Ask an Overthinker: Should You Fake Confidence?

I love this image, which I first saw on one of Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s columns.

I love this image, which I first saw on one of Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s columns.

Beautiful Voyager advice columnist Mohammedi Khan

Beautiful Voyager advice columnist Mohammedi Khan

The Beautiful Voyager advice column isn’t like most others. In this column, I ask a question, research, then gather advice, insight, and tips from you: family, friends, and fellow readers. There’s no right or wrong answer. This column encourages the sharing of ideas. Share your thoughts, and they will appear in future columns. Let’s build together a robust collection of diverse tips for us all to try. 

On to this week’s question…

We live in a society that values confidence in school and at work, but anxiety can attack that very confidence. How does this affect your self-esteem in daily life, and how you think others perceive you?

8 Ways Anxiety Attacks Confidence

1. Past experiences leave trauma that creates fear of failure and success.

Anxiety can be induced from resurfacing past experiences. Not just their memories, but the emotional familiarity they can bring to the forefront of your cognition. For example, the impact left by childhood bullying is a trauma that is more deeply ingrained than one would assume. Traumas have the ability to amplify insecurities in an individual that can last from their teens to late adulthood.

How is this? Well, the way a child chooses to deal with his or her bullying might have been their first introduction to coping with anxiety. Along with the unconscious decision of identifying with the defense mechanism(s) they will become accustomed to turn to in their future interactions. An individual who confronted their bully as a child, may choose a more direct verbal/physical approach if they come face-to-face with similar insecurities again. Or, an individual who chose avoidance and solitude as a child, may show reluctance and isolation in the way they handle that same situation. This is why adolescent trauma is important to recognize and treat. It can wire healthy and unhealthy coping in an individual that they involuntarily will return to again and again through life.  

Denise Granito

Denise Granito

Fight and flight sets in when there is a negative reaction being triggered because of emotions based on a past experience. One that was deemed impossible or even based on the fear of success itself.” — Denise Granito (Chicago, IL)

“Sometimes my anxiety gets too heavy that I sometimes “freeze”, and then get frustrated when I need to step away or isolate myself. 
Others may perceive me as dramatic, strange, over-sensitive, or even unrelatable. Since middle school, I naturally dealt with my anxiety by picking at my fingers, sometimes to the point of open wounds or blood.
Because of this bad habit I’ve become self-conscious of my thumbs and how scarred they are.” — Anonymous

2. Your preconditions like race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion can lead to hyper-awareness of your salient identities.

When being in an environment that makes you hyper-aware of the differences of yourself in comparison to the rest of the composition (racial, gender, etc.) of the room - it can get scary. In my experience when I suddenly realize I might be the only woman, Muslim, or South-Asian in a room, it can sometimes abruptly make me feel uncomfortable. My confidence can quickly go from a reality, to a facade taking root. Anxiety creeps in. Not because I’m not used to working with people from diverse backgrounds, but because I feel as though I become representative for their identities and experiences as well. Without my consent or control (please reference Cidney's quote below). This is a truth of a societal-happening that occurs whether you intend for it to or not.

In certain situations, I begin feeling as though combinations of stereotypes are being placed on me, and I’m left to either confront and disprove them, or meld into them. This sort of pressure can leave you feeling uncomfortable to a point that it drastically affects your presentation of body language and decorum.

Melissa Vazquez

Melissa Vazquez

“As a Women of Color (WOC) who studied and worked at Loyola University, I felt I had to continuously prove myself before anyone could doubt my capabilities. When in reality, I became my biggest critic. — Melissa Vazquez (Chicago, IL)

“My anxiety is impacted by the demographics within a room, and how they may exacerbate my anxiousness or allow it to subside. When I’m in a diverse familiar space in a classroom or workplace I am able to flourish. When I’m in an all-White space I am more shaken and my confidence is a lot more broken. I start to carry that experience of speaking up or “failing” out of that space and into my daily life. There’s pressure that comes along with me feeling as if I have to speak for every black woman in many spaces when my identity/experiences/trauma is so different from my black sisters in many ways.” — Cidney Robinson (Chicago, IL)

Cidney Robinson

Cidney Robinson

3. Society’s expectations lead us to feel an ongoing pressure.

Pressure can come from living up to what is expected from us, or how we conform our notions to fit that of society's. It creates both a fear of owning your success, to accepting your failures.

Social anxiety can lead to some confidence battles arising from external appearances, where one might feel judged for not fitting the spectrum of what classifies beauty. While some industries (i.e. makeup and modeling) are helping women accept themselves more, they at the same time can fuel more negative self-images. Women experience it more from body shaming, cat-calling, dressing, mannerisms, etc. They are critiqued more, while being expected to abide by traditional social conventions more. 

Those who have felt the onset of anxiety can testify that sometimes there are warning signs to give you a heads-up, and sometimes BOOM - it’s just there! The physical impact of anxiety is important to be aware of because sometimes the “fake it till you make it” approach is not applicable to those experiencing GAD. It can give you sweaty palms, racing heartbeat, tunnel vision, light-headedness, and to amplify the previous, just the worst-possible scenarios starting to seem plausible.

“Anxiety for me has stemmed from my own fear of failure and living up to society’s expectations.”— Treasure Pascal (Chicago, IL)

Treasure Pascal

Treasure Pascal

Janay Moore

Janay Moore

“My confidence is often shaken by anxiety. It is a fear stemmed from the possibility of being publicly wrong or just simply not good enough. Places like school and work value confidence, but they also value correctness and the ability to excel. The two are intertwined by circumstance but not necessarily in everyday life causing dissonance — this is where anxiety creeps in. How can I be confident and wrong? How can I be confident without mastering?”— Janay Moore (Chicago, IL)

“Social anxiety can affect confidence directly. What I’ve learned from my own experience is one can be an effective communicator; yet be plagued with worry that physically impacts them.” — Mohammedi Khan (Chicago, IL)

“ In the years where my self-confidence should have been ingrained and strengthened I encountered a lot of bullying from my peers. I started to constantly compare myself to others, never feeling good enough. I became consumed by how others perceived me that I developed a self-doubt that I still experience today.” — Melissa Vazquez (Chicago, IL)

4. Confidence can be a defense mechanism, or a means for over-compensation.

Confidence, or over-confidence can be a defense mechanism for some, or a tactic to deceive. For me anxiety is excessively worrying, and the smallest of things being blown out of proportion internally. It can lead to a feeling of, or a need for perfectionism. If any of this goes awry, negative self-talk ensues to“do better” on what is already fine. As simplistic as this might sound to some, *it is important to note that this is a reality for many who do not need validation of whether this reality exists or not. It IS their reality.

“Anxiety stems from the idea of being perfect, among my peers. Mainly because I perceive them to be more intelligent than me, and that my ideas may not be as valued compared to theirs. My anxiety drives perfection in my work. I can’t just turn in an assignment or do a presentation until I feel like it has been deconstructed and analyzed over and over again.. my overanalyzing makes me spend hours on an assignment that would take another student 30 minutes to complete. Because of my anxiety people may perceive me in a negative manner and associate traits of laziness and irresponsiblity. Not knowing that I probably put 5x more effort in my work to produce the same product as them.” — Anonymous

5. Not knowing how or when to stand up for yourself.

Confidence-anxiety comes from not having outlined your expectations, beliefs, and what you are willing to accept or not. So when things become blurred, your perceptions can cloud your judgement of what you believe you are deserving of. These moments are there to teach you how to stand up for yourself.

“Meeting so many diverse, inspiring people in college taught me life isn’t a competition. Many times I’ve run into people I felt deserved to succeed more than I did, which made me feel guilty for advocating for myself. When I gave up on gagging myself professionally, I found identity in the values I’d gained from my experiences.igetcha

6. Uncertainty means rushing to get to the known.

It is hard to grapple with the truth that there are some things we cannot anticipate or know immediately in life. For some, it is about accepting that, and for other worriers, this is a set-up for triggers leading to a cascade of events. Uncertainty for over-thinkers is an uncomfortable place that can take some draining navigating. Whereas, on the other hand certainty is security and knowing. The balance between the two, and levels of what you are willing to allow in your life, is something that an individual must come to terms with on their own. Which is no easy feat. 

“#1 cause of anxiety in college students would be the Dunning-Kruger Effect. Basically, people who know very little about a topic overestimate how much they know. Learning more exposes us to how much we don’t know, a vast unknown we tend to overestimate.” — igetcha

“My anxiety comes from overthinking and overanalyzing certain situations/scenarios which cause even more anxiety (it’s like an endless cycle). This effects my everyday life because it causes me to double-guess myselfquestion my self-worth or the quality of my work which results with procrastination (not because I am lazy) or even allowing myself to become depressed, without knowing till it is too late.” — Anonymous

7. Workplace/school anxiety (I mean, you do spend most of your day here).

For many a year, job market searches and school application processes take a toll of their own. They have you questioning everything — your intellect, your potential, and mostly your ability to make choices.

After settling down on a choice, some must deal with the post-anxiety that comes after. From the lack of mental health understanding in employer's affecting how much an employee can effectively take on; to burnouts exposing students to feeling both overwhelmed and incapable of accomplishing. There are a range of emotions and triggers one must learn to unravel and decipher in order to make positive livelihood a habit.  

“My current employer isn’t very well trained on mental health, so when I’m told I’m disengaged I make clear every time that my mental illness means I may not perform the same as my coworkers in certain respects.” — Anonymous (Miami, Florida)

Imposter syndrome makes navigating the ambiguous job market 100x harder. I would never work somewhere I wasn’t treated like a human being. No dream was worth giving up my self-respect. A friend told me that if I degrade myself, it’s indirectly degrading others in similar situations and humans in general. I keep in mind that I have the rest of my life to fail and try again and the only truly harmful thing I can do is give up...Game changers fail 100x more than everyone else because they experiment 1000x more. I feel I’ve learned the most from the times I’ve fallen the hardest, the times I beat myself up for months and then woke up to realize one day that I had worked way too hard for it all to be in vain.” — igetcha

8. Misery needs company.

We've all heard this phrase - well it cannot be truer. 

“Yet, somehow, no matter how many YouTube videos you watch, you’re the only person in the room who doesn’t get it. When the self-proclaimed legends are out picking up fans, you can find miserable company with your fellow self-doubters. You’ll leave feeling validated, understood, less alone, but more hopeless. — igetcha



This article focused on the different reasons as to why we might experience wavering confidence and anxiety. Be on the lookout for a second part to this prompt on working through this specific type of anxiety. 

This is a safe space, so please share your own experiences that may have affected your self-esteem and confidence. The BV family would love to hear them!