Three Steps to Greater Confidence
Picture yourself driving down an interstate. You take an exit. The wrong exit. Maybe it was 36A instead of 36B, so you were close. There is no turning back now. You proceed to think "What an idiot" or "I'm the worst driver." In that scenario, what's heaviest on us mentally? The fact we made a mistake or the narrative that we begin to tell ourselves? Narratives can weigh so heavy on us. Without the narrative, the "face value" of the situation is that you took the wrong exit. "Idiot" and "worst driver" are much heavier and honestly just mean. Face value is the facts of our life as if they were written by a non-biased reporter. Face value is how we feel, what we think, what we've done, and what we've experienced. It can be very healing to only see your past in face value terms and to cut out the narratives.
(FV = face value. N = narrative)
FV: I got angry again at my significant other while we were having a disagreement.
N: I should be able to control that. I must be flawed. How could anyone love me?
FV: I feel sad when someone ignores what I have to say.
N: I'm overly sensitive. I shouldn't care what people do.
In these examples, we are left feeling less than and often times without a solution.
There are all types of narratives that we may add to the face value of a situation: fear narratives such as "how could anyone love me", shame narratives such as "I must be flawed," and many more.
Sometimes it can take a lot of effort and time to identify narratives and try to redirect our mind to consider situations at face value. That's the first step. Immediately following that step is the step of radical acceptance. Radical acceptance is fully accepting everything at face value - not the narratives. Accepting that this IS how you feel, what you think, what you've done, and what you have experienced. The more you arrive at radical acceptance, the more you experience wholeness. To reject parts of yourself - usually because of a narrative - is counter to wholeness. When we consider acceptance, we are not saying that we do not desire change or have hope for transformation. We are merely acknowledging and accepting who we are today.
In the same way as identifying narratives, radical acceptance can take effort and time.
Third step. Once we have identified who we are at face value and have begun the work of radical acceptance, now we can begin to look forward.
WATCH OUT. A common trap is to ask the questions: why do I feel what I feel, why do I think these thoughts, why did I do these actions, or why did these experiences happen to me. Truth is, the why isn't simple. Our feelings, thoughts, behaviors, and experiences are a result of millions of factors all woven together to bring us to those moments. Many of those factors were never within our control to begin with. So if you think that you can understand why - which you may be able to point to some very influential reasons - it is still a simple answer to the complexity of the human experience. Think about when you have spent time asking yourself those "why" questions. Where do you end up? Far more often than not, the "why cycle" (my name for the endless quest to find out why) ends up just burying us. We get paralyzed, lost in our own minds, stuck, trapped, hopeless, and still without answers.
When you identify that you are caught in the why cycle, exchange those thoughts for this third step. As you begin to look forward, ask "how" questions. You see yourself at face value, radically accept what is, and then ask yourself "how" do I take what is (my feelings, thoughts, actions, and experiences) and still accomplish [fill in the blank]. Instead of fighting the hopeless battle of trying to change how you feel, think, actions, experiences; the new question is how do you feel all of those things AND still accomplish what otherwise those feelings might keep you from.
SIDE NOTE:"How" questions are very present and future focused. In contrast, "why" questions are past focused. Change always happens in the present.
If you do experience social anxiety (face value - you get nervous, start to sweat, and question your words when you meet new people), how can you feel nervous, sweat, question your words AND still make steps to meet new people. How do you carry "what is" with you?
I like to use the illustration of a new recruit at basic training. The drill sergeants will put 80 pounds of military gear on you and run you through an obstacle course. At some point in that obstacle course, you will encounter a 10 foot wall. The solution to scaling the wall does not include removing the 80 pounds of gear. In the same way, the solution to your "how" question does not include changing how you feel first.
An important part of the formulation of "how" questions is that the solution must be within your control. A bad example would be: "how do I get my spouse to see me or respond to me differently?" That is not within your control. Rather a "how" question could be: "When we disagree I often get angry and shut down. When this happens, how can I reengage in the conversation?" Our "how" questions must be directly within our influence. Another bad example: "when I disagree with my spouse, how can I stop feeling angry." Likely if you are faced with anger in these situations, it would be an unrealistic "how" question to expect you to be absent of anger. Anger is likely something you may have to feel AND figure out how to "carry" to produce more beneficial results.
In summary, wholeness is radical acceptance. Radical acceptance can be achieved through recognizing the narratives (face value: these narratives are just thoughts you are having), acknowledging and accepting who you are at this moment in face value terms, and exchanging the "why" questions with "how"questions.
Stop fighting your feelings and thoughts. Those narratives you tell yourself are not who you are. You are acceptable. There is hope for wholeness and change.