Casebook: When no self confidence really is the problem

Lacking self-confidence is normally the consequence of a life that is not working and rarely is it the prime cause.

Vernon and Katie profoundly lacked self-confidence

I am normally very reluctant to focus on the lack of confidence of my clients.  Yes my clients invariably lack self confidence but normally this should be taken as meaning no more than their life is not working for them and that they don’t know what and how to deal with it. It follows naturally from this that their confidence has taken a hit.

What I find is that as their depression, anxieties or addiction eases and they are again able to use their resources to get their life working, confidence returns.

No self confidence is the consequence and not the cause

I argue this way also because every now and again (and it is very rare in my experience as a therapist), I have a client who genuinely and completely has no self confidence. And these are very hard to help.

Here are the stories of two people who came to see me, Vernon and Katie who for very different reasons had no self confidence at all.

Vernon was Welsh, in his late forties and ever since he had been a teenager, had wanted to earn his living as a photographer. In part it was about the glamour of such a life (as he saw it) but this had been leavened by a fair degree of realism as he had grown older.

He had no problem as a wedding photographer or working on small local news items, but aspired to be more than this. The problem was that however hard Vernon had tried; nothing had ever worked out for him.  And when he came to see me, it was as if the whole enterprise had defeated him.

But to be a serious and creative photographer was all he wanted and he just could not be shifted. Vernon was not a fool and he certainly had enterprise and imagination as well as a talent for photography. He had also been able to earn a reasonable living (when not trying photo ideas out) as a supply teacher. This unrequited passion had also got in the way of at least two relationships. And now in his late forties, he had nothing to which he attached any value. It was as if life had defeated him and he was giving up. His natural optimism and capacities had been drained out of him and nothing I could do would shift that.

Katie was in her twenties.  She was from the Midlands but had been living in London for a number of years now. The ostensible reason for seeing me was to get over a relationship with someone who had been quite abusive and she knew it was good to be shot of. I helped her let go of this relationship, but she remained very unhappy.

The more I learned about her – her life now, including her friendships, her work and leisure and indeed much of her childhood and teenage years, the less I found that I could hold onto. It was as if Katie remained a blank piece of paper and she knew this.

So she had very little confidence in who she was, what she could do and how she could attract a satisfying life and relationships to her. And however hard I tried, I could not find anything solid for her to work with and nor to clear away anything substantive – indeed to reveal anything underneath that she could use to get her life working.

Lacking Self Confidence – what is going on?

The rare case studies of Vernon and Katie – who unusually did really lack self confidence and whom I could not help Listen/download