Category: Self-confidence

Understanding negative emotions: the fear factor

When we explore emotions in greater depth and bypass their unfavourable connotations, we come to appreciate their wisdom and value. From an evolutionary perspective, fear has helped us survive and even thrive as a species. The fear of death and loss of health, for instance, is a tremendous motivator to stay alive, as well as an excellent reminder of how important it is to invest in a healthy lifestyle, or not to engage in violent behaviour. An increasing sense of self-preservation – highlighted by the emotional significance of fear – has allowed us to prioritise and value life, avoiding practices that threaten our peace and security. If you are interested in boosting emotional confidence, congruence and intimacy, this article will help you refresh your knowledge and recognise the significance of fear.

Understanding negative emotions: the fear factor
Fear is an emotional response to what we perceive as a threat to our wellbeing

The role of fear

Fear is an emotional response to what we perceive as a threat to our wellbeing, be it physical or emotional. The fear reflex is there to protect us from any type of danger, be it real or imaginary. Because of our ability to feel fear, we are able to protect ourselves from things, animals, people (even ourselves) and situations that expose us to harm to our minds, bodies or relationships. As fear is not only an automatic response to danger, but a learned behaviour, it also depends on direct instruction or experience to gain greater significance in our lives. For that reason, we are more inclined to feeling fearful towards what we have learned to fear, be it from our parents’ stories, cultural values or past events that were unpleasant in any way and, as a result, secured their places in our memory network.

Feelings related to fear

Anxiety, distress, apprehension, tension, horror and panic, for instance, are all fear states. We often forget when worrying excessively, for instance, that we, essentially, fear someone, a certain situation or outcome.

How fear is felt in the body

The fear response is a product of the amygdala, which is part of the limbic system or “emotional brain”. The amygdala is responsible for getting you physiologically ready to deal with threats, in other words, to fight an enemy, fly the scene or freeze on the spot. As you can notice below, the most common bodily sensations associated with fear can be connected to those three basic fear responses:

  • Fast heartbeat
  • Short breathing
  • Armouring (tense muscles, especially back and neck)
  • Shaking, trembling
  • Tingling
  • Numbness
  • Light-headedness
  • Sweating
  • Dry mouth

Adaptive and maladaptive fear

Fear is adaptive when it is productive. Stereotypically, productive fear raises our awareness of potentially life threatening situations, such as standing too close to the edge of a cliff. Maladaptive fear, on the other hand – even when it arises, initially, from a healthy fear response such as escape and avoidance – is exaggerated and pathological, such as the one felt by sufferers of anxiety disorders. This last modality causes much more harm than good, compromising psychological, emotional and physical wellbeing.

What your fears say about you

As fear is also a learned behaviour, it is deeply connected to the views we hold of ourselves, the world and others – our core beliefs. When those core beliefs are rigid and lead to automatic thoughts that are filled with cognitive errors, such as “all-or-nothing” and “catastrophizing”, for instance, they exaggerate the relevance or probability of negative outcomes, making one more vigilant and susceptible to feeling fearful. This heightened state of alert leads to feelings of unsafety, inadequateness and insecurity, which interfere with one’s ability to function with confidence, be it in a social, academic or professional scenario. If you often feel easily affected or even overwhelmed by excessive worrying, anxiety or a constant need for reassurance, it is probably time to check in with yourself and re-evaluate the core beliefs that are at the root your fear. Rigid core beliefs such as, “It is shameful to make mistakes”, “If I do not worry, something bad will happen”, “The world is a dangerous place” and “I cannot trust others” are renowned for making one feel powerless and afraid.

The best way to deal with fear is not to repress it through denial or disguise it as anger, but befriend it with honesty. You can embrace your fear by admitting it (even if only to yourself), respecting its wisdom and learning a little more about yourself from it. Even when uncomfortable and maladaptive, fear tells us something about our vulnerabilities and warns us of areas that need our attention.  Above all, facing our fears reminds us of the limitations of our humanity and promotes growth and development, allowing us to live more fulfilling and rewarding lives.

How to identify feelings of shame

How to identify feelings of shame
Shame is the most toxic of emotions

The relevance of shame should not be underestimated, since it is the most toxic of emotions. Shame not only crushes one’s self-esteem, but it is also at the core of mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety. Despite being potentially harmful to our psychological and emotional wellbeing, shame is rarely dealt with in a straightforward manner. Because it is so uncomfortable to talk about shame, it usually takes a reasonable amount of talking until most of us feel safe enough to relate our thinking and behaviour to deep feelings of shame, or the core beliefs that fuel them.

As emotional healing is all about feeling whole and connected, it is vital that you learn how to identify feelings of shame. As Brené Brown (2013) points out in her bestseller Daring Greatly, “Shame hates having words wrapped around it. If we speak shame, it begins to wither”. To help you name and shame your shame and deal with it as openly as you can, the following are common feelings and attitudes that are motivated by it:

  • Feeling left out, ignored, unimportant
  • Feeling defeated, vulnerable, weak
  • Feeling rejected, unwanted, not good enough
  • Feeling hate or disgust towards yourself
  • Avoiding social contact or being the centre of attention
  • Always believing in what others have to say about you, especially when negative
  • Feeling inadequate and embarrassed about what you have said and done
  • Finding it hard to accept the whole of you, especially what you do not consider a positive trait
  • Feeling crushed by self-criticism to the point of having thoughts of suicide
  • Refraining from saying anything in social gatherings or giving voice to your needs or opinions for considering them not important or interesting enough to others
  • Constantly worrying about what other people think
  • Not being able to say no or always doing what others want in order to feel valued in a relationship
  • Believing not to be liked or loved, as if it were a fact and not just a thought
  • Behaving in a certain way to gain the approval of others, even when it does not reflect the true you
  • Not having anything positive to say about yourself or your appearance
  • Putting the wellbeing of others before your own or believing it is your duty to care for others
  • Hiding or lying about your age, having a need to look younger
  • Feeling more comfortable with the thought of failure than that of success
  • Feeling like a bad or broken person, or believing that you are the reason why something bad has happened to you
  • Procrastinating or taking a lot of time to do something, so to get it “absolutely right”
  • Thinking that nobody feels the way you do or has experienced the things you have
  • Feeling different or less than others, as if you were not worthy of good things
  • Struggling to accept the good or believe in others’ love or interest in you
  • Minimising the harm done to you by an abusive relationship
  • Feeling you cannot do anything right or achieve what you would have liked in life
  • Staying in a broken relationship for not believing you could do any better
  • Being in denial about how you feel, or doing your utmost to hide your true emotions so not to be “judged by others”
  • Felling used
  • Taking things personally: immediately believing something is your fault/you have done something wrong when others are not as friendly or polite as you would have liked or expected
  • Not being able to take criticism objectively, feeling not good enough immediately after making a mistake or not being able to fulfil expectations
  • Using labels of negative connotation to describe yourself and your behaviour, such as stupid, ugly, fat, etc.
  • Having the habit of analysing your own performance, what you have said and done, in order to identify mistakes or errors in your judgement

Reference:

Brown, B. (2013). Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead. New York, NY: Gotham Books.

Are you a perfectionist?

Are you a perfectionist? Perfectionism is not a skill, but the number 1 enemy of a healthy self-esteem. Perfectionists have a hard time letting go of negative thoughts. They are extremely tough on themselves and often struggle to fully enjoy their own achievements. They also suffer from excessive self-criticism and self-doubt, which increase insecurity and give rise to feelings of inadequacy.

If you are wondering if this is your case, but would like to learn more about perfectionism, see below for its most typical behaviours:

All-or-nothing thinking: perfectionists see the world in black and white. The perfectionist scale contains only two opposite poles: ‘perfect/excellent’ and ‘rubbish/terrible’. There is no ‘adequate’ or ‘acceptable’, ‘good’ or ‘very good’ in the perfectionist’s classification system. According to perfectionist thinking, what is not a success is a total disaster.

Result obsession: achieving a perfect/excellent result is the main motivation of perfectionists. Perfectionists feel empty and unfulfilled without recognition. Because they struggle to love and accept themselves, they use external stimuli, such as praise, titles, acknowledgement, appreciation and validation to feel good about themselves. Perfectionists are approval junkies.

are you a perfectionist
Perfectionism is not a skill.

Mistake phobia: because perfectionists struggle with issues surrounding low self-esteem, the prospect of making a mistake is source of great anxiety. Contemplating failure is psychological torture for perfectionists. This result obsession added to their excessive judging and criticising generate a strong fear of the consequences of not attaining their incredibly high standards.

Aversion to criticism: perfectionists take criticism personally. Because they are extremely harsh on themselves, they have a tendency to interpret negative feedback as a personal attack. This is mainly due to their difficulty to separate their own selves from their actions and behaviours. If you tell a perfectionist that what he or she did is not very good, they believe they themselves to be bad.

Shoulds: why chase perfection like a hamster on a wheel? Because you should. You should always do your best. Forget feelings, moods or other idiosyncrasies, ‘best’ always means excellent, regardless of who you are. Perfectionism goes hand in hand with irrational absolutes and an intolerant attitude.

Discounting the positive: satisfying perfectionists is a big challenge. Nothing is ever good enough. Their worth can only be validated when in line with the highest of high standards. Anything below excellent is considered mediocre.

Rumination: perfectionists are time travellers. When they are not thinking about the past to find reasons for their supposed failures, they are trying to work out a way to transcend their own achievements. This lengthy and persistent consideration process, also known as rumination, feeds on itself. The more they ruminate, the more stuck they are with it.

Procrastination: why make all that effort when perfection is so difficult to attain? Rather than working so hard just to end up regretting your actions, it is easier not to decide. The most comfortable line of action is to put everything off. Without a decision, there is no risk, and no risk means no disappointment.

Self-denigration: perfectionists are masters of self-deprecation. Nobody criticises perfectionists as fervently as they do their own selves. They believe to be their duty to find faults with everything they do. Because nothing is ever good enough, they are constantly second guessing their own decisions, as if they were not competent to assess their own predicaments.

Guilt: feeling guilty for not being able to achieve their incredibly high standards is something with which perfectionists are very familiar. Perfectionism makes guilt seem like a plausible emotional reaction for not succeeding at everything you do. If you have failed to excel, you ‘should’ feel guilty. Guilt, allied with a long list of shoulds, reinforces perfectionism and feelings of low self-esteem, such as inadequacy and insecurity.

Shame: because perfectionists are always monitoring their own behaviours, they believe others are able to notice when they do not perform as well as they ‘should have’. They feel ashamed for not being able to comply with the demands of their own idealised selves, as if everyone else shared their inflexible views.

If you identify with the above, it is very likely that you are indeed a perfectionist. Perfectionism is a fairly common problem. To overcome perfectionism, make your priority to practice self-love and acceptance. Replace your overly judgemental attitude with a daily dosage of self-compassion. Become your own best friend and start telling yourself that it is OK to make mistakes. Learn how to laugh at the idea of being slave to a metaphor. Perfection is an illusion. Make ‘good enough’ the new ‘excellent’. Embrace your humanity and make peace with your weaknesses. Against a positive and forgiving attitude, your perfectionism will not stand a chance.

Understanding assumptions

assumptions
Assumptions – or intermediate beliefs, in cognitive terms – derive from our core beliefs about ourselves, the world and other people.

Assumptions have a high power of influence over human behaviour. As firm believers in the Law of Cause and Effect, we act according to what we believe. If I assume I am not qualified enough for a certain position and for that reason will not be offered a job, chances are I will not fill in that application. Assumptions are of a general nature and tend to follow a common sense approach. They come as deceivingly relatable sweeping statements, that when inspected with objectivity fail to address the complexity of individual contexts, chance or random factors. I may have qualities other than qualifications that might be more appealing to the needs of a particular interviewer at a given moment in time. As I have no way of objectively knowing what the future holds, my choice is ultimately based on an assumption.

Assumptions – or intermediate beliefs, in cognitive terms – derive from our core beliefs about ourselves, the world and other people. Core beliefs are, predominantly, product of our education and upbringing.  These beliefs are reinforced through rewards on personal behaviour and tend to reflect cultural values held by a group’s majority. As young children, we learn how to use our core beliefs as personal frames of reference for thoughts and behaviours that are widely accepted by others, such as our parents, teachers and friends. Throughout development, we bond with people who identify (consciously or not) with those same core beliefs, and that are able to relate to the assumptions from which they originate. To go against what everyone else thinks – not to act in accordance with the beliefs of others – makes us stand out as unconventional. Not being considered normal may result in emotional discomfort.

The human experience is so rich that makes the credibility of absolutes somewhat wobbly. Assumptions tend to bypass this very richness, failing to make us justice. We are multi-layered individuals who are constantly adapting to the demands of a new tomorrow. What I thought was right 10 years ago might not be the way to go today, even though I felt so intensively inclined to believing it back then. Those who adopt a flexible attitude towards core beliefs and the assumptions from which they arise are more likely to experience satisfying levels of self-realisation and growth.

Here are two examples of assumptions that are not doing you any favours:

‘If I treat others with respect I can expect to be treated equally’

A golden rule introduced by your mum and dad to justify you being nice to others. It may have taught you good manners back when you were 5, but now it is affecting your mood in a negative way.

Having fixed expectations about people’s responses to you is unrealistic. As individuals we respond to only one agent: our own selves. Even for those who lack real selves, the choice to follow somebody else’s mind is still their choice. We cannot help but be. Beings also includes feeling unfriendly, arrogant, anxious, impatient, cranky, depressed, restless, distressed, upset, distracted and self-absorbed. In essence, feelings are not guided by a sense of fairness. They also precede social conventions or personal intent. There is so much involved in just being, that to take it personally when someone’s behaviour does not correspond to your expectation is a waste of emotional energy. You can save some precious emotional juice by stopping to evaluate everyone’s behaviour in relation to you. Become an observer, make a mental note of what you see and feel without attaching further meaning to it. This is a simple attitude that is bound to contribute to your sense of self-mastery over your moods.

‘If I put great effort into achieving something that means I will succeed’

Another assumption that is frequently at the heart of so many feelings of disappointment. Our focus is so often centred on ourselves that we tend to ignore everything else that plays a part at our life’s developments. So many factors can contribute (or not) to your success in whatever you do. Be it in your personal or professional life, you are not the sole influence on either things or people. You are limited to the extent that you are able to shape your entire reality. Working your hardest may not be all it takes to secure that promotion. Making sure you always look and act your best may not be enough to keep that relationship going. Just because you have quality time with your child doesn’t mean you will end up sharing the same interests.

As cause and effect, the relationship between quantity and quality cannot be defined accurately by absolutes. Hardly anything is 100% certain when it comes to the human experience, only that there is birth and usually a while later, death. Even though you can observe certain trends between your degree of dedication and performance, that still does not mean that your results will always be the same in every single attempt. Opening your perception to the uncertainty of life is as relevant a skill as any other. Knowledge may lead you to power, but it can also make your mind a prisoner of self-reliance. Freedom also comes with acceptance and the courage to just let it be.

Assumptions are not an entirely irrational thing to have, as long as we stick to their denotative meaning. A healthy attitude towards assumptions is to bear in mind that a belief remains a belief in spite of how strongly I feel in relation to it. Assumptions are not facts, but widespread subjective notions that do not require proof to be validated. Time may be an indication of how tightly connected an assumption has become to a group’s sense of identity, but that is all. Because an assumption has been held for a long time still does not make it true. How comfortable would you currently be with the idea that the earth is flat? The belief was held for over 200 years and it still did not change the shape of our planet.