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The confidence myth

How the key to "true confidence" is really in our shadow.

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As an experienced voice teacher and professional singer, I have certainly had a “crisis of confidence” or two over the years and also heard similar stories from my clients. If only we felt more confident then we’d take some action (start a business, learn to sing, speak in public, write a book etc.). It is so prevalent in our culture that we never question what it’s really about.

The truth is this idea of needing to feel confident is really a clever construct of our ego mind, to keep us in our comfort zone. When we buy into our ego’s “story” that we “lack confidence”, we don’t take action. Or if we do take some action, the goal posts will simply move. Nothing will ever be enough for the ego. Suddenly having a bachelor’s degree is inadequate, now you need a PhD before you start your business. It’s like trying to fill a leaky bucket with water. It’s a never ending, exhausting cycle.

So what is really going on here? The ego is the part of our mind that’s sole job is to keep us safe, secure and alive. It’s an important part of our mind that we all have and need which helps us to fit in, adapt and function in the world. As we are no longer being chased by tigers, what the ego is really protecting us from is “social death” – a fear of being rejected, abandoned and ostracised by society, our family, friends, colleagues or peers. It feels very real, like we’re going to die. Have you ever wondered why public speaking for many is so terrifying?

For this reason the ego tries to pull us back from anything new, anything we’ve never experienced before. It is committed to us staying in our comfort zone at all costs because that’s all it knows to keep us safe. It is not creative and can’t see anything outside of our conditioning.

“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” – C.G. Jung (Swiss Psychiatrist / Psychoanalyst)

This is where the work of Carl Jung is so important. In his model of the psyche he refers to the shadow. The shadow is the parts of ourselves we have pushed away unconsciously because we perceive them to be “too light or too dark” to be acceptable in the world. Meaning this can include our gifts, talents and potential for success. As Marianne Williamson famously wrote in A Return to Love, our deepest fear is not that we’re inadequate, our deepest fear is that we’re powerful beyond measure.

The ego cleverly creates a persona, the face we show to the world. It is what we identify with as being “I” or “me”. The persona includes anything that will help us fit in and adapt to our environment (e.g. being a people-pleaser). Anything that doesn’t fit with this persona goes into our shadow (e.g. being angry).

So in this case we identify with being a person who “lacks confidence” and “being confident” is in our shadow. Getting to the core of our shadow is a process and it isn’t logical (but emotional). As it’s unconscious to us, we can’t see it directly in ourselves but will see it in others by what triggers us.

Here’s an exercise to get you started…

Think about someone that you perceive to be really confident.  What triggers you most about that person?  E.g. “negative” traits could be arrogant, obnoxious, self-righteous.  “Positive” traits could be knowledgeable, wise, powerful.  Just write down 3-5 words that pop into your head when you think of this person. Then narrow it down to one trait that you get the strongest emotional reaction from. 

Once you have your one trait (we’ll use arrogant as an example), you’ll probably notice it is opposite to your persona. Answer the following questions:

What is so wrong with being arrogant (or what you wrote)? E.g. no one likes them.

Keep going, what is their ultimate fate?  E.g. they end up alone.

How do I avoid being like this?  E.g. I stay out of the limelight.

How does this limit my life? E.g. I avoid actively promoting my business.  

This is what you’re really avoiding, defending and protecting yourself from. If I become a “confident” person I might be perceived as arrogant and that’s a threat to my ego (remember this isn’t conscious or logical). So to ensure you never have to face this, the ego uses this story of “I lack confidence” to stop you moving forward.

As we start to become more conscious of this part of our mind, it can no longer limit us in the same way. It frees us to ultimately step into our power with “true confidence”.

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