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  • Writer's pictureJulia Brady

True Self Confidence

We’ve all heard the saying, “Fake it ‘til you make it!” But doesn’t taking that first step in starting something new require a certain degree of confidence? How can you fake it if you are at all like me, a person who’s spent my lifetime questioning my value and talents? Diving into challenging new roles sporting an outward-facing confidence is hard when you’re thinking: “When will I be found out?” Trust me, I’ve spent countless hours questioning my abilities as a parent, a partner and a professional. Even when I find evidence to the contrary, my self-doubts and negative self-talk is something I must proactively work against.

Should I feel better that I’m not alone? An article in from June 2018 reports that “An estimated 70% of people experience these impostor (syndrome) feelings at some point in their lives, according to a review article published in the International Journal of Behavioral Science.” And no gender, or age, is immune to this, leading me to conversations with other parents and experts about how parents can build resiliency and ideally create what my former colleague Harry Kraemer wrote about in his book From Values to Action, the concept of "true self confidence." That quiet confidence that goes hand in hand with knowing one’s own values, as well as value one offers to others.

I recently spoke with Nancy Phillips, a licensed social worker and mom of three teen daughters in a community outside of Boston. Nancy has seen this dynamic firsthand in her counseling practice with parents and adolescents. “I’ve counseled professionals in every field, and I don’t know anyone who hasn’t encountered it,” says Nancy of the “not-good-enough” mind-set. Nancy has observed two primary sources contributing to a distorted self-image among adolescents: pressure from parents and other influential adults.

“I’ve seen where a kid’s distorted view of self and skills can be projected by the parents,” Nancy says. An expectation of perfectionism can lead to self-doubt in the child, or even resentment among friends. “My daughter shared that one teammate’s parents projected an identity on their daughter that wasn’t entirely valid, leading other players to think, ‘you believe you’re great, but you’re really not that great.’”

Helping adolescents get past perfectionism and embrace a growth mindset is further compounded by many schools’ culture of achievement. “I’ve encountered many perfectionist kids who would benefit from “embracing the B” and learning to keep things in perspective. I work with them to understand that this is just one game or one test, and not indicative of your value.” Those same social pressures many parents view as positive influences at schools, such as being in the top classes and gaining admittance to the best colleges, can often lead kids to feel burned out.

Nancy went on to say that, “So many people blame this just on parents, but then sometimes a youth coach will reach out to the kid directly and put pressure on them saying, “Why weren’t you at this game?” This kind of pressure from respected adults is incredibly difficult for our children.” Her own 8th grade daughter is part of an upcoming “college showcase” soccer tournament, just one example of the increasing pressure for kids to specialize and the professionalization of extra-curriculars that didn’t exist when most of us were teens.

Helping children set boundaries is a crucial part of developing a self-confidence independent of their latest achievement. Nancy has helped her own daughters learn to set boundaries and say "no" to coaches and others wanting their time or talents for certain objectives that conflict with their own wants or needs. She helps them to navigate commitments and to set and prioritize values.

To strengthen resiliency, Nancy and I discussed ways we can help children combat “not-good-enough” thinking, starting with reflecting on what is within their control. “I encourage many of my clients to journal, regardless of age,” Nancy says. One dimension of perfectionism that can manifest into self-doubt is body image. “I ask them to reflect on what they can control, and to show gratitude for all aspects of self.” Nancy spoke of the value of sending loving thoughts even to the things you might “hate about yourself,” and instead reflect on the value that part of you has brought to your life.

This practice is something Nancy embraces herself, sending gratitude to her strong legs that she spent many years disliking. Those legs were not as long as she might have liked, but she came to recognize that these strong legs enable her to run road races throughout adulthood. And twenty-five years ago, they propelled her on a bike for two weeks through the mountainous terrain of Montana and Wyoming alongside her cousin, carrying heavy supplies and camping gear across the Continental Divide. Looking back on this trip of a lifetime, this was just one example of when she modeled strength and confidence for her daughters. And this cousin of hers remains one of her closest friends and biggest fans. Even tapping her for parenting advice for her blogging project 😊

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