As a child, I believe I did not have a word for it, but I knew who was confident and who was not. I liked people that believed in themselves and their abilities. I felt comfortable around them. I believe all children do. These are the adults that we feel safest around. Let’s face it, if the building catches on fire and you have to escape, who do you want to be with? The confident person who says we can do this? Or the person who says I don’t think we can get out? Children are like people always in a building that could be on fire at any moment. They are perpetually vulnerable. So it seems only natural to assume I was not and am not the only child who was interested in being with the confident ones. My survival depended on it. All children depend on adults to survive.
This point was only solidified early in my career as a therapist when I started working in a family counseling center. I remember some therapists during case assignments said “please do not give me a teenager!” I was always open to taking them. One day during supervision the supervisor brought up the possibility that teenagers and children are the best at sniffing out fakes. These young minors have an ability to read adults very quickly. They can cut to the essence of us adults. They know if we are happy and they know if we are confident. So, it was proposed that maybe some of us clinicians who were comfortable working with the teens were happy with ourselves. Over the next two decades, this seemed to prove itself time and time again to me.
I often think in simple terms. Self-esteem is the knowledge that “I am ok” and “It will be ok”. It is that simple to me. If I ever feel anxious about a situation, I think am I going to be okay? Will it be okay even if the worst possible situation arises.
A friend of mine and I once had a difficult conversation about our relationship. I asked when he left, “Are you going to be okay?” He responded, “I hope one day you find someone who takes as good a care of you do as you do everyone else.” I thought the comment was very kind and sweet. However what he said next was profoundly accurate. He then quickly said, “Or maybe you don’t need someone to be? Maybe when I walk out this door you will quickly self soothe yourself so well that you don’t need anyone to do it for you.” That was the truth. I was confident that when he left I would be okay and it (our friendship) would be okay. I am not saying I do this with one hundred percent accuracy and perfection, but for the majority of the day I operate from this paradigm. I feel confident.
Jill Boultinghouse, LMFT