As I prepare to attend my first group supervision session tonight, as a requirement to get my state license as a professional counselor, I find myself filled with the usual anxieties that arise for me whenever I am forced to get to know new people. Maybe you’ve been in a similar situation: you’re sitting in a circle with people you’ve never met and the group leader says, “Let’s start by going around the room and introducing ourselves and sharing an interesting fact about ourselves.” <gulp> For as many new classes as I’ve attended throughout undergrad and grad school, there has yet to be a time in my life when that sentence didn’t bring on instant butterflies in my stomach, sweaty palms, and flushed cheeks. I rarely volunteer to go first in these instances. But as it gets closer and closer to my turn to speak, I hear an inner monologue that goes something like this, “Don’t say something that makes it seem like you’re bragging! Tell them the facts about you, but don’t boast! Be humble! Yet not too humble, because you want to impress them!” This monologue continues even as I open my mouth to speak. Only when the attention is directed away from me do I finally start relaxing again (though the monologue continues: “That sounded too boastful! Now no one will talk to you or want to get to know you.”). Sharing something about myself to another person (especially multiple, unfamiliar others) creates anxiety.
It finally dawned on me today that this anxiety comes from the tug-of-war that goes on within me. On the one hand, I know my strengths and want others to know them, too. I want to exude self-confidence to others because I know self-confidence is a positive trait. It reminds me of my God-given gifts and learned skills and lets others know how I might be helpful to them. On the other hand, I know it’s not polite to boast. Humility is a virtue according to my Christian faith. Hearing others boast and brag about their accomplishments makes me roll my eyes, so I don’t want to cause that reaction in others when I speak about myself. So, where’s the distinction between coming off as confident versus boastful?
Maybe it has everything to do with the intention behind one’s message. If I intend my message to inform (so others can get to know the real me) and help (so I can be of service to others), my message will likely come across differently than if I intend to brag (to hide the real me behind an accomplishment) or “one-up” someone (to distance myself from others). I’ve been told that my genuineness comes across when I speak to others, so perhaps I can remind myself of that tonight, trusting that others will know I intend to inform and help. Since that’s my true intention, they’ll see self-confidence and not boastfulness when I share this interesting fact about myself, “I published a book about my experiences overcoming Binge-Eating Disorder”.
Do you struggle with wanting to appear self-confident, but not boastful? Take a few minutes to think about the intention of your messages. It may help you, as it is helping me.
Peace, joy, and health.