Have you ever felt shame for who you are?
It’s a normal feeling for a lot of people, especially those who are in their teens. You just get so caught up with how everyone’s perceiving you, that you start to feel self-conscious. The irrational fear that a random person near you is silently judging your clothes, your voice, or anything you express into the world. I think most people can relate to that, myself included.
In primary school, and early on in secondary school, I (Haikal) was very much a reserved kind of student. Coasting on random social cliques, I don’t think I truly bonded with anyone at that time, although my friends at the time would have probably disagreed. The problem for me was that I thought everyone around me was silently judging me, and they all secretly hated my presence. In my mind, my friends, teachers, and sometimes even my own family were thinking about how dumb or “slow” I was, how fat I was compared to my peers, and how ugly I looked. Indeed, as a self-labelled “airhead” and former speech therapy patient, I can now scientifically try to connect my mild-autism diagnosis to my slowness, and yes, I can embrace my body and looks, and treat them as endearing qualities to my overall persona now. But obviously back then, my less mature self could never see these things as benefits, only negatives for people to gawk at in horror.
I find it really sad that I thought I was ugly, by the way, as some would say my childhood photos look “snatched” looking back.
But back to the point, not having confidence really hindered me in profound ways, and a lot of personal growth was needed to feel “okay” again. It was really not a fun feeling, as sometimes hyped up through the romanticisation of mental health issues by edgy teenagers and young adults online (but that’s a topic for another day).
To you, the reader, I hope reading this article will inspire you to begin or continue on your journey to live more confidently, and to have a positive mental attitude. Or maybe it won’t inspire you that much, in that case, take care of yourself either way!
With that being said, here are some steps that go into expressing yourself confidently.
- Accepting Who You Are
If you are familiar with psychologist Carl Jung, either because you are genuinely passionate about psychology, or because you are an avid fan of the Persona series of video games, you might be familiar with Jungian or analytical psychology, and one aspect of it, the persona. According to his psychological theory, the persona is a consciously created personality or identity, created as a “mask” in a certain experience or social situation. These “masks” serve to leave a certain impression on others, and also, to hide the true nature of an individual. Personas are categorised into different recognised archetypes that exist in a “collective unconscious” that all humans share. We form different personas all the time, in front of our family, our friends, in public and on social media in order to portray ourselves in a “desirable” way. The concept of “persona” is strongly connected with the concept of the “shadow”, a part of you that you try to repress, which is usually negative. While the formation of the persona is often integral to survival in this world, it becomes easy for the persona to block your “true” self from breaking out.
Now whether or not you believe this theory is up to you. However, a key idea you could take away is the fact that individuals often have parts of them that they try to hide to others in order to look “better” to others. Whether it is due to the fear of being judged or discriminated against, or even just because of an innate discomfort towards it, a lot of people try to show only the “best” parts of themselves. That habit, though, contradicts the idea of expressing yourself confidently.
That’s why accepting everything about you is the first step here. You really have to be okay with the full version of yourself, in order to express it all to others. This is by no means an easy task. In fact, you could safely say it is simply impossible to be that way, because there will always be mistakes and failures you would want to hide, so long as humans continue to make mistakes. Think of accepting yourself as more of a perpetual journey, rather than something that has a definitive end. Take your time to reflect and naturally begin to accept yourself more and more.
- Finding Positive Reinforcement
As you might think, the journey of being and expressing yourself for who you truly are is never a smooth road for everyone. If it is a journey without any bumps and potholes along the way, then everyone would already be lining up to begin theirs. But what is it that helps you to keep on if along your way, you trip over your own feet (self-degradation) or even a rock thrown into your path by some unseen forces of nature that causes you to feel disparaged from others?
Our brains are wired in a way that when we behave in a particular way and it is immediately followed by a reward, something as simple as even getting a pat on the back for it, it is more likely that we will repeat that behavior again in the future. So take advantage of it. You can always find internal positive reinforcements and make it a habit to tell yourself how amazing you are doing or even treat yourself to your favourite drink when you feel like you have done terrifically in your journey of self-expression. But finding external positive reinforcement is much more solid and in case you find your own two feet betraying you and tripping you up, you can always count on those around you to carry you back up again.
A great way is to always surround yourself with people who support you for who you are, a community no matter how small or big that will always give you that pat on the back everytime they see your progress through the way you talk about and yourself, how you hold yourself up to, and in all and every little detail in how you express yourself. These people will never give up on you even when you might feel like you’ve given up on your own self, and even the thought of them always being ready to hold up a large air mattress at the bottom of the rock when you fall, is already the biggest positive feeling you’ll get. So find those people, your chosen family.
- Not Being Afraid of Judgement
Here comes the hardest part, something that we all dread and constantly fall victim to: judgement. It will always be there, circling around us like hungry sharks circling their prey in the middle of the ocean, finding the most vulnerable spot to finally dive in and take a bite of. You can never escape the prying and questioning eyes of the people around you, especially when it is our own inescapable nature as humans to always define someone’s worth in order to see them as better or worse than us. Also, if there’s one thing people hate more than anything else, it’s change, even when that change doesn’t affect them in any way. And you are going to go through a major change in your journey of self-expression and towards being a more authentic you, either a change in the way you dress yourself or the way you talk, people will be ready just around the corner with what feels like hundreds of beady little eyes on their faces.
Now I’m not telling you to just live with it because it’s easier said than done, but to have strategies that will help you churn those negative words into something palatable for yourself so you can exist comfortably with it and never be afraid of them anymore. The best way that I can say will work for everyone, even if it’s as cliché as your favourite rom-com film, is to recognize every single thing you’re good at, or your best attributes and what you love about yourself both inside and outside, as well as the opposite of that, what you know you’re bad at and are trying to improve on. In a way, you’re hating yourself to love yourself, despite how contradicting that sounds.
Once you know your own worth (which nobody else knows better than you do) and your bad, you’ll start telling people to “tell me something I don’t already know” every time they think they have all the rights in the world to spew their disparaging remarks at you.
Take drag queens for example. The art of drag in itself is already bound to get people who are not familiar with it to have question marks floating around in their minds. In order to quickly arrive at a conclusion without taking the time to try to understand what it really is and what it does, they start judging it and looking at it very negatively, which is why drag queens go through constant judgments and are harassed every time they’re out and about in public in their extravagant clothes and makeup. But you’ll soon come to realise that they are the very last ones to get affected by all those toxicity not only because they have their own community that’s raised them with an invisible shield all around them, but also because they know exactly what they love about themselves and the drag form. Not even a bunch of insecure men projecting their toxic masculinities can bring them down.
To summarise, accepting yourself, finding communities to express yourself positively, and not being afraid of what others might say, are the main steps you need to increase your confidence. The journey to self-confidence varies from person to person. Again, don’t take this article as a concrete guide, but rather, just some helpful tips from a fellow human. Aftr all, the important part of self-growth is your own satisfaction.
Take care and be happy!
By: Haikal and Natasha