So the other day, I had one of those self-confidence sapping moments I am wont to experience every now and then. I was walking back to my car after a lovely lunch with former colleagues, wearing my current favourite outfit: red and white message tee, navy Veronica Beard suit, red loafers, and carrying my new red bag.
I’d felt like a million bucks when I left the house that morning. But as I hurried to my car, past a long row of tinted, plate glass windows, the kind that are perfectly mirror-like, I caught a glimpse of myself. Horrors. Leading with my chin as I do when I’m walking quickly, I looked round-shouldered, and thick through the middle. And for a moment, I thought, “What.. am.. I.. doing? An old lady, in skinny pants and message tee, trying to look cool, but succeeding only in looking like mutton dressed as lamb.” I know, I overreacted. As usual.
But, if we imagine my self-confidence as a deep bathtub filled with water, then that moment was like pulling the plug. And in the ensuing few minutes until I had scurried past the long row of windows, meanwhile sneaking two more peeks at my side-ways reflection, and inwardly groaning, I swear I could hear gurgling as the last of my metaphorical water/confidence slipped down the drain. Glug. Glug.
|The beginning of my non-photogenic phase back in 1958. Ha. Poor baby.|
I know you’ve heard all this before on the blog because it happens to me every once in a while. Some trigger occurs, and I wallow for a bit. Not in self-pity, but in self-doubt. It usually doesn’t last long. These confidence sapping moments are transitory. Maybe I should say self-esteem sapping moments, since psychologists define confidence as “trust in our own abilities, capabilities, and judgement” while self-esteem refers to our “ideas about our own worth or value.” (source.) Whatever we call it, I lost it for a few days because of a brief moment last week.
It’s pretty much back now, but it started me thinking about how fragile my self-image is even now at age (almost) sixty-two. Most of the time I trundle along, pretty confident in my abilities, pretty aware of my own value. Trying to maintain a “realistic but positive view” of myself. Which is what psychologists recommend. Too little confidence leads to an inability to achieve our goals or lead a happy life, too much and we stray into narcissism territory. And I started wondering how other people navigate their moments of self-doubt. And what triggers the doubt to begin with.
|A sad looking me in so many ways on a canoe trip back in the eighties.|
So I asked my walking buddies this morning what it was that sapped their self-confidence. Like me they’re sometimes slammed by negative body image. One friend said she had a moment just like mine recently. She had her picture taken on an evening out with her husband, wearing a new dress that she loves, and which she thought looked amazing, and made her feel amazing… until she saw the photo. Sometimes it’s criticism from others that hurts, and leads to the doubt. Especially criticism from close friends or spouses. And most annoying, we all said, is implied criticism that is served up with a rueful smile and an easily deniable delivery. You know, those sly comments that make you want to ask, “Just what do you mean by that?” But you don’t because it sounds petty or defensive.
Trying to be realistic and not get caught up in negative thoughts is important, one friend said. Yep. And what also helps, we all agreed, is supportive family and friends. Those compliments about the new hair cut, or the outfit, or whatever, are a gift some days. One friend said that she hated to admit how much she relies on friends for this. “You mean, like comments on how beautiful you look this morning?” I asked. “Or how much fun you are, and how we enjoy your company?” another friend quipped. “Yeah. Like that,” she smiled back.
But, you know, I also think that no matter how supportive family and friends are, if we don’t believe in ourselves then their comments don’t help. At least that’s how it is for me. I need something else to screw my self-image back into a healthy “realistic but positive” place. I need to get my perspective back, to change how I see myself. Developing a plan to tackle whatever issue crops up almost always works for me. And sometimes, when my self-image has taken a beating, taking photos for this blog helps. Weird as it sounds. I’ve learned that eventually, after lots of tries, most days I get a good shot or two. And I can look at the terrible ones and laugh because I know it’s one view, one shot, one perspective… there are always others.
|Last year looking buxom and bloated during my EF crisis of confidence.|
See that shot of me above? No photographer could have made that Eileen Fisher top and that flowy scarf look anything but unflattering. A week or so later I took this shot of me, below, all dressed up for a family wedding. I like this photo. When it appeared on the blog my Mum called me and said, “Susie, what a beautiful picture on your post. You look just like a movie star.” Ahh, thanks Mum. What a difference a week makes, eh?
|All dressed up and ready to party. Not Lana Turner, except in my mum’s eyes.|
I’ve had a lifetime of being unphotogenic. Partly because I always felt embarrassed when someone took my picture, so I’d smirk, or slouch making myself look round-shouldered and pot-bellied, or close my eyes, or look down triggering three chins. I didn’t realize I could take a good photo until I met Hubby, and even he used to get exasperated trying to get a good shot. Taking my own photos was a revelation. I stopped feeling silly, after all it was only me and myself in the room.
“We all need to take more selfies,” I announced to my friends this morning on our walk, “Seriously. Lots and lots. And laugh at the bad ones because there are many more good ones. Works a treat on the old self-image.”
And, I should have added, we should store those photos, all the good ones and the odd not so good one, just to keep the self-image realistic you understand, on our phone or computer, in a big folder labelled “Curated confidence… use as required.”
Then we need to go camping out in the bush for a week or so and forget about the whole thing.
Now it’s your turn, my friends. I’ll ask you the same questions I asked my walking buddies this morning. Do you still have moments of self doubt? What triggers loss of self-confidence for you? And how do you navigate those moments?