How I Learned To Tell Myself To ‘Shut Up’

Or, how to embrace your confidence and to eliminate toxic shame.

For much of my adult working life, I’ve worked within the recruitment sector. Creative recruitment, to be exact. My role was often very demanding. I’d be required to find new clients (including cold calling), maintain existing client relationships, ask for and take job briefs, search for suitable candidates, interview suitable candidates, reference check suitable candidates, present across the suitable candidates and then, lastly, convince the client as to why they were the most suitable candidates that they would be able to find. On top of all of that, while this was going on, we were often finding that we would need to justify our existence and our rate every step of the way. There is often a line within that industry that people never choose to be a recruiter, it is a job that they fall into. When it came to creative recruitment, it was often just that tough harder as we weren’t talking about a job that people just ‘did for the money’. These were creatives and their jobs were often a reflection of who they identified themselves as being as well. This wasn’t a job – this was who they were.

There is no denying it, to be successful in this job often took a lot of confidence and a lot of courage. There was no shortage of hard conversations that had to happen each day and avoiding those conversations would impact on your own professionalism. If someone wasn’t right for the job or didn’t get the job, you would need to figure out the best way to tell them that wasn’t going to hurt their pride. One colleague of mine once referred to this as ‘the dream hammer’, and it wasn’t a part of the job that any of us liked.

Alternatively, you may find yourself in a situation with a completely dissatisfied client who wasn’t impressed with anyone who had been presented although they seemed reluctant to take on board any of their own personal involvement in that outcome, such as having a non-existent or unrealistic brief or just not interviewing well. The number of times I had sold the opportunity within a position to someone only to have that ruined by an arrogant prospective employer who felt that people should be thankful he had a position for them to go for. Those conversations were hard!

I proved to be very successful as a recruiter. I would often comment on how remarkable that was. Away from the office, I’m far more of an introvert who enjoys my own space and yet I’ve been very successful in my many different careers at networking when it was required. I was great at building relationships with clients and with candidates. One of the biggest compliments I ever got was when a client once pulled me aside and said to me, ‘I don’t feel like you’re a service provider – you’re our partner!” To this day, I still recall the way my heart sang knowing that someone had invested that much faith in the relationship we had developed and all that hard, hard work I had placed in had truly paid off. Sadly, a corporate takeover meant that I would lose that client within a few years although that was completely outside of both my client and my control. Learning how to let go was another part of this job because things often didn’t work out the way you wanted. That’s what happens when you throw basic human needs into the mix.

Now, you might be thinking, ‘this is all well and good that you’re reminiscing down Recruitment Lane, Lawrence – but what has all this got to do with the topic of ‘confidence’ and ‘toxic shame'” Good question!

Who is that imposter?

You see, throughout all that time, despite being a high achiever within the company I worked for and setting benchmarks for others to aspire to, I felt like a complete fraud. There was a part of me that was waiting to be discovered as a fake. I felt like all the success that I ever had was the result of a lucky fluke and I felt like it wasn’t long before people found that out. Despite all the success I had achieved and the many people placed in roles, I still lacked faith and confidence in my own abilities.

The logical part of me could observe that and realise that it wasn’t real. I could identify it as ‘imposter syndrome’ and aim to focus on the fact that the proof was in the results. Yet, as soon as things became under pressure (which in recruitment was often) and I felt like things were getting on top of me, that imposter syndrome would kick in and I would start to believe that I was just not good enough at what I did. This would often frighten me.

So where did this lack of confidence come from? Why was it that I would believe something like this about me when everything I did suggested that I was actually a recruitment superstar? This is where shame steps in.

Where do your beliefs come from?

Research has shown that all of our beliefs develop between birth and 10 years of age. We may not even recall the exact moment that we developed that belief about our self, however, once that belief has been formed, we do what we do with all beliefs which are to go looking for proof that our belief is correct. As meaning-making machines, we experience things and then we translate that to make it mean what we think it should mean and often this turns into a reinforcement of those beliefs.

We often hear of absent fathers or dominating mothers, and in those circumstances, we can understand why it is that people may feel unlovable or deeply flawed. It is important to understand though that it doesn’t take an obviously traumatic experience to be the cause for a faulty belief about ourselves.

Many years ago, my parents decided that they were going to go to Hobart for their wedding anniversary. At the time, I would’ve been maybe three or four; certainly not very old and still so young that I believed that the world revolved around me. At that age, I couldn’t understand why it was that my parents were not taking me with them. Surely I was the most important thing to them? Surely I should be going with them. At that moment, I had developed a belief that I was not important enough to them; that I was flawed.

Now, as an adult, I can reflect back on that experience and realise, ‘Damn! All your parents wanted to do was to have a weekend away.’ I can review that experience through my adult eyes and understand that the meaning I had made from it as a child was not correct and that my parents actually just wanted to have some time away together without any of their five children dragging along. As a child though, it was an event that created that belief. I would continue to look for evidence that the belief was right, and I might find it in many places over the years, long after the initial event had been long forgotten. As the years went on, that belief just becomes an ingrained part of my reality until I utilised hypnosis to help resolve it however the impact had been felt all through my life. After all, it was a belief that was almost as old as I was myself!

Once those ‘shame messages’ have been created and believed to be part of our reality, it shapes our perception moving forward. I’ve often spoken to people about the beliefs of their wounded inner child and how we are really all just walking around with this fragile 10-year-old view. Sit with someone long enough and listen out for their vulnerability and you’ll often hear that childlike belief creep through. Watch someone lose their temper and watch them throw a ‘hissy fit’ and you can see that childlike behaviour literally coming to life in front of you. We can often regress back in our behaviour in circumstances and events where we tend to feel out of control and which trigger a reinforcement of those beliefs we hold about ourselves and try to keep secret from the world.

For many people who experience ‘imposter syndrome’, it is a combination of those shame messages along with a need for an impossible level of perfectionism that keeps them on that edge and makes life difficult.

So how did I deal with my imposter syndrome?

Good question.

I have to say that there are still times when it may peek through; certainly when I find myself in new situations and environments where I may have to be vulnerable. In those instances, it is important to be mindful of my thoughts and feelings and emotions, reminding myself frequently that my thoughts are just thoughts and not fact. Too often we get caught up in the belief that the thoughts we have are fact, however, logic would dictate that it would be impossible for me to ‘mind read’ what others are thinking about me or my ability.

It’s also important to realise that a little bit of anxiety is not actually a bad thing. It helps to keep you focused, engaged and can be used as a motivation to learn and explore more and to feel prepared. If you’re in your job and you feel that there is a gap in your knowledge, then you need to be taking responsibility for that belief and doing what you can to close that gap as much as possible.

Of course, if you are driving from a level of absolute perfectionism, then you need to learn some values around self-acceptance. In short, you need to accept that no one is perfect, including yourself, and to ‘cut yourself some slack’. Self-forgiveness for the mistakes you’ve made and to take on board the lessons that you’ve learned in that process. Understand that you are going to make mistakes in life and that is ok because it is through these mistakes that you learn. Self-acceptance for all of your flaws because these are the things that make you human.

Using mindfulness to become aware of the thoughts and feelings that you have. In many ways, you want to be able to become an observer of your thoughts, approaching them with a certain level of curiosity and scepticism. When you’re experiencing a negative belief about yourself, you’ll want to be able to approach that thought and question it socratically. How do you know this to be true? What would it mean to be true? What would it mean if it was not true? How would life be different if it wasn’t true? To be able to recognise that you are NOT your thoughts and that your thoughts are NOT always true can be absolutely liberating.

For me personally, I find that reminding myself that I am not in competition with anyone else can help me to step away from the compulsive need to compare myself and my ‘success’ to that of other peoples. I seemingly can’t change that default thought to set just yet, but I can catch myself doing it and when I do, I can play with the mindset I bring with it. If I approach those situations with a sense of playfulness, suddenly the situation that may have made me feel anxious and question my ability becomes something that is just ‘a playful moment’. I’m stepping into that experience and I’m experimenting and that is ok. It doesn’t mean that I don’t want to do a great job nor does it mean that I don’t come prepared, but it does mean that I accept that this one moment is not going to sum me up. We all have good days, we all have bad days and we all have days where we can stop being so serious and just remember to play.

Lastly, it is important to remember that real change can only happen when you step outside the comfort zone. When you’re in the comfort zone, you’re in default mode. You’re on autopilot. You’re using the existing programming that is there and you run that program to the letter. When you step outside the comfort zone, it’s all new and fresh. There is that combination of nervousness and excitement. You don’t know how things are going to turn out and, frankly, that scares the crap out of most people. There is no denying that it might not turn out well but that’s ok because not everything will and then you can use that experience to shape how you do it better next time. There is also the possibility that it may turn out far better than what you could’ve ever expected. The reality is that you won’t know until you learn how to sit with that discomfort and to just do it.

Discovering my inner confidence.

Whether it be regressing back and resourcing past experiences that defined ill-formed beliefs or finding that moment of courage to step outside the comfort zone, breaking down the wall of shame and stepping into a confidence state can only come from trying it and doing it. If you’re finding that you struggle to take that step off the ledge, then just pretend that you’re already there and act as if you’re the most experienced, confident person on the planet. Even if it fools you for half a second, it will still be enough time to take that initial step and to get those wheels in motion. I can never promise that every attempt will be successful but you’ll soon realise that you can survive those situations anyway and that they’re never as bad as how you made them out to be in your head. Within us, all is the ability to find self-acceptance and self-love; better known as self-esteem. When we value who we are and what we have to offer, then we can truly make a difference in our world.

Embrace Your Confidence and Eliminate Your Toxic Shame Workshop

Lawrence from Release Hypnosis and Joe from Equator Therapies are running a workshop titled ‘Embrace Your Confidence and Eliminate Your Toxic Shame’ on Sunday, May 27th at Hypnotherapy HQ on St Kilda Rd, Melbourne. Full details and where to get tickets is available here.

Book Your Ticket to this Workshop NOW!

You might also like to read:
Book Review: Healing The Shame That Binds You
What is Shame (Really)?
Book Review: Daring Greatly
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Lawrence Akers

About Lawrence Akers

My approach is simple; I work with clients to determine what they want to get rid of, what they want instead and what that gap in their resources are that is preventing them from doing it. My focus is not just on motivation but on the capability to do it as well.