Why Nobody is Interested in the Secret to Self-Confidence

Hint: It’s not because it’s complicated or confusing or impossible. Nobody is interested in the secret to self-confidence because it’s boring

self-confidence

Photo Credit: ND-Photo.nl via Compfight cc

My son swears we abandoned him at a store when he was three.

At first, the details of the story were fuzzy. Maybe we just left him stranded in the video game aisle for an hour. Maybe we forgot him completely and finally remembered him when we got to the parking lot. Maybe we got all the way home and then had to come back for him.

(Before you call child services, let me assure you: no matter how many times I’ve wanted to leave my children crying in the toy aisle, I’ve never actually done so.)

Yet, over the years, as he has repeated the story, he has settled into a version that feels right and real and true for him. He honestly believes we left him at the store. Nothing we say or do can convince him otherwise.

Because when we repeat words and stories enough, they gather power. The stories we repeatedly tell ourselves become our selves. Which is why the key to self-loathing and self-confidence is one and the same: repetition. Boring, I know. But devastatingly powerful…

The Words We’re All Repeating

Last year, I participated in a continuing education for mental health providers—we learned a particular therapeutic approach by becoming the clients for a weekend. Over the course of several days, we identified the words we were constantly repeating about ourselves in the recesses of our minds and hearts. And then the leader wrote on the white board the words that had taken up residence at the core of us:

stupid,

uninteresting,

ugly,

rejected,

unlovable,

nobody,

alone.

When the list was complete, the facilitator did something startling. She pulled a screen down over the white board and projected images from her laptop onto it. The images were pictures of other white boards from the same seminar conducted in different countries around the world.

In each photo, the words were almost identical.

It’s a universal thing, this repetition we do. Without realizing it, we repeat the same shameful words until they become synonymous with our sense of self, until they are worked into our emotional DNA, until we embody them. Repetition has power. It can destroy us, one repetition at a time.

But when we become aware of it and learn to make choices about it, repetition can resurrect us.

The Power of New Words

Last winter, a little resurrection happened around the world. Young girls and boys and grown women and men fell in love with a short song in which three old words—Conceal, don’t feel—were replaced by three new words—Let it go.

My daughter sang the song repeatedly. She threw off mock gloves and mock crowns at exactly the right moments in the song. But as she sang, you got the feeling she was throwing off a lot more than imaginary accessories. You got the feeling that, even at her young age, she was throwing off the burden created by those three words—Conceal, don’t feel. You got the feeling she was exchanging

hiddenness for openness,

self-rejection for self-acceptance,

and cold perfectionism for vibrant, grace-full messiness.

Occasionally, a song comes along and it echoes the cry of our heart. But we don’t have to wait for the next mega hit, because there is already a word in our hearts waiting for us.

Finding a New Word

The words we repeatedly ascribe to ourselves become our selves. I suppose that sounds trite and simplistic. Like cold-clinical behaviorism, or “New Age” positive thinking. It probably sounds a little like Stuart Smalley, staring into his mirror and muttering, “You’re good enough, you’re smart enough, and doggone it, people like you.”

But it’s none of the above.

It’s magical and mysterious, and it’s real and solid and life changing. It’s the way of the contemplatives and the mystics and the Desert Fathers. It’s the way of almost every peaceful soul who’s walked the earth. And it’s simple: it begins by choosing the word or words you want at the center of you, so they can descend from your head into your heart. But here’s the mysterious part:

That word is already at the center of you.

There is always a good word waiting for us when we get still. When we let the other voices and words and phrases die down. When we begin to listen for a still quiet whisper, we always discover it’s there. And the radical, astonishing thing is this:

It’s always whispering a word that seems too good to be true.

It’s a word so freeing and wonderful, it scares us, because we know if we come to believe it about ourselves, it will change everything. And how do we come to believe it about ourselves? We listen for it. And when we’ve heard it clearly—and shuddered at the potential power of it—we begin to repeat it.

In every moment.

On every breath.

Through any fear.

Against any other words.

We repeat it. Until its echo descends from the space between our ears to the center of our heart. We repeat it, and then, mysteriously, we begin to become the word that already and always existed at the center of us.

Question: Repeated words echo in our minds and reverberate in our souls. What words are bouncing around in your mind? Is it time to repeat a new word? What would that word be? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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Next Post: A Father’s Letter to Young Men (About Women and Their Bodies)

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Disclaimer: My writings represent a combination of my own personal opinions and my professional experiences, but they do not reflect professional advice. Interaction with me via the blog does not constitute a professional therapeutic relationship. For professional and customized advice, you should seek the services of a counselor who can dedicate the hours necessary to become more intimately familiar with your specific situation. I do not assume liability for any portion or content of material on the blog and accept no liability for damage or injury resulting from your decision to interact with the website.

Kelly is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-founder of Artisan Clinical Associates in Naperville, IL. He is also a writer and blogs regularly about the redemption of our personal, relational, and communal lives. Kelly is married, has three children, and enjoys learning from them how to be a kid again. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Mike

    But how do you slow down enough to hear the one word at our center?

    • Cathy

      Practice mindfulness/meditation/prayer…..what ever name you wish to give it. It is the key to mental quiet and doesn’t take long once you get the hang of it. Lots of good books with audio (especially on Kindle) that can get you started with guided sessions. Best of luck, Mike!

      • mmr

        Another tool is Hot Power Vinyasa Yoga. Working the body hard in a peaceful way so that at the end you can accept the grateful thoughts that arise.

        • drkellyflanagan

          I love this conversation, because it highlights how we all may have a pretty unique path to the center of ourselves. Mike, the important thing is you insist on finding the thing that leads you there!

    • Christina Haas

      I don’t know if you have to slow down as much as find something you love to do. As you do it, run, dance, sing, whatever it is, the word will run through you. Of course, slowing down would really help too, but as a single parent of three, know that it is easier said than done. I often find my “word” while bing outside in nature or singing in the car to the radio.
      Good luck!

  • barbaratodish

    Freedom from limited language and freedom to be our limitless consciousness!

    • drkellyflanagan

      I like it.

  • Marcelino Gauguin

    New words:

    Lovable,
    good,
    whole,
    compassionate,
    beautiful,
    refreshing,
    encouraging,
    patient

    • drkellyflanagan

      Yes, Marcelino!

  • Marlene

    Words do have power! I’ve found that the key to developing self confidence and self esteem is to do something difficult. When you accomplish something you develop confidence and many people aren’t interested in this route to self confidence because it is the hard path and requires effort.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Wonderful point, Marlene. Self-confidence often feels like a voice inside saying, “You can handle the tough stuff. You’re going to be okay.”

  • Lady Flower PTY

    After reading the article I felt something like if I was looking at a mirror. Thanks for it!

    • drkellyflanagan

      You’re welcome!

  • Cheri Slattery

    Thank you for the reminder. Those ever-present, negative words and thoughts are always lurking in our minds. It is blogs like this, and messages of truth like this, that remind us that those words are false and can be rendered powerless over us by the simple shift you suggest here. Awesome! Made my day!

    • drkellyflanagan

      You’re welcome, Cheri!

  • Sara Young

    Love. It has been a word that I have been repeating for a year now to myself. It has made a huge difference.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Thank you for this, Sara.

  • Shel Llee Flexman-Evans

    At the calm center: Empathy.
    Words to exorcise: damaged, useless, disconnected.
    Guess I’ll see if this empathy is multidirectional enough to point inward.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Yes, good call, Shel. The word is always, it seems, intended for us and others in equal parts.

  • Alisa

    I love, love, love this! For the past 6 months I have been working on me….doing alot of self analysis, understanding the negative beliefs I have about myself and understanding how they impact my view of the world. Fundamentally, I have believed for a long time that I am unlovable. And so the words that I repeat to myself are: I am loving, lovable and loved. It is a work in progress and this article really reminded me that I have to repeat these words more. Thank-you!!

    • drkellyflanagan

      Awesome, Alisa. I like the repetition within the set, with each one meaning something slightly different, as well.

      • Alisa

        Also, thank-you for writing the marriage manifesto. My work with my counsellor has really allowed to shed my barriers, to love me and to love others with passion. Unfortunately, it has also highlighted some major deficiencies in my marriage, and with a partner that is unwilling to change, makes for some tough decision making 🙁
        Your manifesto is helpful 🙂

        • drkellyflanagan

          You’re welcome, Alisa!

  • Karen

    On Sunday I watched as flames danced upon the roof of my childhood home. It was a house of words growing up- You’re worthless, “I never thought I would have a daughter as stupid as you ” “You have such a pretty face too bad you are fat”….It was a house that was never a home. That house was the foundation of my inner walls that served me well for years to come, the walls written with the graffiti of hate towards myself. Watching the destruction of the room that once was my bedroom I realized how fragile walls and roofs are. How easy they can be destroyed. I have been doing a lot of work in the past year scrubbing the graffiti off my walls preparing for the day when I can re-paint them with the truth of who I really am-but sitting here in the aftermath it strikes me that as difficult it is to survey the damage it is also a push for me to change-to realize that I don’t need my inner walls and just like the house I can be repaired but this time with better materials- better words. I am thankful that my daughter and family(who currently lived in the house) got out safely along with their pets and now instead of asking “Why” we are asking “what can we make out of this situation” Moving on….

    • drkellyflanagan

      Karen, as I read your comment, the word that came to mind was “Resilient.” And not because of your walls, but because of who you are inside of them.

  • jen

    Thank you for sharing this post. I resonate with much of what is written here. It’s the reason that every night as part of our children’s bedtime routine we tell them four things. 1. Mommy and Daddy love you very much. 2. You are very beautiful/handsome. 3. You are good enough. 4. You don’t have to settle. I knew these were important things to remind our children, but I did not fully understand the power of them until one night my 3 year old insisted on saying them to me. It was very humbly, powerful, and liberating to hear, “Mommy, I love you very much. You are beautiful mommy. You are good enough and you don’t have to settle. ok?”

  • Lilli

    My word is german, liebenswert, it’s like ‘worth being loved’. Thanks for this awesome text!

  • Alison

    Thank you. I am LOVE.

  • Yang

    The word that has always existed but needed to be discovered and repeated is this: alive.

    As long as I remember I am alive, every problem fades in seriousness, I can suddenly laugh, I feel connected to the world, and I know that there’s an energy in me that is buzzing and free.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Yang, it reminds me of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s words: “If you are breathing, there is more right with you than wrong with you.”

  • Anya

    Beloved! Romans 9:23b.

  • ana marija

    thank you so very much!

  • Brett Carter

    Kelly, you are really on a roll these days. I’m enjoying these great words. I’ve been working on re-framing like this for a while now, and I’m hoping to teach these ideas to my family. Thanks for another great post.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Thanks, Brett. My best to you and your family!

  • Nashville Mamma

    Stupid.
    Unlovable.
    Alone.
    Nothing.
    Useless.
    Weak.
    I realize after reading this article that the names I’ve been called for years by a verbally and emotionally abusive spouse have become the words I repeat to myself, about myself. Common sense says these words hold no truth but repetition has made them real for me. Some things I can not change. But the words I repeat, I can change. Thank you for this insightful post!

    • drkellyflanagan

      Spouses often try to take the words inside of them and put them inside of their partner. But your words are up to you!

  • Lurlynn

    Thank you for this article.
    I will replace “ugly” for “inner beauty”…
    “Fat” for “working towards better health”…
    I will not be afraid to add the following…
    Loving, kind, forgiving, virtuous, patient, honest, sincere, and giving.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Beautiful new words.

  • Trivedi Effect

    it is true that our confidence was especially influences during our childhood, as we grow older we can gain awareness and perspective on what those influences have been. In doing so, we can choose which influences we will continue to allow to have an effect on our life. we don’t have to be helpless in the face of past events.Approach new experiences as opportunities to learn things rather than to win or lose.like the article very much.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Mahendratrivedi