How I learned to stand tall in conflict and decision-making.
I’d like to tell you how I learned to grow my confidence. I hope you find a useful tidbit or two.
I am very sensitive. I don’t have access to any special sensory inputs. I’m just extra sensitive to everything.
In the early part of my life, I had a lot of trouble standing up for myself because I didn’t want to feel like an a-hole. Even if I knew I was in the right. I didn’t feel confident.
My emotions are every bit as much of my “thinking” as words. Being an a-hole is a feeling. I know if I do, whatever, that so-and-so, is going to feel that way.
So when my friends told me I wasn’t being one, it didn’t really solve the problem. How do I know if I’m doing the right thing?
For the purposes of this article, I will define ego as the model I have in my inner space, of myself. This deserves at least its own article but I’ll nutshell it here. We all have internal models for how we understand the outside world. The human I am is in the outside world. I however am not. At least not in our current stage of development.
I experience myself but am limited in my awareness of self. Most of our understanding of self is a model. It’s not the real thing. For me, the concept of ego is most useful to think of as, “who I think I am.” If I have options about myself that are not true my ego is out of balance, irrational. The goal is to have a balanced ego. One that feels like the closest possible match to the real thing, me.
Confidence is how positive you feel about your ego. So if your confidence is based on your ego it is important that your ego be balanced. I think this concept can be useful to many but it’s especially important for empaths. Deep inside we will judge our deeds against our values. If I have an overblown ego and act with false confidence in a way that causes suffering, I will soon realize I was wrong, this will damage my confidence. If I am not honest I cannot correct the error.
I Had to Learn to Trust Myself
I believe that we are all driven by our values. Sensitive people seem to be more aware of the drive, empaths are our values. They are our earth. When I was 18 years old, it was the only way I was able to ground myself. I needed confidence I could trust. My thinking went something like this: I want to know that I’m doing the right thing but how do I know what my values are?
Well, for me it was pretty simple. I should not cause suffering. I feel worse about myself when I cause suffering. Which I define as unnecessary harm. Necessary for what though? Harm is inevitable of course, the cycle of life and all that. I didn’t want to go sit down and slowly starve to death. After all, my suffering counts too.
Here’s the thing I figured out about value, it’s a scale it’s a direction. It’s not on and off. So whether or not I’m causing suffering is relative to other things. So, how do I know I’m doing the right thing? Finally, it occurred to me, I don’t. I can’t. I will never have enough information to rationally weigh all the knock-on effects of every decision.
What Does it Mean to Want?
So I got more fundamental. “I want to do the right thing.” I needed to start my analysis earlier in the thought. What does it mean for me to want? I have a whole lot to say about this now. But, at the time I basically thought of it something like this: a want is a drive.
Drives are primal. I want to be good. I also want to eat. I want to have fun but I don’t want to hurt people’s feelings. How can I live a happy balanced life if I don’t know I’m doing the right thing? Well, the answer is in the question of course. Balance. But how do I create balance in my values?
I was looking at it the wrong way around. I don’t decide right from wrong. They decide for me. I already want both to eat and not cause unnecessary harm. My wants are balanced by my values already.
I believe that we are all driven by our values. They are not for rationalizing. The rationalizing is for them.
The task is not to codify my values so I can externalize them. The task is to internalize the outside world rationally so that it can be processed by my values. My wants are then driven by my values. My job is to make sure I have the right information.
Thus, the main value I need to concern myself with is honesty. If I am dishonest with myself I cannot be rational. If I don’t have the right information because I won’t admit the truth, I will end up making decisions that do not align with my values.
I have many values, but the only one I need to focus on, the only one that’s “my” job is honesty. I have to make my best effort to understand the world. I must be rational and honest. My job is figuring what is not what should be.
As long as I am being honest with myself and doing the work of understanding the external world rationally my confidence grows. It’s a process. Confidence is not something you want to force. False confidence gets in the way of acting on your values.
I have watched people take advantage of me for the umpteenth time because I was only 99.99% sure. But it was worth it because I learned. The next time, I knew I was in the right because I erred on the side of self-harm until I was confident. Once I’m confident I stand tall, strong, and firm. I stand on my values.
Here’s the way I make confident decisions: I make the best decision I can on the basis of the information I have available at that time. As long as I did my best, what is there to regret? How could I have done any better? If the outcome is not what I wanted, all I have to do to remain confident is be honest in the search for my error.
My confidence comes from the fact that I am honest with myself. In other words, I trust myself to make the right decision because I trust the information I provide myself. If there is evidence that I was wrong, I trust myself to investigate and correct any errors.
Be Honest with Yourself
The better you get at being honest with yourself the more you will trust yourself. Thus, the more confident you will become. Your job is not to make decisions, as much as it is to be as rational as possible. You need to understand the external world as honestly as you can.
How do you know if you’re being honest with yourself? Well, you get better at it with practice. Basically, I look at how my ego responds to my opinions. Does my ego fall out of balance? Does a thought make me feel really good or really bad about myself? If my ego has a strong reaction, either way, I’m probably not being honest with myself.
Sometimes I make mistakes. I am constantly looking for errors in my reasoning. I play over decisions I’ve made, especially if someone got hurt, in my mind, determined to forge resolve out of regret. I have long conversations with myself where I interrogate my feelings, behaviors, thoughts, and principles rationally.
I am loving but firm with myself. I have learned that if I can make myself face a difficult truth, I grow. Once I figured this out I became hungry for my weaknesses.
Error correction allows you to constantly tune the engine of your mind. You get better and better at it. After a while, saving face doesn’t mean that much. In fact, I like it if someone I care about shares a negative opinion about me. The more I work on correcting my errors the better I know myself and the better I understand other people.
I Break Social Rules that Conflict with My Values
We have to be light on our feet. We need to be ready to do some ducking and dodging throughout life if we’re going to stay rational and safe. Empaths feel everything. The tools in our kit are different than many other folks. We have to employ abnormal techniques for self-defense because the usual ones are not available to us.
I‘m very attentive to people’s feelings because I want to be. So if I am slightly inconsiderate some people take it as a huge insult even though it would have been nothing if someone else had done whatever it was. Which is fair. I’m not prescribing here, I’m describing.
However what I used to find less fair was that oftentimes, others did not make any effort to be protective of my feelings because I am “too sensitive”. I am sensitive to their feelings too and careful not to hurt them. So they felt just fine. So I walked on eggshells while they walked on me. But who was I to judge other people?
Judge Behavior not People
I found another option. I learned to focus my judgment on behaviors rather than people. If I am subject to a behavior that I am confident I would not tolerate myself doing for moral reasons, I have an obligation as an empath not to be a victim. The best way I can help the most people is to prioritize my own protection, growth, and self-care.
There are things I would be very harsh to myself if I did. You have an obligation not to let people walk on you. Sensitive people have information that most people ignore. We know why they are doing what they do. We know how they feel.
You can use rational thought to rewrite some of the social rules.
What Do I Mean by Social Rules?
This article is written from the perspective of an empath so you will not be surprised to learn that I am talking about feelings, not literal rules. There are behaviors and reactions that people expect in social situations or relationships. I call them rules because they feel like rules to the person complaining about me not doing the socially expected thing. This often involves my unwillingness to tolerate the emotional games so typical of normal relationships.
Apologizing Does Not = Giving Up My Power
For example, some people think that an apology is an admission of guilt. So, they will act like I broke the rules if I don’t give up my power after apologizing. I am confident that the rational role for apologies is to better yourself.
If someone complains about my behavior and I think that I could do better next time, I apologize. In other words, I correct my error. I know that stating my recognition of the error out loud will reinforce the correction. I prioritize personal improvement over saving face. There is no rational reason to conclude that just because I fixed my error that I am the only one with errors.
Many people are afraid of facing their problems. They don’t want to look under the hood for fear they will find a junky engine. People tend to avoid understanding what they feel and what drives them. Often times an empath can be staring at a motivation that is so obvious but not to the person. Many people refuse to correct their errors.
Sometimes others think that if they refuse to correct their errors while I am willing to correct mine that the “rule” is that they win and I lose and they should get their way. They are wrong. I am confident in this. So, I break their rule. I don’t act the way they expect. I suggest everybody break social rules that you are confident are wrong if following them causes you to suffer.
If people get upset they are hurting themselves. Because it is their error that generates the suffering, it is only rational for them to bear it. Otherwise, how can the error be corrected? If I were to find it in my thinking I certainly would.
To many readers, this might seem obvious. Sensitive people, however, struggle with this because we do not like to hurt other people’s feelings. This is the important part for empaths: a confident empath does not have to care how much others feel we are wronging them by protecting ourselves because it is their refusal to face themselves that is the problem.
I Stand Up for Myself
Other people may not agree. But as long as I’m confident I really don’t care what people think unless they have a rational argument that I find convincing. The important thing to focus on is my own deepest judgment of my behavior. I use it as the guide to balancing my ego.
Empaths are simply closer to moral truth than most people. It’s not because we’re better. It’s because we’re more sensitive. We feel everybody's pain, the unfairness, the loss of face, the shame. We know what hurts people. We know that anyone, including the person we are in conflict with, would feel it was unfair if another did the same unto them.
Some people don’t want help; they’re just gonna make themselves suffer. You taking on the pain of their bad behavior will not help either one of you. Who cares if they think you're rude, as long as you’re confident that it’s the behavior and not the person you are reacting to?
Standing firm on principles you are confident in is a great way to make friends who agree with them. You will filter out people with whom you are not compatible and attract those with whom you are.
I stand in confidence when I have honestly processed all the available information rationally while constantly looking for and correcting any errors. Once I gained my confidence I found that I can let my values do the split-second decision-making when there is no time to process, aka real-life day-to-day situations. I can always process later and error correct if my ego feels unbalanced.