Self confidence is an interesting thing. Self confidence and I have always had a somewhat rough relationship, some times we hang out like the best of buddies, and other times we’re separated by miles of no-mans-land seemingly peppered with mines and razor wire. Over time we’ve become better friends, we hang out a lot more and do more things together. There are still some places where we go our separate ways however, and it struck me today how my ‘relationship’ with self confidence has changed over the years.
From as early as I can remember, I was rarely self confident. I can remember feeling un-confident any number of times, but I don’t have any recollections of just going and doing ‘new’ things while I was a kid. Some kids rush headlong into anything, smiling and laughing, they sometimes get knocked flat on their ass but they dust themselves off and carry on running around with seemingly not a concern in the world. Other kids stay in the safe zone and only play with the toys their parents give them and require nudges from grown-ups before they do much that’s new. I was one of the latter types of child. I don’t remember wandering off on my own or joining in with other kids without some sort of adult ‘blessing’ to do so. Back at home I wouldn’t wander past the hedge of the second field by our house because my parents had set that limit, and that meant I sometimes didn’t get to join in when some of the other kids went beyond there to play. Kids being kids, that sort of “I can’t go that far” thing gets you picked on. Repeat that type of minor thing often enough and self confidence becomes an issue. As I’ve gotten older I’ve ditched a lot of those confidence issues that developed in my childhood years. I’m now perfectly happy with all manner of things and situations, some of which only a few years ago would have frozen me in my tracks. If it’s something I can control, or that I have a degree of experience in, then I’m usually pretty confident in myself and my abilities. I’ve realised that being responsible for my own feelings and the situations I’m in is what allows me to be confident. There’s one area where I have always struggled though. My appearance.
It’s a harsh one, and I know exactly why I struggle with it - it’s subjective, and it’s largely out of my ability to control. I’m a skinny person, I always have been, and that’s something that kids will pick on too. It didn’t help that most of my clothes were a few sizes too big for me and made me look even worse (I was told I’d grow into them by my parents if I ever brought it up). Later at school I was fitted out with glasses, and after that two different sets of braces. You can imagine (or maybe remember) how that sort of thing goes down in a school. Over time I’ve tried to get a level of control of my appearance just like I’ve tried to control my other ‘issue areas’ and thus become confident in them. I’ve had a shaved head, I’ve had a parting. I’ve had a fringe and I’ve had a mullet. I’ve had spiky hair and I’ve had hair down to my shoulders. I’ve had baggy shirts and ‘tight’ shirts. I’ve had T-shirts with stupid logos and T-shirts that are plain. I’ve tried jeans, trousers, cords, smart, casual, and anything I could conceivably try (with the exception of shorts, which I still refuse to wear). I’ve done goth (trench coat included) and I’ve done ‘trendy’. Until recently I’ve never managed to be confident in how I look. I’ve accepted how I am and go about my business quite happily, but that’s different to being confident. If I hit a situation where I feel my looks will have some baring (making first impressions, meeting girls, etc.) then I’m all too aware of my skinniness, my big nose, my small jaw, my lack of ear lobes, my inability (still) to grow a beard, my goofy teeth, acne, and all of that sort of crap beyond my control but that I will be judged upon. So instead I try and remember the things about my looks I can control: Did I remember to put on some decent clothes? Did I take the time to do my hair in the morning? Do I look like my usual ‘computer nerd’ today, or could I pass for ‘just a person’?
My appearance is my self-confidence Achilles heel - but it’s one I’ve grown comfortable with in the vast majority of situations. Strangers can think what they want, it doesn’t bother me much. But today I hit upon a situation where I couldn’t be quite so blase about it. When it’s friends making comments it’s harder to take things as they are intended, but it’s OK if you can join in and dispel the discomfort by having a laugh with them. It’s worse when they decide to laugh (however quietly) at some stranger being derogatory about my looks, behind my back. Today I felt like I’ve not felt since secondary school - self confidence deserted me entirely for a few brief minutes, and I couldn’t decide what to do, apart from sit there and let adrenaline do its thing.
No one was being intentionally cruel of course, and if it had been any other topic I’d have let it wash over and probably seen the funny side. Thing is, I never laugh at a person for who they are because from personal experience I know how nasty that actually is. I laugh at what they say, or what they do, or their behavior - but I will never laugh at a person for what they have no control over. People look how they look, they often can’t do anything about it, and they have to live with it. That’s why it’s not amusing. That’s why it’s hurtful. That’s why it’s not constructive. When it’s behind your back and open to complete strangers to join in with the laughing at you, it’s even worse. On the up-side, I was at least able to turn the situation to my advantage by taking action. In the past I’d have sucked it up, kept quiet and spent the rest of the evening feeling betrayed and like utter crap. Instead I sucked it up and pointed out why the ‘just having a laugh’ was anything but amusing when they did it like they did. It worked, but it was quite a bad feeling simply knowing that I was responsible for draining the humor out of a room and turning it into a collective guilty conscious. Even so, it felt better than being the butt end of a collective laugh-a-thon, and I hope people won’t hold my lack of team-spirit against me. I really didn’t mean to be the grumpy git spoiling the fun.
Anyway - today my self confidence took a bit of a hammer blow, but it soon bounced back - and was stronger for it too. Score one for the ever increasing applicability of self confidence! The relationship continues to improve…