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  • Writer's pictureElfreda Manahan-Vaughan

Desperately Seeking Confidence

Desperately Seeking Confidence

Learning to act confidently is easy but learning to be confident is more challenging

I always remember the movie ‘Desperately Seeking Susan’, the funny thing is I remember very little about what it was about other than Madonna was in it. I remember how in the 80s Madonna was huge and although I wasn’t a big fan I still went to a fancy dress disco dressed as a Madonna Wannabe. I looked nothing like her as my costume was just lots of bangles and necklaces. The main things I remember is lots of orange, yellow and blue. Why orange, yellow and blue? Because for some reason I had orange, yellow and blue clothes. Why? Not because those colours suited me but because they made me stand out and why did I want to stand out? So that people would notice me and I would get the recognition and approval I so desperately wanted.

It’s taken me my whole life to date to understand how I could appear to everyone else as an extrovert but actually be an introvert. It is often an assumption that introverts are shy buts shyness has nothing to do with being an extrovert, shyness is part of social anxiety and is often learned behaviour. However, introverts by nature don’t put themselves in the public eye in the same way that extroverts do so wearing brightly coloured clothes is less introvert and more extrovert, so why did I do it? I did it because I believed that was who I was, an extrovert. I was told my whole life that I was a ‘social butterfly’, that I was so confident, that I was fearless and so I lived up to that expectation being exactly what was expected of me. I regularly got sick and suffered from fatigue because I never gave myself time to recharge, as introverts should, and I didn’t sleep for years because I was over stimulated by coffee and had no idea. I behaved how I thought I should to fit in, to be accepted, to be loved.

I went on to study Drama and Confidence in my twenties and taught endless children and adults how to be confident, always doing the things that I had done, practicing so much that it became second nature. You see that’s the thing with confidence, you can learn to act confidently and become confident at any task through regular practice and rehearsal but you may never feel truly confident to be yourself. Why? Because you look outside of yourself to others to tell you who you are or how you should behave. We do it all the time. We say yes when we secretly mean no, we agree to things when we would prefer not to, we dress the way society dictates, eat the latest foods, wear the latest make up and aspire to a certain lifestyle all so that we can fit in, or do the opposite so that we can fit in with the group who choose not to. And the reason being, that as humans the formative years of our life is dependent on others so we learn to do what we think others want in order to survive and feel safe. Unfortunately, we are not then taught to rely on our own judgement and for many of us we still look to others to tell us we are ok. We post on Facebook and Instagram and other social media so that people agree with us or tell us that we are right, because that brings a hit of dopamine each time. We second guess ourselves, doubt our judgement and retell the same stories to multiple people to get their opinion to add it to our own. We learn to act confidently but rarely have the confidence to say what we really want or really mean and so we struggle with anxiety, stress, feeling overwhelmed or depressed. And the times we say what we mean is often in anger because we do feel stressed and then we feel guilty because it doesn’t feel true to who we actually are.

For me, the thing that set me free from this constant need for acceptance and approval was getting to know myself. Sitting in meditation every day and observing my thoughts, working with great coaches who helped me identify my beliefs and values and how some of my behaviour was going against my needs and making me stressed. Learning to be in the present moment has set me free, as now I get to choose who I am and not who I think others expect me to be. I sometimes forget and things slip by me by but I’ve also realised some of the bits I was conditioned to be I like I am glad I have learned, as I am glad I learned to act confidently and I am passionate about helping people to become confident rather than just act it, as I can now say that I am no longer desperately seeking confidence because now I just am, Elfreda

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