I have a confession to make.
If you asked me to describe myself, I’d use words such as creative, kind, persistent, and hard-working. But I don’t think self-confident would even make the top ten list of adjectives. That’s because when I’ve historically thought of self-confidence, I’ve pictured someone showy and bold, and I’m definitely not that. But what I’ve learned is that self-confidence doesn’t have to look flashy. In fact, self-confidence has more to do with inner resolve than outward bravado.
I have a healthy degree of self-confidence now, but it wasn’t always like that.
I grew up as a shy, anxious kid who rarely spoke to people other than my close friends and family. Although bright, I never raised my hand in class to answer a question. I was too afraid to even ask to go to the bathroom. In high school, one math teacher announced to the whole class that I was the quietest kid he had ever taught in his entire teaching career. I was humiliated. Everyone turned around to look at me and I could feel my face turning hot and red. I went on to go to college and continued to do well in school, but never dated or enjoyed much of a social life. I was always interested in psychology, partly because I was trying to understand myself. Why was I so shy and quiet? Why couldn’t I just “break out of my shell”? Why couldn’t I just “be myself”? I ended up in graduate school studying clinical psychology and earned my Ph.D.
Along the way, I went through a lot of psychotherapy, read a lot of books, and did my own "inner work" that proved very helpful.
I learned to speak up.
I learned my opinion mattered.
I learned it was okay to be wrong.
I even mustered up the courage to ask my now-husband of nearly 30 years out for a date. Somewhere along the way, I became self-confident — I just didn’t label it as such.
I became a psychotherapist and was naturally drawn to helping people with anxiety. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing people learn to believe in themselves and master something that once terrified them. I also went on to write three books on helping people overcome social anxiety and shyness.
Over my near thirty-year career, whether it’s been through face-to-face therapy sessions or through my writing, I have helped thousands of people learn to be, yes, more self-confident. They’ve all had something they wanted to do — something important, something they valued — but they were letting fear, doubt, and lack of confidence stand in their way. My guess is that you may be in the same boat.
The good news is you’re completely normal. I know when you’re in the middle of a self-confidence crisis it can seem like you’re the only one struggling and that everyone else has it all together. We live in fear that if others really saw us that they would reject us altogether. Research shows the opposite is true. Vulnerability is how you connect with others. When people see you're worried, scared, messy or flawed, they tend to feel great relief and let you know they are too.
No matter where you're starting in your self-confidence journey, I want you to know that you are OK. And not only that, you are going to be OK!
I’m excited to share with you all I’ve learned about building a meaningful, confident life.
Barbara Markway, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist with nearly thirty years of experience and the author of five books. Her first book, Dying of Embarrassment: Help for Social Anxiety & Phobia, was named one of the most scientifically valid self-help books in a study published in the scientific journal Professional Psychology, Research and Practice. She has appeared on Good Morning America and The Today Show, and she was featured in the PBS documentary Afraid of People. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, Prevention, Essence, American Health, Real Simple, Live Happy and numerous websites such as Business Insider. She has been heard on radio shows across the country. She blogs for Psychology Today. She lives in St. Louis, Missouri with her husband, Greg.