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April 2005

Rest Assured

Ways to improve your self-confidence

In a world where the emphasis is on always looking cool, it can be hard to admit failure and own up to a few personal shortcomings. Self-confidence comes naturally to some, but others are often crippled by a lack of self-esteem, which hangs heavy over them and inhibits them. At the work-place and in relationships are the areas where most people suffer from low self-confidence. Employees worry about making mistakes that could endanger their job in an age of high unemployment. And relationships aren’t as committed as they once were as serial monogamy becomes the norm, with relationships dissolving as soon as something goes wrong.

We all know the self-confident types: the men and women who walk through life with a swagger. But that brash attitude sometimes hides self-doubt and a fear of failure. It takes a truly self-confident person to speak openly about their flaws and realize that authenticity is attractive. Other people can be naturally shy and reticent, or habitually play down their own strengths. Some of them temporarily suffer from low self-confidence because of an isolated incident in their lives, such as a failed relationship or being made redundant. A lack of self-esteem can also stem from childhood experiences and might then become critical after a crisis in someone’s life. Whatever the cause, low self-esteem can hold people back, stop them from fulfilling their dreams and mean that they allow themselves to get hurt time and again by others. It can become an ordeal to flirt or socially interact with members of the opposite sex, out of fear of rejection. And, if left untreated, low self-confidence can lead to bouts of depression.

The good news is that self-confidence can be learned. Role-playing with a partner or in a small group is a powerful tool in teaching people how to become more assertive, according to Dr. Thomas Maurer, a trained psychological psychotherapist, based in Munich. A helpful exercise is to ask someone to do you a favor, without explaining at length the reason why you want him or her to help you and without subsequently apologizing for asking them. Another behavioral tip is to welcome and not reject positive feedback from others. “If I tell you that you’ve got nice shoes, a good answer would be to say ‘Yes, thanks,’” says Maurer. “A bad answer would be something like, ‘No, not really, they’re cheap and I bought them ages ago.’”

As well as accepting compliments and positive feedback, people who lack self-confidence must learn how to deal with criticism, according to Maurer. It is also essential to set personal boundaries with partners and bosses, and in everyday situations. People can kick themselves after not having raised their voice at work when they should have or after having let someone take advantage of them. In other circumstances, men and women can fail to say “no” when it is appropriate, even when just buying a pair of shoes. “It is important to be able to go into a shop and say ‘no thanks’ to a shop assistant who has just shown you six pairs of shoes,” says Maurer. “You should then be able to walk out of the shop without buying shoes you don’t want and without buying shoe polish or a packet of shoelaces. You don’t have to be aggressive or harsh. This can all be done in a friendly manner.”

Maurer works part-time at the Gesundheitspark, which is part of Munich’s Volkshochschule, the city’s adult education center, coordinating their self-help courses. Among the variety of classes held at the Gesundheitspark are basic and advanced assertiveness training; how to handle conflict in a self-confident manner; how to act self-confidently in difficult situations; attaining an inner attitude of self-assertiveness and how to gain self-confidence.

The courses start with a short, theoretical outline of communication and behavioral techniques, such as how best to handle conflict or how to appear more powerful by holding eye contact with another person.

Individuals taking the course also hone their techniques in vivo, namely in real-life situations. They are given advice by the course leader before spending a couple of hours acting out their assigned situation, such as buying something in a shop and then returning to the group a couple of hours later to discuss how they got on and to receive feedback.

Individuals who develop a social phobia and whose lives become affected by seriously low self-confidence can take self-assertiveness classes at the Gesundheitspark. The cost will be partially covered by German health insurance if a course has been prescribed by a doctor. Visitors see an in-house doctor and under-go in-house counselling to find the course best suited to their needs. <<<


• Confront situations that you would normally avoid and try out more self-confident behavior. Don’t worry if it doesn’t go perfectly.
• Work out what you would like to learn and set yourself increasingly difficult tasks.
• Think about what characterizes self-confident behavior to you and what situations you would like to practice this behavior in.
• Explore your weaknesses and previous mistakes. Think about how you could have behaved differently in specific situations.
• Work out what you are scared of if you act self-confidently. What is the worst case you can imagine?

For further information on self-assertiveness courses at the Gesundheitspark, contact: Tel. 30 61 01-0/33/51.

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