Reclaiming Confidence After Fear

I am not a fearful person – there is very little that will make me feel so, I’ve always been difficult to scare and having been a rather emotionally detached person for the vast majority of my life, I have always been desensitised to generally offensive or alarmist news articles or the sight gags of horror films, but of late, I’ve found an unease in the simplest, most innocent of activities – running.

In January, while out running, a woman was killed – perhaps a daily occurrence in other countries, but here in New Zealand, in the elite suburb of Remuera, in broad daylight, on a main road with usually heavy traffic and on her everyday usual running route, a woman was murdered.

She was killed by someone she didn’t know, randomly and seemingly without motive. After being reportedly struck with an undisclosed object, she crawled to the lawn of a nearby house and lay there hoping for attention for an hour before she the owners of the house saw her (not their fault – how often do you look out the window to admire your lawn?). The man turned himself in a few hours later and there haven’t been many more details about the attack released.

While to some it may have been just the daily news, to me it hit home a little more – not at first, but later that day once news broke and after upon finding out, my partner expressed worriedly how easily it could have been me.

The woman was killed on my usual running route – a common route for runners in the area.

The woman was killed on my usual running route at the exact time I was out running - one street away - because I’d decided my touch-and-go knees weren’t up to the hills on that route that day.

The woman was killed, on my usual running route, at the exact time I was running, where if not for my knees, I would have been at the same point, at the same time, and potentially could have found myself in the same predicament…this was the hitting-home point.

Remuera to me, had always been a sanctuary, a suburb where everyone smiles and says hello to each other, morning runners greet each other in the wee hours with grins that seems to convey the motivational cheer to ‘keep going’, it had been a place where there was no thought against walking alone at night or running through the bush trail as it started to get dark because this, was a place of sanctuary.

In the wake of the murder, many women became fearful of repeats and thus a ‘take back the night’ style running rally was arranged for Remuera women to reclaim their running routes without fear. The event was hailed by the runners as restorative though some still took to social media to show off their new personal alarms, showcasing their still palpable fear of repeat attacks (albeit through the cheerful display of matching one’s alarm to one’s running clothes) because once the hundreds of other feet plodding beside you dissipate, once it returns to just being you, alone on the street, it’s a different feeling.

The first time I ran again after the attack, I held my dog’s choker chain in my hand – I don’t particularly know what I was planning to do with it – perhaps get a couple of strikes in or end up wearing it myself on a stranger’s lawn but it took away the apprehension for the duration of the run. When I returned home, I realised the absurdity, the danger and the illegality of carrying what was basically a weapon as I ran.

The second or third time I ran (a few weeks later), I noticed a car without licence plates driving alongside me. The driver was hanging out of his car window, staring directly at me, expressionless. At the time, I didn’t think much of it, that perhaps it was just the token creepy guy that girls get leering at them as they run and that he’d leave soon enough. I continued running, rounding a couple of corners, noticing the car still following me, stopping when I stopped to cross a road, rounding the same corners as I, driving at a snail’s pace across the road from me, matching my speed for several streets until I ducked in to a nearby park. At one point, I’d taken a stealthy snapchat of the car and sent it to my boyfriend, just in case something did happen.

When I got home (alert to my surroundings), my boyfriend urged me to call the police. I declined initially because I felt like it was a waste of resources – who do you even call, it’s not an emergency? – I felt like it was just being weak and alarmist to tattle-tale to the police when nothing had actually happened but after some prompting, I called and reported it, solely because I thought it suspicious that the car had no plates – it seemed too motivated and I wouldn’t want to have known about it and find out something had happened to someone else.

Ever since the two incidents, I haven’t really run – I plan to - I lay out my clothes, heck one night I slept in my running clothes so all I’d need to do was put on my shoes, but when I’ve woken to see the dark mornings, a feeling of apprehension has taken over and I’ve made my excuses to go back to bed. The only times I have run have been in full daylight on busy streets, eschewing my preferred routes of bush trail and solitude in the darker hours I love for hot and sticky times of daylight hours where the streets are littered with people and the routes congested.

It’s an entirely new feeling – the apprehension and unease – where something as innocent as daily exercise has become tainted with a pit of fear in my chest.

There was a good line to describe it in the late-nineties TV show, ‘Roswell’ once:

“It’s funny how the world changes sometimes, how the streets you’ve walked your entire life seem darker, colder. How the silence isn’t so quiet anymore. How eyes you’ve barely even noticed now look at nothing but you. How the walk home every night is no longer routine but a victory. And then you begin to wonder – maybe it’s not the world that’s changed, maybe it’s just you but then something happened and suddenly you being to wonder all over again.” (S1, E3 –“Missing”)

These two incidents have collectively taken something from me, a freedom and delight I’d found in the simple act of running – a necessity considering the training required for the running goals my boyfriend and I have for this year. I’ve forced myself out only once of late, waiting until the morning light began to emerge, and sticking to a busy traffic route – sans weapons but also without headphones in order to stay alert. How do we find solace again after something happens to shake you in places you didn’t know existed? How do we return to a place of confidence and fearlessness?

For me, it’s my own personal brand of exposure therapy – I’ve never been fearful of anything, I don’t like being vulnerable, I don’t like feeling weak because I am an inherently strong person emotionally and I’ve always despised any show to the contrary with the exception of my partner. I try everything and anything, things I’ve never done before, apprehensive or not because if you’re fearful of life, you’ll never try anything, you’ll never accomplish anything.

It’s a refusal now to accept anything less and thus I will be running again every morning, throwing myself in the deep end again back to the bush trails I love at the time before the sun rises where the world is quiet and the air crisp, where runners greet each other with motivational cheers through welcoming smiles and the world seems to slow down just for you - with one proviso, the headphones stay at home.

It would be reckless to pretend the world is a perfect place, that people are all inherently good and that an innocent run through the local bush track will always remain exactly that, but rather it’s about facing what you’re afraid of, or in my case, apprehensive about – acknowledging the fear and why it affects you so and pushing through it to retrieve the confidence that is so rightfully yours.

What are you afraid of?

Recognising and Overcoming Low Self Esteem

We all experience problems with our self-esteem at times, but if your overall view of yourself is consistently low, it might be time to make some changes. Low self-esteem has been defined by Psychologist Marilyn J. Sorensen as “an irrational and distorted view of self that affects the person’s assumptions, interpretations, perceptions, conclusions & beliefs about himself or herself as well as others” and is now recognised as a stand-alone condition.

When you have healthy self-esteem, you are able to feel good about yourself and are less vulnerable to the opinions of others – whether real or perceived. If your self-esteem is too low, you place too little value on your own opinions and beliefs, and may be self-critical and negative. Low self-esteem affects every area of your life. In relationships; insecurity, defensiveness, and a tendency to overreact can create situations that heighten the fear of making mistakes. This furthers the cycle of anxiety as perceived concerns can become real issues. Hypersensitivity is a common side effect as sufferers feel so inadequate they are convinced that others must be seeing them the same way. As a defense mechanism, those with low self-esteem are likely to look for signs that this is happening as a means of protection, leading them to be overly sensitive and reactive.

Usually, once a sufferer has acknowledged their overreaction, the realisation that they may have been acting irrationally further instills the opinion that they ‘must be stupid’ or ‘an inadequate person’, leading to feelings of worthlessness, guilt and shame. Sorensen observes ‘self-esteem attacks’ that can occur when a sufferer believes that he or she has said something or done something incorrect or that others may perceive as such. As a result, periods of self-loathing can follow with “excruciating anxiety, remorse, embarrassment, depression and/or devastation.”

These periods can last for hours, days, weeks or months.

So where to from low? It is important to note that although your particular views of yourself appear to be fact, they are merely opinion. Through past experiences and learned behavior, your self-image and the stories you tell yourself have been conditioned. If your past experiences of failure have been negative, it’s likely that your view of self will be too. If the authority figures in your life such as parents, teachers or peers have been unnecessarily critical of you, it is likely that you will continue to re-enforce these negative beliefs in adulthood. But like any habit, these beliefs can be changed with practice.

Make some personal commitments:

Perfectionism is a Trap

It’s ok to make mistakes. Failure is both an option and a likely outcome when any risk is taken. Make mistakes. Just learn from them. Nothing and no one is perfect. Any attempt to be such will only feed feelings of inadequacy.

Learn to Say No

Maybe you grew up in a dysfunctional family. Perhaps you were made to play peacekeeper and this has carried into your adult relationships. It isn’t your responsibility to be anyone other than who you are. Don’t change your nature to please people. While this will take practice, and will likely be terrifying the first time, it is ok to disagree with people who don’t see things your way. When you can finally be yourself, feelings of guilt or shame will be replaced with those of freedom.

Set Your Own Expectations

It is up to you to write the rulebook for who you are and what is important to you. Set your own expectations for who you should be and do everything in your power to achieve the things that matter to you. The naysayers in your life may cry “you can’t do that job” or “you can’t run that far!” What they really mean is “I can’t do that job,” “I can’t run that far” and to see you do it would only make them feel less accomplished.

Set the bar at the height that works for you.

Stop Punishing Yourself

You will fall down, likely often, and the negative thoughts will creep back in. Recalibrate. Go for a walk, run, swim, meditate. Do whatever it is you need to do to bring your thoughts back in line with who you actually are rather than who you irrationally perceive yourself to be. Pick yourself up. Objectively evaluate what went wrong and why. Plan measures to prevent reoccurrences and try again.

You already possess all of the skills and strengths you need to become the person you want to be. Find it in yourself and be it.

The Pale Blue Dot and the Lethality of Loneliness

In the film 'Men, Women and Children', the lead character Tim (Ansel Elgort) has given up. A life once filled with football games and the persona that went with the status of being the MVP becomes one of introversion, self-reflection and the question of 'What's the Point?' - a change brought about after the character watches Carl Sagan's 'Pale Blue Dot' which points out just how insignificant we are in the greater scheme of things. 

As his life continues to spiral swiftly and without pause, Tim attempts suicide but is interrupted by his girlfriend who sensed something was wrong. 

A byproduct of Depression is that you do turn to philosophy, to poetry, to novels and psychology books in an effort to simultaneously contemplate existence and melt into a state of nonexistence, numbness, the words in these books fueling your inflection but also reinforcing the pointlessness of making an effort when human life is in fact insignificant in the context of the universe. 

Pair this with the antidepressants that are prescribed with more ease than a child buying candy and the situation is further elevated. Loneliness is a universal concept, one that is misinterpreted as weakness, one that is overlooked by many and one that is experienced by all. The difficulty is in creating a world for yourself wherein you don't find yourself spiraling at the thought of it. This is of particular importance to teens who find themselves extradited from circles with relatively high frequency due to the pressures of peers at school.

By learning to be ok alone, you're taking the power away from loneliness and giving the power back to yourself. 

Our tips for learning to love solitude:

Solitude is actually amazing. It's a time for inflection and focus, it allows you to be a complete idiot with your dog or cat and there's noone around to judge. The added benefit of being happy alone is that the world opens up in ways it was never open to you before. 

Go to a movie alone

I go to movies by myself all the time. People think it's odd - though the other people I know who go solo think it's necessary sometimes. If you think about it, a movie is the easiest way to edge into solitary confidence. You can't talk to anyone because you're in a movie, it's dark, no one is looking at you or caring about what you're doing, they're there to see a movie and mack in the back row. You give yourself a couple of hours by yourself, effectively on a date with yourself and no one is the wiser but you've just taken the first step. 

Go to the gym alone

Going to the gym alone is another easy one. No one is there to look at you, they're all in their own little gym tunnelvision worlds and so are you, it's an easy out to head to the gym, do your workout and head back home without even realising anyone else is there. 

Go to dinner alone (or breakfast or lunch)

Having a meal by yourself has been made to sound crazy in film, and most feel that they have to have something to do to make it OK - playing on their phones, taking a book to read or typing away on their laptop and perhaps this will help ease you into it though once you become more comfortable with it, you'll find it's actually really enjoyable. The people-watching is fun, you can quietly eavesdrop on people's conversations and hear the absurdity of their lives while patting yourself on the back for being so much more together. 

Here's the big one: Travel Alone

When I was 13, I hopped a plane to New Caledonia and it was my first time travelling without my parents. I had always thought that if I traveled, I would do it with friends, a grand OE but every time I was presented with an opportunity, I chose to go it alone. It throws you in to the deep end and forces you to be ok with solitude really fast. At 18, I went to Italy and Paris alone - Italy was a Contiki tour (which is a great way to ease into it, starting with a large group of strangers and then tapering off to just being solo once the tour finishes). At 22, I spent three months in the United States alone, doing a combo of Contiki tours and solo travel, the list goes on. Whenever I travel, I find time to go it alone. Even if travelling with friends, just the simple act of taking yourself off for a solo date for the afternoon or day to wander a new city, take in a show or a lunch, saunter the boardwalks of beachy communities, alone with your thoughts, it's an amazing way to build your solitary confidence. 

As you become more comfortable with these things, you'll find that you can go weeks or months without feeling the need to see anyone (though we don't recommend just holding up in your house all Howard Hughes-like, you should definitely leave your house and wear clothes), you don't feel the crushing need to be with someone, that you're unwanted or unloved because you're single or feeling like you're so alone because to you now, there is no such thing. 

It's not an overnight thing, it takes time but fighting the lethality of loneliness is imperative not just for your mental health and happiness but for your own solitary confidence. 

To expand further on the Lethality of Loneliness, we've posted a video below of John Cacioppo speaking on this very topic at his TED Talk.

Quick Steps to Instant Self-Confidence

Self Confidence is something so many of us struggle with – whether it’s trying to keep up with the aesthetics we’re presented with so often in media or just the ability to speak our mind without feeling the fear of judgement, self-confidence is an incredibly important and often difficult to attain characteristic.

While the barriers to self-confidence can be rooted far deeper for most, often just the simplest things can lift our self-confidence to new heights and go some way towards improving our emotional well being.

Personal Presentation

If you ever notice the way you feel when you’ve put effort in to your appearance versus the way you feel when you nip down the street in your yoga pants, you’ll know what a little extra effort can do for your spirits. We always go by the theory that we should dress as if we’re going to run into a client or for some, dress as if you’re going to run into an ex. It doesn’t have to mean that you spend two hours getting ready in the morning, but simply ensuring you’re ‘polished’ -  tidy, clean and pressed clothing, brushed hair, and perhaps a little sassy lick of lipstick can make us feel confident in even the most casual attire .

A New 'Do'

We all know that salon-new feeling you get when you first get a new haircut – you want to make plans to go out that evening to show it off, you feel sassy, you feel confident and beautiful. A new style, cut or colour has the overwhelmingly positive effect of making those nasty confidence drainers disappear and helps bolster step one around our polished presentation.

If you’re feeling a bit down in the dumps or frumpy, a new cut can work wonders.

Posture

Have you ever noticed the way you feel when you lift your posture even slightly? It’s a feeling of refinement, of innate confidence and acceptance. Instead of hiding from view in your hunch, the shoulders back-chin up-belly taut posture has not only a positive effect on you and your feeling of confidence but also in your view of how others see you. When you’re hunched over and seemingly trying to hide from every passer-by, you tend to lean towards the notion that they’ll judge you for your appearance, for your outfit – whatever, but when you carry yourself confidently, that feeling transfers to your emotional wellbeing, giving you a big boost in spirits and in confidence and those feelings of judgement transform into feelings of admiration.

Just think of your thoughts when you see a woman carrying herself strongly and confidently or better yet, make it an experiment. Next time you’re out, look around you as you wander down the street, take note of your thoughts when you see a confident woman striding down past with eyes front and chin up and then again when you see someone who has a similar stance to you.