A writer friend recently brought up the issue of self-confidence over email. And while I always knew that I have some strong opinions about needing to feel accepted, I think I surprised myself and my friend with just how much I had to say.
This story is adapted from that email.
I have a complicated relationship with self-confidence.
Our world can be such a harsh place. Whenever we struggle with feeling out of place or otherwise insecure, kind words and loving reactions can make all the difference.
Sometimes, it’s the absence of human kindness and affection that makes people feel so much more hopeless about their circumstances.
It’s not just the feeling of being alone that hurts. It’s the sense of rejection. Or lack of being accepted for who we are.
Maybe it’s a cultural thing.
Society wants us to be confident. And while I know and agree that we need to cultivate our own inner confidence, I see that our society looks down on those who are struggling with it.
As if they are less worthwhile people.
One thing that really turns me off is when I hear men say something about how they won’t date a woman who lacks confidence.
Sometimes, they’ll bring up body issues and say they don’t care about a woman’s shape or size but they can’t get involved with someone who isn’t wholly confident in her own skin because she will need too much validation from them.
Unpopular opinion ahead.
Deep breath… I think that reasoning is bullshit. Like, who on earth is fully confident in themselves 100% of the time? I don’t believe anyone is, unless perhaps they have a certain mental health issue.
Self-doubt, fear, awkwardness, and the like is all perfectly human. No, we cannot let a lack of self-confidence rule our lives, but I find this notion that we can’t get (or shouldn’t get) any validation from others misguided.
I get the intention. We do all have to fend for ourselves, right?
But none of us can really see the whole picture all of the time. About anything.
Sometimes we do need somebody else to show us who we are.
At least, in part. My favorite manga is Fruits Basket, and in it, there are many references to the fact that healthy relationships can help heal us by allowing us to see ourselves in someone else’s eyes:
“They say that we should love ourselves first before other people learn to love us; but sometimes, we need someone to love us and accept us first, then we would see ourselves through that person’s eyes and learn to love ourselves.”
“If it's possible for one person to be hurt by another, then it's possible for that same person to be healed by another.”
People are more likely to thrive when they feel loved and accepted.
This idea can be unpopular and mistaken for some sort of deep weakness or codependency, which is unfortunate, because it really jives with me.
However, my philosophies often line up more with a Fred Rogers worldview that people thrive when they are loved and accepted:
“Whether we’re a preschooler or a young teen, a graduating college senior or a retired person, we human beings all want to know that we’re acceptable, that our being alive somehow makes a difference in the lives of others.”
“Knowing that we can be loved exactly as we are gives us all the best opportunity for growing into the healthiest of people.”
“Everyone longs to be loved. And the greatest thing we can do is to let people know that they are loved and capable of loving."
Confidence isn’t everything.
So, I don’t know. Confidence is really hard. I do believe I have to be my own biggest fan. And I also believe that being loved by someone is not enough because I have to love myself too.
But even so? Life tells me that none of this is that simple. I think we all have an issue or two where we need somebody else to see us, truly see us past our own doubts.
What we’re really talking about is love.
The world can be so damn cruel on all of us and despite our greatest efforts, we can wind up believing that we’re no good or not good enough in some way.
In those scenarios, I think we do sometimes need somebody to accept us and show us that we are good and worthy.
Mastin Kipp often talks about “Soulmate relationships” in an interesting way. He thinks people have the capacity for multiple soulmates and that includes platonic soulmates too.
I suppose he really just means “kindred spirits”, though perhaps on a deeper level. But what I really like is how he says soulmate connections are the ones that act as containers for healing trauma. They give us a safe space, but also challenge us to be our best.
Again, that feels very Mister Rogers-esque.
Love and kindness can save the day.
Think about any reason society cruelly and unfairly mocks another person. It might be over appearance, disability, social status--anything.
It’s entirely possible to grow up having people neglect you. Or relegate you to certain things.
A person could be called ugly or “welfare trash” for their entire life, and if they were to internalize some of that torment they wouldn’t be weak, but human.
If a person grows up being told that they are unworthy, discovering that they can be fully loved by others could change their whole future.
Of course, I’m just scratching the surface here.
But even so… maybe we do need other people more than we want to admit for greater self-confidence. And maybe that’s okay.