Ask the grumpies: Developing confidence

Liz asks:

How does one develop confidence after-the-fact? Specifically, I’m coming from a perspective of having grown up being called “perfect” all the time, yet having a mother who nit-picks and tells me what I like/don’t like and is passive-aggressive… I’ve found it’s hard to develop confidence coming from these two positions (afraid to not be perfect, afraid to do anything because it will be wrong). Any advice would be great.

rented life adds:

Riffing off that, how do you develop confidence when you’re good at things other people expect you to do but your true goals lie somewhere else. ex: if I’d rather write fiction and/or be a stay at home mom, but have parents that I love but put “Jobs that make a difference” ahead of everything and haven’t expressed much confidence in my ability to parent –no kids yet, but somehow how I treat my cats reflects how I will parent???. I know it’s easy to say just do it, but that advice falls a little flat.

#1:  I got nothin except “Your parents might be jerks”

#2: Many of us grow up wanting to please our parents.  When we’re adults it can be hard to let go of that.  Especially those of us who skipped the traditional teenage rebellion stage.  (I suspect #1 worked through this dilemma as a teenager.)

At some point you have to divorce yourself from caring about your parents’ opinions of you.  For me that happened in graduate school when I was clinically depressed.  At a point I realized that a. all the stuff I thought my parents expected of me, they really didn’t.  I exceeded their expectations.  I wasn’t disappointing anybody but myself.  That was kind of a revelation.  (For DH it was the night of our rehearsal dinner when he overheard his parents telling mine how proud they were of him.  He’d had no idea.)  b.  my parents have their own faults and their own misperceptions (some of which I can enumerate…).  They’re just flawed people like everybody else and they don’t know me as well as I know me.  So when my mom nags my sister to get a law degree or a masters degree, well, that’s just silly given how much money she’s making without either.  c.  You’re living your life for you, not for them.  That’s true whether they’re wonderful but smothering parents or nit-picky passive-aggressive types (I actually have one of each, but don’t tell my mom I said that, and she’s not really as smothering in reality as she was in my head).  They have their own lives to live, and if they’re not busy enough, suggest that they start training guide-dog puppies.

Cognitive restructuring, which is a part of cognitive behavioral therapy, is a great way to build confidence in your reality and thus in you.  There are a lot of different techniques to change how you feel by changing how you think.  The general idea is to force yourself to replace an untrue thought with a true thought, or a negative frame with a truthful and positive reframe.  One technique is to get out a sheet of paper, divide it in half lengthwise, then on the left put the negative thought.  On the right next to it, put the truth.  “I can’t do X” on the left, “I don’t know if I can do X unless I’ve tried it, and I’ve shown that I can do Y.  Even if I can’t do X, the world won’t end” on the right.  The negativity jar we talked about earlier is another technique.

Part of that cognitive restructuring can be towards giving yourself a growth mindset.  If you’re not the person you want to be, you can become that person.  Or you can change who you want to be.  Everything in life is only for now, to quote Avenue Q.

Moving away also helps.

As does leaving the Catholic church.

Grumpeteers, How do you build confidence, especially when your parental situation has undermined that ability?

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29 Responses to “Ask the grumpies: Developing confidence”

  1. Liz Says:

    Thanks so much for answering this! I’ve definitely noticed now that I’ve moved out – had to hunker down during a master’s degree coursework – and am away from the “noise” it’s a lot easier to just be me, and enjoy that. I’m glad to know it will get better <—– positive framework. :)

    • chacha1 Says:

      My only caveat would be (based on a lot of experience) moving away will change how YOU feel … it will not change how THEY feel. They will almost certainly continue to think of you as the person you were prior to leaving, and their future reactions to you will be based on that characterization.

      I am a 47-yr-old successful professional with a master’s degree and a fairly vivid social life, and my parents often still seem to think of me as the reclusive bookworm with a bad attitude that I was at 17.

      In other words, if they don’t see you changing, they won’t really internalize the change. OR, if they didn’t recognize the real you before, simple distance isn’t going to accomplish that. :-( It does, however, reduce the noise to a vastly preferable low hum.

  2. First Gen American Says:

    I had a mom that criticized me constantly. Here’s my analysis of it and how I dealt with it all. Granted it was from a pre-teen point of view, but I could relate to a lot of what you said. If you feel like reading, here’s the link:

    http://firstgenamerican.com/?p=3977

    I think the advice above is sound. Once you are an adult, it’s a lot easier to shield yourself from unsolicited advice. You can seek out advice from people you trust to help you through certain personal development goals, but you can also hold the people who’s opinions don’t matter at arm’s length. Sometimes it’s hard to set that boundary with family members, but not impossible.

  3. NoTrustFund Says:

    Great post and I don’t know that I have much in way if advice. But I will say that I always feel more confident when I’m working out. Gives me some down time and time to figure out what is important to me. I say this having just gotten back from a run in 25 degree partial darkness if that’s any testament as to how much this helps me.

  4. Cloud Says:

    Not directly on topic, but related… I am a big proponent of the “fake it until you make it” school of confidence building. Earlier in my career, I didn’t have much experience so my inner voice could easily convince me that I sucked. But I needed to appear confident for career reasons, so I faked it. And slowly, I started building up experience and eventually I actually WAS confident.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      We linked to a great Ted talk the other week on confident body positions you can use to help you fake it to yourself. After watching it, I’ve been noticing that I do the body language automatically, so apparently do not have problems with confidence…

      • eemusings Says:

        Agree on the faking it. That’s my MO.

        I am not sure if my lack of confidence stems from internally, or was shaped by my parents. Either way, it’s something I’ve struggled with forever.

  5. rented life Says:

    Thank you!
    Moving away didn’t help (I did it twice), though by dad’s standards I’m still rebelling because I moved back to the city I love and not to the “closer to them” city (which is nice enough but I really hate the idea of living there, and not because of them! I just don’t like the place!) When we first moved every time they called or I visited them I heard about how awful it was that I moved. Um, thanks. I rebelled a lot as a teen and then felt bad, and then got clinically depressed. My parents took the route of everything’s fine if we just ignore it, which just increased the need to be perfect. Even my brother struggles, because if we say that something mom or dad said hurt our feelings we get put down. (They are good people in other respects…just not in this one, they are really good at being supportive of others.) I’m still working on setting up boundaries. I want to be close, but I’m learning there’s stuff I just don’t get to share and that doesn’t reflect on me. It doesn’t help that I don’t have the best support system to turn to period, so I talk to them. I do try to remind myself that both my parents are doing better than their parents did to them, so that’s something.

    On a related note, I told a therapist I left (Christian) religion because of the guilt and she replied that it probably wasn’t the religion but my own issues that I was bringing into it. I wanted to ask her if she’s ever met some Christians? In my neck of the woods it’s all about guilt, all the time. As soon as I left I realized I didn’t need to hate myself quite so much. I wasn’t too pleased that that was her response.

    • chacha1 Says:

      I wouldn’t have been happy with that therapist either. Sometimes the bastards really ARE out to get you. In societies that place religion front and center, it’s pretty much a given … I grew up in the deep South and the culture of conformity is a guilt generator par excellence.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Yeah, I dropped my first therapist because she told me that I was wrong when I said that [useless required course] was a useless required course. She said that I just didn’t know how useful it would be yet. Which is true when I’m talking about the useful required course that I teach, but there was actually a prominent paper that came out recently in my discipline talking about how [useless required subject] should be an optional subject because it really has turned into a field course rather than a major part of the discipline. (That is, the useful stuff is required as an undergrad and the grad part is pretty dumb and should no longer be required. Only not in those words.)

        My replacement therapist was a graduate student herself (in CBT), and totally understood!

      • Debbie M Says:

        Ugh counselors. It’s amazing that these people who should know better sometimes make the mistake of assuming that things that are true for most people (guilt seeming to come from an outside sources is really internal) or are true for them (seemingly useless required course is actually useful) are also true for you. I’ve often heard that shopping around for therapists is a good idea. If you can’t find an unbiased one, at least you can find one with biases similar to yours.

  6. hush Says:

    Fantastic post. I respect anyone who was not parented well and who nevertheless has the guts to get away, to seek therapy, and to do their own boundary work. I’d say they’ve earned some confidence!

  7. oilandgarlic Says:

    I’m prone to negative thoughts so I love the cognitive therapy advice in this post. I don’t know if I come across as super confident but I am fairly secured about myself. Faking it definitely helps. I remember having to do a presentation in class and being the first one up. I just went for it and another classmate thought that I enjoyed doing presentations! Another one of my “tricks” is to remember compliments and let go of put-downs. If someone told me I had a nice smile 13 years ago, I remember that. I don’t let myself focus on any put-downs

  8. Miser Mom Says:

    This sounds a little new-age-y, but I’ve found this really helps me. I imagine what kind of parenting I would give my child if I were an ideal parent, and then I “parent” myself. I did this first sort of by accident after reading one of Gloria Steinem’s books, and I hadn’t really intended it to work out, . . . but I was surprised at how powerful a change it made. So, I occasionally become my own mom.

    • Debbie M Says:

      I agree. My version is to imagine if a friend told me the things I am thinking, what would I recommend for them? I’m still not good at doing this on purpose, but am better at realizing that advice I’m thinking of for someone else might also apply to me.

      In a mostly unrelated note, I use the voice-of-Mom to help me decide when to go to the doctor. Basically, if I think that Mom would have my head if she found out that I knew about the symptom I just noticed and didn’t go to the doctor, then I know it’s time to go to the doctor. (Or actually, to call a nurse line and ask them if I should.)

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      That’s a really good idea!

  9. Debbie M Says:

    On letting go of trying to please parents – I learned everything I know about this from watching other people deal with my parents. For example, my little sister was the first one to quit going to the synagogue. After that, it made it a lot easier for us to. An old roommate of mine forced everyone to smoke outside, even my mom. I really didn’t want to tell my mom that but it turns out she had no problem with that (even back when she still smoked and it was super hot outside).

    My mom has real trouble understanding that not everyone is like her. So, I keep trying to remind her that when I don’t do things like she wants, it’s because I’m different from her, not because I don’t love her. I also really wish I could help her make more friends (so she wouldn’t rely on the kids so much), but when you don’t have enough friends, you tend to talk too much (trying to catch up and fill in the void), which makes it harder for new people to like you. Oy.

    On parental dreams for you—I suspect a lot of these things are dreams for themselves. Any way to help encourage them to go after these dreams themselves (or at least miniature versions of them) will take some pressure off you so that you can go after your own dreams. Or sometimes they’ve already achieved them: My grandmother wanted us all to get married because getting married made her happy. I just kept thanking her for wishing me that happiness, letting her know that I managed to keep happy anyway, and assuring her that I was definitely planning to get married if I found the right guy. (And I planned to invite her to the wedding, no matter how small, though now it’s too late.)

    On confidence—the only suggestion I have is to try hard things. You will fail at some of them of course, and that won’t help. But it probably won’t hurt either, because you probably expected to fail at those things anyway—they were hard! But your successes can bring confidence. (And these kinds of success are sooo fun!) (When I fail at too many things in a row, I do try to look for something I feel pretty sure I can succeed in, just to give myself a break.)

    • rented life Says:

      I might need to give your approach to the married stuff to my brother. Everyone keeps telling him he’s missing something, not whole, that he can’t be happy, that there’s more to life than his job…etc. (He’s still in his twenties, I don’t get the rush.) He’s tried to explain to everyone he’s happy as he is, but it’s not been working.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      There’s always training guide-puppies. And other charitable work.

      • rented life Says:

        Which I could suggest to most, just not my 86 year old grandma. We don’t want her doing that, trust me. Unfortuantely my brother hears some of this from his clients and he can’t really be rude back because he needs their $. I always suggest that he should tell his clients if they paid more he could afford to date–use their concern to his advantage.


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