal of Social Psychology, women are more likely to be picked apart by the brain and seen as parts rather than a whole, whereas men are processed as a whole. This processing is referred to as “local processing,” which focuses more on the individual parts of an object. Interestingly, both men and women process in this way. Whether this is an evolutionary response or a conditioned response, this kind of objectification is damaging. Studies have linked scrutiny of women’s bodies to lower math scores, self-sexualization, body shame, eating disorders and poor mood.
And we wonder why simply repeating “be confident” in our heads doesn’t get the job done.
While these are only two hindrances on women’s self-confidence, they are quite pervasive in our society and will most likely take years to improve.
However, being a confident female in 2012 is not hopeless. Here are 5 tips to building self-confidence.
1. Take responsibility for yourself– It can be quite easy to place the blame on the media, society or our parents. Building confidence can be especially challenging when women (and men) grow up in households where they are belittled, criticized or even abused, as that negativity becomes internalized. Regardless of the where the critical messages come from, it can be challenging to drown out that negative voice or believe a positive story about ourselves. But you and only you can create change.
2. Fake it until you make it– Perception hugely influences our relationships and human interactions. In therapy we often talk about the relationship between behavior and feelings and more often than not, when we change our behavior we can change our feelings. So simply saying in our heads “be confident” doesn’t have much power; however, if we begin to play the role of what confident looks like, it becomes more believable to ourselves. For example, when a woman is timid and hesitant, people tend to perceive her as insecure and lacking confidence, which increases the likelihood that she will be disrespected or taken advantage of. However when a woman acts firm and self-assured, she is more likely to be believed to be just that. Finding a mentor or someone you look up to can be helpful to emulate these traits.
3. Focus on one area– Building self-confidence involves active participation. Looking at the gym doesn’t make you more fit, you have to actually workout. While it is near impossible for human beings to feel confident in every area of their life at all times, we can take action by focusing on one area. When we dedicate ourselves to be successful at something, the process of failure, recovery, persistence and success creates a sense of self-worth and self-efficacy. The more we develop those beliefs about ourselves, the more they translate to other areas of our life.
4. Model for others– People typically treat you the way you treat yourself. Modeling starts with what we say to ourselves internally. When we label ourselves with low-confidence or tell ourselves “I’m not good enough,” “my body doesn’t look like that” etc, we tend to believe it. These thoughts influence our behavior and people will treat you accordingly.
5. Practice acceptance- Whether it’s through a mindfulness practice or self-affirmations, practice accepting yourself as a whole. Acknowledge the parts of yourself that are more difficult, whether they’re physical, emotional or mental. When we accept ourselves, not only do we feel more whole, but we tend to compare ourselves to other less.
It can be easy to look to others or external things to instill this confidence with immediate gratification, but that will always require someone else’s approval. Today more than ever, women are faced with obstacles to believing they are beautiful, smart and talented. True confidence comes from cultivating a sense of self-worth and self-efficacy. These characteristics require hard work and a close look at ourselves. When we put in the work and become our own biggest cheerleader, the possibilities of what we can achieve are endless.
Quotes on confidence:
“What could you achieve in life if you decided to become totally and blissfully impervious to hostile criticism and rejection?”
“I exist as though I am, that is enough.”- Walt Whitman
“The more you love your decisions, the less you will need others to love them.”