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  • Writer's pictureCatherine Lott

Working on your Self Confidence

cat with a lion's shadow

Low self-esteem is common in eating disorders; this harsh internal critic chipping away is a source of constant stress and can make recovery from an eating disorder even harder. (see my post on low self-esteem here)

When you get treatment for an eating disorder you may need to work on your self-esteem and your self-confidence, while focusing on the vital work of nutritional rehabilitation and neural rewiring.

When our self-esteem is low, we treat ourselves cruelly, continuously telling ourselves we are just not 'good enough'. We make the false connection between how much we matter and the things we do -or don't- achieve. We sometimes carry inside us a deep belief that we are unlovable and that we can only justify our very existence by looking different, acting differently or just, somehow, being different. We are all affected by this to some extent, but with low self-esteem it can stand in the way of a happy and meaningful life.

Self-compassion is a powerful response to low self-esteem. People with healthy self-esteem are kind to themselves when they come up against their human imperfections. Self-compassion is a validated way for people who are consistently hard on themselves to accept and forgive their flaws and learn to see their own positives.( see my post on self-compassion here)

Poor self-confidence often arises from low self-esteem. and both can seriously impact your capacity to believe you can recreate your life and your relationships after recovery.


Self-confidence refers to a feeling of trust in your abilities, qualities, and judgement. The word confidence actually arises comes from the Latin word fidere, “to trust.” so to be self-confident means to trust in yourself, especially in your ability to engage successfully (or at least quite well) with the rest of the world.

Self-confidence helps us to rise to new challenges, seize opportunities, deal with difficult situations, and take responsibility if, (ok, let's be honest-when), things go wrong. So if you have self-confidence, you have a core belief in your value as a person, irrespective of your performance or whether you've had a good or bad day. Nobody's immune to the opinion of others, and it wouldn't be healthy if you were (narcissistic personality disorder, anyone?) but generally self confidence is like a well rooted tree that can withstand external stressors.


Looking at the origins of the word confidence ( to trust) , it shows that real confidence should come from within ourselves, from the inside, rather than from external things . When we turn to external validation to find our confidence , we're continuously looking to others for praise, reassurance, recognition and approval; if we're doing that, we only feel confident when we have the certainty that others are approving of us, our choices and behaviour.

There are some obvious problems with this: for one thing, performing for the approval of all the time is just so bloody tiring; for another, it's impossible to be really sure that other's are feeling about you what you need them to feel-and this just increases your insecurity and sense of neediness. Ultimately, though, if you're reliant on others for your sense of self-worth and self-confidence, they can easily take it away from you.

This isn’t to say that external validation isn't a good thing, it's more that we should be filling our own reservoir, with welcome top-ups from others, but not relying on them to keep us from drought conditions.

As with self-esteem, important tools for improving your self-confidence include internal reflection and self compassion.


When I work with clients who need help with self-confidence and self-esteem, I think it's important to reflect on Authenticity and Values. This isn't by any means a new idea, "to know thyself is the beginning of wisdom" is a maxim that was re-quoted by Socrates in the 4th century BC.

Authenticity in this context means the degree to which your actions are in harmony with your beliefs and values, despite external pressures. Having authenticity requires you have a good degree of self awareness so you can make choices that align with your beliefs, your strengths, your challenges, and ultimately, your values.

Values represent your core beliefs: what is really important to you? What drives you? These create the building blocks for everything you do ; They are essentially your foundations and everything else develops from here. At their heart, values are fundamental rules that define who we are, and if we wander too far from them, we can lose a sense of our self. Sometimes we don't take the time to look at what our underlying values are or what our purpose is, and this can leave us feeling adrift and directionless.


Another thing which is important when working on self-confidence is accepting and embracing our vulnerability, (even though it may seem a little counter-intuitive).

It is remarkable sometimes to see the complex and intricately built social faces of clients who are struggling on a daily basis with feelings of low self confidence and grindingly low self esteem.

Our very survival can feel dependent on not expressing our vulnerability.

In reality we can gain strength and personal power by understanding that we are not alone and that it isn't a personal failing unique to us. There is a universality to these horrendous periods of anxiety, hopelessness and vulnerability and that others feel overwhelmed by them too and sharing these feelings and experiences with people we trust can somehow help us to overcome and defeat them over time.


Resilience is a big part of self-confidence. Let's face it, crap happens. I've never come across anyone who hasn't had some challenging, difficult or downright awful things happen in their lives (and I personally don't think they'd be at all likeable, but that's another thing completely) but the point is, resilience is the ability to recover quickly from setbacks and adversity: to stay committed and even try harder when things get tough.This coping can result in us “bouncing back” to a previous level of normal functioning, or maybe even discover hidden strengths and find ourselves coping with the difficulty much better than we expected.

So the reason it's particularly important in self confidence, is that it gives us a sense of certainty that we can and will find our way through it, emerge out the other side intact and possibly have grown from the experience. A great thing about resilience is that with work, we can learn the skills , even if it's not something we developed as a child.

Thinking about client work over the last few years, I can hardly think of a instance where self confidence hasn’t been part of the coaching work in some form or other. There are a number of possible tools that may help identify the causes of low self esteem, and some that help boost deflated confidence or rediscover self confidence that has been lost.


There are a number of tools, (some examples I've included here) that coaches can use to identify in more depth the issues and challenges you're facing with self confidence. These can help to look at ways of working to understand where things go wrong, and how you can learn to react differently.


When you start working with a coach to help you with your self-confidence, they may, (and I think, probably should), ask about your full 'story', (something like narrative therapy). The 'whole' you has evolved from every life experience, every relationship, every disappointment, success and rejection; so, for both you and the Coach, telling and hearing your life story is one way to begin to understand your world. If you are working with a coach (or looking to use this tool yourself),It’s important to take care and not to stray too far into interpretative aspects. It can help to unearth important hints of where the low self esteem might originate from, whether from your past or more recent experiences (like a relationship ending)

As ever, it important to stress the difference between coaching and therapy when looking at your 'autobiography' . In therapy, you would be working to bring the issues around low self-esteem and self-confidence from the unconscious to the conscious mind in order to "work through" them. In coaching its more about an action, results focus; e.g. practice using different CBT techniques in troubling situations you come across.


A self-confidence assessment or review is a series of questions which can be done in session and discussed or in between sessions as 'homework'. This assessment helps to highlight and focus on particular areas, such as where you particularly struggle with self-confidence and what are your coping mechanisms.


Practical exercises, such as this ABCDE model.


This particular exercise,like so much of coaching, is developed from CBT techniques that helps clients challenge difficult situations they encounter by taking them through a 5 step process of challenging negative thoughts and feelings, and learning to think about difficult situations in a more balanced, positive (and realistic) way.


To improve your self-confidence, it's helpful to take some time and reflect on your achievements and,like I said earlier, your values. This exercise commits you to acknowledging your achievements through looking at your values, your skills and qualities ( resourceful, determined), and all achievements, big and small, tangible (exams, training, jobs) and intangible (what your family and friends think of you.

Part of the sustaining part of the work is for you to keep it close at hand to refer back to over time as things change and your achievements grow.


Neuro Linguistic Programming, or NLP is used a lot in coaching work and the Anchoring Technique can be very powerful when used properly. It works on the basis of using an “anchor feeling” of positivity, especially when faced with a difficult situation.

It requires you to select a feeling they would like to have in a particular situation and create a physical “anchor” of that feeling that you can go back to when they need to


This tool is taken from Transactional Analysis Theory. Drivers in Transactional Analysis (Taibi Kahler, 1975) are ways that we have learned to adapt to our environment when we were young. They are developed at an age when we can understand what is approved of and disapproved of by the adults around us and we attempt to adapt to them to feel better about ourselves. Some of the messages we would have picked up from verbal response and some from non-verbal responses to us.

In this context,the 'drivers' are five characteristic working styles, and each of us tends to have a preference for one or two particular styles.

Whilst our driver can sometimes be strength, under stress it can severely limit our capacity to be effective. The more stressed we get, the more we get locked into compulsive driver behaviour. This exercise requires you to find your key and secondary driver, and that enables you to work out strategies for improvement.

Taibi Kahler, 1975 Drivers: The Key to the Process of Scripts Transactional Analysis Journal 5:3 July 280-284

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