Gaining confidence after sheltered childhood
July 3, 2018 6:18 PM   Subscribe

I’m seeking resources (books, blogs, articles) and advice for developing confidence after being raised by anxious, over-cautious parents.

I love my parents dearly, but they were probably a bit overprotective and there was a lot of hand-wringing about things that other people just don’t worry about. I have inherited a sense that it’s normal to worry and fester about things that just aren’t that big of a deal, and it’s led to a lot of unnecessary anxiety.

I’d like to feel more independent, optimistic, and confident. More “this is gonna be fun!” and less “let’s worry about the worst thing that could happen.” Obviously it’s important to prepare and take reasonable precautions in life, but I’d like to get to the point where I’m driven by enthusiasm, curiosity, and a sense of fun rather than “Oh God, what if...”

I’m in therapy and I’ll be bringing this up in my next session. Thanks for your help!
posted by delight to Human Relations (10 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
This is such an antique suggestion I hesitate to make it, but it was a book that I read and reread when I was younger, much younger: "Auntie Mame" by Patrick Dennis. Published in 1955, so be warned. It opened my eyes to a different way of worrying about the world.

Auntie Mame's slogan to live by:

Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death!
posted by kestralwing at 6:34 PM on July 3, 2018 [17 favorites]

Take a risk every day.

Start small.

Face those things you're conscious of hearing in your parents' voices: Do/n't do this, or that will happen. And then, well, see if that's true. And then try something else. And maybe once a week when you're feeling pretty relaxed and well rested, try something more... scary. Just once.

It's a kind of desensitization: instead of having your onboard threat alert system turned up to 11 every day, see if you can get it down to, oh, 9. Learn what really is a threat. Learn to distinguish safety from dumb luck.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 7:13 PM on July 3, 2018 [7 favorites]

Part of gaining confidence is facing your fears and realizing afterwards that it wasn't what you thought it would be. But definitely start small. You can read all the books you want (and you should!) but the actual confidence building will come with the doing, not the reading.
posted by acidnova at 7:33 PM on July 3, 2018 [2 favorites]

Oh, I hear you here, and have an additional way to approach this. It's important to find out what you really truly like and want: we're talking everything from favorite foods and favorite outfits to dream jobs and dream locations. This will eventually become fun and easy but the process takes time and energy. I know this because I was recently there myself: I knew a lot of the little things but the big things were harder to find out! Actually they were easy to find out but that process of letting go of what others might want or, better said, what I thought those other wanted -- namely, my parents -- was scary.

You've already started by recognizing the challenge and wanting to take steps to get outside your comfortable zone. That's awesome! Then you'll start to know what you don't want or don't like, and then eventually -- within a few months I hope -- you'll start to know what you do like! That was sage advice given to me.
posted by smorgasbord at 7:34 PM on July 3, 2018 [6 favorites]

Tangental, but related to your question....Build Your Personal Charisma.
posted by oceano at 11:00 PM on July 3, 2018

Worrying about the worst thing that could happen isn't going to stop it from happening. it does, literally, nothing.

Instead of "What if...?" ask "What if it all works out? What if it's great?" Wondering "what if it all works out?" is the reason I am sitting on the floor of my brand new, not-yet-open dog cafe, painting walls so we can open on 1 August.

I'm 46. I'm tool old for this shit. I don't have enough money to do this properly. No part of my body does not currently ache from hauling shit and painting ceilings (badly.)

And I'm not sure if I've ever been happier.

posted by DarlingBri at 11:10 PM on July 3, 2018 [27 favorites]

I can’t find the original article I read, but this one seems fairly similar.

The gist is that you are often able to get through a fearful situation by tricking yourself into thinking you’re just excited. A lot of the physical sensations are exactly the same for both states. So when you find yourself nervous to the point of fear of something that you think shouldn’t be causing you fear, maybe try repeating “This is exciting!” to yourself. I’ve successfully used this trick a couple times.
posted by greermahoney at 11:50 PM on July 3, 2018 [3 favorites]

Find some low stakes ways to fuck up? That is, don’t fuck up on purpose, but set yourself up to risk, e.g., getting lost in an unfamiliar city, or whatever is the sort of thing you’re worrying about.

If you’re trying to build confidence by never screwing up, the possibility of failure is still out there being upsetting. If you’ve got a real world sense of what happens when you get, e.g., totally lost in a strange city, then you really know it’s not that bad at all. Not what you’d choose to do, but nothing to worry about for real.

As a giant flake myself, I get through the day not by believing I’m going to make things go the way I want them to, but by an experience-based confidence that the worst that’s likely to happen is completely livable.
posted by LizardBreath at 5:13 AM on July 4, 2018 [3 favorites]

The following quote is from this article. It helped me, FWIW:
  • You’re not your brain; you’re the CEO of your brain. You can’t control everything that goes on in “Mind, Inc.” But you can decide which projects get funded with your attention and action.
And yes, my childhood was full of hand wringing (due to problems and limited resources, but still, it leaves its mark).
posted by forthright at 7:30 AM on July 4, 2018 [4 favorites]

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