How often do you feel your confidence falter? If you're anything like the average millennial woman, it happens a lot more frequently than you might realise. In fact, according to a survey conducted by the lip care brand Blistex, British women are in a confidence crisis: they feel bad about themselves an average of 4 times a day, while almost two thirds, or 61 per cent, don't perceive themselves as a confident person. 28 per cent of respondents to the survey said their confidence is easily impacted — and seven per cent of women never feel confident at all.
What triggers these constant confidence crashes? According to the study, there are three major culprits: appearance, work, and social life. 39 per cent of women surveyed said that seeing their reflection in a shop window could wound their self-esteem, while 28 per cent cited bad skin days as a cause. 27 per cent said making a mistake at work damaged their confidence; the same proportion said friends discussing them behind their back was a blow.
21 per cent of the women surveyed said being talked over at work impacted their self esteem, while the same percentage felt insecure in the face of other's "perfect" lives as depicted on social media. 17 per cent said a last minute social cancellation made their confidence wobble, and 16 per cent struggled when another colleague was praised for their work.
The subject of women's self-esteem is a widely debated one, particularly when it comes to confidence in the workplace. According to the Guardian, almost 50 per cent of women think their lack of confidence has hampered their career; the BBC's Katty Kay calls this the "confidence gap," or the gulf between men and women's self-assurance that sees men overestimate their capacities while women play theirs down.
Others, however, have criticised the concept of the "confidence gap": Jessica Valenti, writing in the Guardian, argues that women's low self-worth is actually a reflection of gender disparities in society, which see women consistently undervalued and excluded. Emphasising women's confidence, Valenti argues, blames women for the impacts of the patriarchy. What's more, she writes, confident women are often negatively stereotyped as bitchy or bossy, suggesting that boosting women's self-esteem wouldn't resolve the consistent bias they face.
While improving your confidence might not erase the barriers you face in your daily life, it's vitally important for your general wellbeing. As Jess Baker, an independent business psychologist and women's leadership coach, explains, lacking confidence in any one area of your life — whether that's at work, in your social life, or in your appearance — is likely to impact how you feel about the others. For instance, "lacking in confidence at work is not only distressing in itself, but can lead to severe anxiety, worry, stress and burnout," she explains.
"When you feel like this you want to hide, withdraw, and avoid speaking up in meetings or volunteering for new projects," Baker continues. "Your head is so full of negativity that you’re not able to focus or think clearly, so the quality of your work might decline."
Life coach Liz Goodchild says that confidence issues can manifest similarly outside of work. Common behaviours of women with low self-esteem? "Not asking for what they need in relationships, friendships, or in bed. A tendency to avoid conflict and criticism. Not stepping up and trying for fear of looking 'bad' or not good enough," she says.
So you want to work on your confidence: where do you even begin? Goodchild suggests changing your behaviour in "small, incremental ways." She explains, "This might look like, for example, raising [your] hand in a meeting and speaking up when normally [you] wouldn’t, or asking for help and admitting [you're] struggling, or very intentionally leaving [your] house untidy when friends are coming around for a coffee, instead of wasting time and energy worrying about what 'everyone will think' and being perfect."
Jo Emerson, a confidence coach, human behaviour expert, and author of Flying for Beginners, suggests you consider the way you speak to yourself. "Start by talking to yourself as you would to a little child — kindly and with patience," she says. "It will feel very awkward to start with but I think you’ll be amazed at the results. Oh, and be sure to tell yourself every day how well you’re doing."
Comparing yourself with others, Emerson says, is another confidence destroyer — and a pointless endeavour, considering we're all as different from each other as "the Eiffel Tower and the Grand Canyon." Comparison, she says, is "a poison you can do without."
Jess Baker also recommends speaking to a psychologist to work through persistent negative thoughts. Low self-esteem can impede your daily life, as the NHS notes; to tackle it, it's worth referring yourself to the psychological services in your area, or seeking a referral from your GP.
While low confidence might be widespread among British women, it needn't continue to define your life. Struggling to feel positive about yourself, your achievements, or your social life? Try the tips above, and look forward to appreciating yourself more.