What do we mean by confidence? Here’s a reflection I wrote on this last year:
I listened today to a radio discussion about confidence, including about how parents can encourage children to be confident and what experiences might strengthen, or undermine, a person’s confidence in life.
It’s a very interesting theme to reflect upon—on the same day as I read an article about what a misleading and unhelpful thing is what is called ‘business confidence’.
The radio talk-back included a number of callers who reflected on experiences of life which undermined their confidence, or that of someone they know and love. Sometimes it was the suffering or death of a family member, sometimes the breakdown of a relationship, and so on.
What’s interesting in many of these instances is that ‘confidence’ is so directly related to belonging and relationship.
It’s so misleading when our individualist culture seems to suggested that ‘you’ have to have confidence, as if you have to get it, keep it, build it up like a bank account or like strength in your muscles. Go to the psychological gym and get some confidence.
Confidence is lived in relationship.
Another deeply insightful person rang in to say that what helped him to develop some confidence was experiences of failure. He went on to describe times when he made the wrong decision, in his business, and lost money, or the deep distress of a relationship ending.
The crucial thing here was that he spoke of learning from his experiences: first, that he had survived. Sure, he had ‘failed’, but he had also survived. Whatever he had lost, it was not the end.
That was so significant.
It led me to reflect upon my own experiences, and specifically on how helpful was the counselling I received immediately after the tsunami.
Post-traumatic stress is a long term issue, and I am not in the slightest going to diminish the long term effects this has had on me and my family.
But there is also the immediate issue of dealing with the right-then trauma and here the counselling articulated some self-talk which I found very helpful.
When the horror of that event comes at you, again and again (which it did and it does), you can say to yourself: ‘Yes, it really did happen. But it is over now, and I am here, and safe.’
To say this does not change things, in one sense. But in another way it is so helpful.
I think survivors of many kinds of trauma will have their own stories. There is no formula or magic solution. But there is a way through: and I believe it is given to us in relationship.
There’s a connection with what the guy on the radio said, and this story of my own.
The basic point is: no matter how I might feel or how badly people might treat me, or how difficult things might be … still I have survived, I am alive. ‘Tomorrow is another day.’
Psychology has a lot to offer in terms of how children may develop what was defined decades ago as ‘basic trust’.
The Bible also has much to say about confidence. The reality is that trust and confidence have their significance in the face of difficulties and struggle. We would not even speak of it if there were no challenges or problems.
The apostle Paul’s great pronouncement of trust in the God made known in Christ Jesus—’nothing can separate us for the love of God…’ (Romans 8. 31 – 39) is made precisely because the things listed threaten us. Our confidence is challenged.
Isaiah 30.15 is an interesting verse, suggesting that God invites confidence: ‘In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and confidence (or trust) shall be your strength.’
Confidence here is not an individual matter, it is a matter of social and political stance. The nation has ‘refused’, instead preferring alliances and the performances of religion, as if these guarantee freedom and security.
Trust, together, as a just and merciful community which has itself received mercy—the gift of life itself, that is what will be their strength, God promises.
It’s the same for us all.
Confidence is not about having no fears or worries. It’s about standing together and living through them. You don’t ‘have’ confidence. Together we live it.