I spent most of my 20’s and 30’s being an avid people pleaser in an attempt to avoid having to deal with anything that felt remotely uncomfortable.
I was convinced that any kind of conflict, negative feedback, judgement or criticism would be unbearably crushing, and of course… my world would come tumbling down.
So, for example, I avoided facing my unhappy marriage because I couldn’t bear feeling like a failure. I was afraid of having to figure out life on my own – what if I couldn’t do it?
I avoided doing anything I thought would upset people because I didn’t want to face them being disappointed or angry with me. So, as you can guess, I spent many years saying yes to many things when I wanted to say no.
I avoided putting myself out there with friends because I didn’t want to risk looking silly.
I avoided being the first to put my heart on the line because I didn’t want to be rejected.
I avoided expressing an opinion if it was different than everyone else’s because I didn’t want to be judged or criticized.
I basically avoided confrontation at all costs. I did everything possible to prevent myself from experiencing any kind of negative emotion. But instead of avoiding negative emotion, what I did was nurture more fear and insecurity.
I didn’t feel confident in being who I was, or trying new things, or taking risks, or following my dreams, or claiming my right to say yes or no, or owning my right to be happy.
Avoiding negative emotions actually kept me living small, feeling afraid, insecure, and unhappy.
But one simple conversation with a therapist over 25 years ago, opened a tiny crack in my thinking, and that small crack created one big wonderful shift!
The Mindset Shift:
This therapist told me a couple of key things! First, she said that by trying to avoid these negative emotions, I was actually creating more pain and suffering for myself than I would actually experience if I turned and faced the emotions.
The second thing she told me was huge for me. She said, “You can survive your feelings. No one dies from feeling an emotion.”
She told me to think of emotions like waves – they wash up over us, and they wash back out again. She said if I stop running from them, and turned to face them, I’d begin to develop a strong sense of confidence in myself and in my ability to handle anything that comes my way.
I can survive my feelings. That was a game changer for me.
I was listening to a mentor of mine, Brooke Castillo, who was just talking about this very thing, and I loved how she framed it:
She said, “Self-confidence isn’t something someone gives you or you inherit. It’s not an innate trait. Self-confidence is something you create.”
She says, “The secret to self-confidence comes from our willingness to experience any negative emotion.”
When we’re feeling insecure it’s because we are trying to avoid feeling embarrassment, or judgement, or failure or defeat or humiliation etc.
But what is it about the feeling of embarrassment or defeat or judgement, that we spend so much time trying to avoid? Emotions in and of themselves are actually very harmless. They can’t hurt you – they’re just a vibration in your body.
What makes them painful is the meaning we attach to them. For example, other people judging us isn’t painful until we make it mean something about who we are! It becomes a problem only when we decide it says something negative about our character.
She goes on to say, “We’re so determined to avoid experiencing feeling failure, or defeat, or humiliation or embarrassment or judgement that we don’t go for our dreams.”
“We don’t live the life we really want to be living. We don’t even want to try because we don’t want to experience the emotions on the other side of that attempt – so we end up going after nothing!”
But by avoiding all of these emotions, we actually deny ourselves the ability to develop the self-confidence we need to be successful. Self-confidence is the fuel you need to be able to continually take action in your life.
If you weren’t worried about experiencing the emotion of defeat, or the emotion of humiliation, or the emotion of failure or embarrassment – if you weren’t afraid of feeling any emotion – you’d go after everything!
The truth is, being willing to experience defeat, or failure, or embarrassment or rejection, is a testament to your willingness to live fully. We develop self-confidence each time we turn and face a negative feeling and discover we can survive it.
In her Ted Talk, psychologist Susan Davis says this:
“Not wanting to feel any negative emotions are dead people’s goals. Only dead people never feel. You don’t get to have a meaningful life, raise a family, have relationships without experiencing discomfort, or negative emotions.” Discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life.
The best gift you can give yourself is to decide to get comfortable with discomfort. You can survive your feelings. If you are willing to experience negative emotions, to feel defeat, or embarrassment or judgment or humiliation, or disappointment or failure, there isn’t anything you won’t try, your self-confidence will soar, and your life will change dramatically.