Woe Is Me! “I’ve Been Bullied a Lot. Will I Ever Be Confident Again?”
Woe Is Me! is a series in which The Swaddle team indulges your pity party with advice you’ll probably ignore.
“I’m troubled by confidence issues because of instances of severe workplace harassment and childhood bullying. Although as a teenager and a young adult I was able to draw in confidence, but ever since my traumatic events of the workplace harassment, I have been unable to channelize confidence to the level I know I can. I find it difficult to trust people and I am constantly second-guessing myself and it doesn’t help that my family keeps second-guessing me. I can’t help but feel envious of people who are so confident in their own skin, which I really want and I end up feeling envious of these people who haven’t necessarily seen the trauma I have seen.”
— May I Shine?
KB: I’m sorry. It’s incredibly difficult to feel confident if the people closest to you don’t lift you up, support you, and love you unconditionally. You are right that the most innately confident people are ones who have always had unflinching support from those around them, who have dedicated mentors, giving families, and loving friends. But that does not mean that people who haven’t had that blessing are destined to live a life of crippling insecurity. You will just need to look harder for people outside your immediate circle who don’t second guess you, and you will have to do the hardest thing of all: learn to rely on yourself for all the encouragement and positive feedback you need. Because ultimately, the people who need other people’s approval are actually not the most self-confident; the ultimate freedom is needing to only be true to yourself, and live up to your own standards, to feel fulfilled.
SK: You will, even though it seems like the hardest thing right now. I’m sorry about the trauma you’ve experienced, it must have changed so many things for you in ways big and small. I wonder if the harassment is still continuing and if you have spoken to someone about it? If it is — and you would have heard this and read this enough — you must must remember that it’s not on you or it’s a consequence of something you did. There can be no excuse for harassment or bullying. Please talk to someone, remove yourself from the situation, act or quit, whichever option works for your situation. But facing mistreatment in the workplace has loads to do with how you feel about yourself, so doing something about this will definitely help.
I’m sorry your family doesn’t support you: do you think they will be open to having a transparent conversation with them about how you’d like them to have your back, as they should. If they don’t, realize that families can be toxic too, and don’t give them enough power to hurt you. Find solace in closer friends who love you for who are. Second-guessing yourself must be crazy exhausting, but I don’t think it ever goes away for a lot of people. Confidence is great and people who are sure of themselves and everything they do are indeed admirable, but it’s okay if you’re not as decisive about some things? You can still doubt yourself every now and then, it’s natural, but it doesn’t have to define who you are. Trauma is scarring and I believe you when you say that it’s hard to come back. Take your time to grieve, heal, cope in ways that work best for you. But in the larger scheme of things, I think it helps to remember that it is a part of you, not the whole. I don’t know about confidence, but you’re damn strong either way!
LG: You are, you know — you’re stronger than you think. You’ve weathered bullying and harassment and you’re reaching out for help — acts of strength, even if they don’t feel like it. When you feel low-confidence, hold on to that, at the very least. It sounds like you might benefit from talking to a therapist, who could help you get to the root of your insecurities and guide you in how to manage them so they don’t take control of you. If that’s not possible, set aside time every day — even if it’s just five minutes — to focus on the things you like about yourself. Write them down — it might sound silly, but writing has power. It forces us to confront and explore our emotions, thoughts, and beliefs about ourselves. Similarly, pay attention to the negative narratives you’re telling yourself. We tell ourselves stories about who we are all the time — ‘I’m not good at this’; ‘I’m always messing up that’; ‘There’s no way I could ever do that.’ But these are simply stories, just like those we’d read in a book — except we can change their endings. When you’re second-guessing yourself, take a moment, and change the narrative. Instead of focusing on your inadequacy or inability or fear (whatever it is you dwell on), think of the opportunity for learning, even if you fail. Think of how far you’ve come in your ability to take a decision at all. Everything you’re doing — mistakes, errors and successes — is leading to a better you.
And for what it’s worth — all of those people you look at and think are so confident? They’re just as insecure as you, though maybe in different ways. I promise. Good luck, you budding wildflower. You’ll see your petals soon.
DR: I wish there was a simple answer to your question — just so that I could stop wondering about it in my life too. Having experienced some of the same things that you appear to have gone through, I can tell you some things that I’ve found helpful, and hope that they work for you too. Like you correctly said, one of the biggest costs of bullying and harassment is a loss of confidence. So, to address that, I think you can start with being more forgiving of yourself. I think the reason confidence becomes one of the casualties of bullying is because somewhere deep within us, we blame ourselves for getting picked on, and not being able to protect ourselves. And I think forgiveness can go hand-in-hand with acceptance also. To be honest, both of these can take a long time and are also challenging — but I do think it’s definitely worth it.
Also, if it’s the opinions of the bullies and harassers that continue to linger at the back of your mind, it might help to look at it like this: they were not trying to give you their honest, unbiased opinions; they were driven by a motivation to get a kick out of bullying/harassing you to feel better about themselves. And do you want to trust the opinions of someone, who needs to put others down just so they can feel better about themselves? I hope this helps. Good luck!
AS: I feel terrible that you’ve gone through all this trauma and harassment, and first off, I just want to send you virtual hugs and high-fives, to tell you that you’re powerful and you will get through this! There’s nothing we can do to undo the past, but we can control the amount of hold it has over us. You clearly had a horrible experience at a toxic workplace, and to put it truly in the past, maybe you need to try re-writing that experience? Maybe just freelance for a bit, and be your own boss. Alternatively, don’t hold back from applying to new places, but be super selective based on company culture and ethics — that might help you find a place where you feel nurtured and supported. But work is obviously not everything, so even in your personal life, maybe there are some new experiences you could channel to bring back your confidence. For instance, maybe you could join a mentoring group for young adults who face the same issues as you did? That might help you look back at how much stronger you are now, and your experience may help someone else. Or perhaps, a virtual support group for those trying to overcome childhood bullying? It might be a nice place to engage with people that understand what you’ve been through. Reduce time with your family if they seem to pull you down, and surround yourself only with people that build you up. I don’t know you well (obviously) but from the way you’ve worded this woe, I want to guess that your older, more confident self is right there, just slightly under the surface. In your own words, you said you know you can channelize that confidence — and I think that self-belief is a great place to start.