Confidence, Unicorns, and Histrionic Behavior: You Don’t Have to Be the Unicorn

The other day I was playing with my daughter, which happens less often than I’d like, but life gets so busy! We were playing with horses and unicorns. I was cast as the little foal and decided that I would like to be a unicorn, when my daughter informed me that I can’t be a unicorn – but I can play with them. True to my natural interpersonal style, I proceeded (as the baby horse) to flatter the unicorn and say that I wished I could be a unicorn, too! My daughter promptly corrected me, saying, “No! Don’t say that! The unicorns want you to like yourself!” That was a truth bomb that I needed to hear, said in the loving voice of my daughter. I’ve been pondering this idea for a little while now, and I have some ideas of why I might naturally begin relationships in a self-desparaging way.

Growing up with a borderline mother, I witnessed bouts of “confidence” that were a bit frightening and off-putting. My mom was often not truly confident in her abilities or judgement, so she would over-compensate with bravado. (Bravado: a bold manner meant to intimidate)
I didn’t like this quality but always felt like I must follow her lead and obey/flatter/agree with her when she was in this type of mood. Her showcase of faux confidence confused me – confidence was sort of ugly when displayed this way. I decided I didn’t like that type of confidence. Who needed to be confident, anyway? It was overrated, I thought. I will stick with being insecure and just keep trying to “prove” myself.

This thought pattern of mine, in which I disliked confidence and preferred to put myself down, sometimes worked well for me. I was non-threatening. Sometimes sweet people wanted to help me because they could tell I wasn’t really sure of myself. I became the perpetual student, waiting for others to show me the way and to tell me I was doing things “right.” This, i’m sure, became a drag for the people around me.

A true belief in oneself – when combined with a fairly realistic appraisal of gifts and a humble acknowledgement of weaknesses – is a very attractive trait. I began to meet people who possessed this trait and for a long while I sort of hated these people. How did they get to have true confidence? Where did they learn this? Why weren’t they putting themselves down all of the time? Why weren’t they asking everyone else’s opinions? Why were they so free?? Honestly, I found it kind of annoying. Who do they think they are, waltzing around life with confidence?

It was when I had kids that I was able to let some of this negativity go. I wanted my kids to believe in themselves. I wanted them to be honest – to not be braggarts, but to own their gifts and talents and joys. I wanted them to enjoy their lives and themselves. Apparently, this feeling was somewhat mutual. My daughter was telling me that it’s okay to be confident. It won’t scare other people away. 

There was a time when the opportunities I had in life intimidated my mom, or made her feel jealous. This made it hard for me to feel deserving of the good things I had. Who was I to have them, let alone also be confident? It took a lot of reprogramming for me to begin to feel differently about this. Confidence is not everything, and yet it is in fact okay to be confident. It allows others to shine their light, too. I’ve always loved this quote by Marianne Williamson:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

My daughter, in her play, was letting me know that it’s okay… it’s okay to enjoy being the person I am. We can enjoy our own lives, whether we are cast as the horse or the unicorn. We don’t need to cower to those we think are superior or more powerful. And if we are faced with someone who seems to fear our success or joy or light, we need to acknowledge this (to ourselves).

These days I catch myself when I want to put myself down and ask, “Who will this serve?” When I am in a position of power (such as while teaching or coaching), is it helpful to model insecurity? Of course I know it’s not. It is freeing for others when I embrace what I have to offer, and offer it freely without explanation or apology.

Can you relate to this phenomenon? Have you struggled with confidence? How will you let your own light shine now? How have you been dimming it over the years?

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