If you look up the word insecure in the dictionary, you’re sure to find a picture of my bashful face peeking up at you from the page. Or, more likely, you’ll find me trying to hide behind the nearby (sexier-sounding) words, like insightful or maybe Instagrammable—most days I’m not even secure enough in my insecurity to claim the title for myself. But like it or not, the label fits me like a tattered glove that’s fused itself to my personage and refuses to come off.
My confidence levels weren’t always shallow enough to make Casper the Ghost seem like a rock star. In fact, I once had confidence by the bucketful. If you were to ask my parents to describe me as a child, they would likely list confident as one of my defining characteristics.
Young Kendra knew what she wanted and was not afraid to go after it; pesky roadblocks like self-doubt—or even healthy self awareness!—were incomprehensible to me, and without their presence playing games with my psyche, there was no holding me back. I auditioned for every church and school musical, and when I wasn’t granted a lead part, I was certain it was due to some unfair bias on behalf of the director and had nothing to do with my abilities as a performer.
I was bold in other areas, too. My gymnastics abilities were mediocre at best, yet I was sure that I was destined for the Olympics. And Heaven forbid that a teacher grant me anything less than the A that I most certainly deserved on every school report.
I can’t pinpoint when or why the confidence began to fade, but as I grew up, life and circumstances gradually chipped away at the boldness I had once worn so proudly. My peacock’s feathers fell away one by one, and what remained was a naked bird too chicken to stray from the comfort of her coup.
I began questioning everything I’d once believed about myself: my intelligence, my abilities as a performer, my appearance—all came under close scrutiny, and I found myself falling far short of the standards I hoped to achieve.
As insecurity crept into my life, so did a new taskmaster: Perfectionism. I recognized that I was not the child prodigy I’d once thought myself to be, but that didn’t keep me from striving for unachievably high levels of excellence. I put pressure on myself to be the best student in all of my classes, the thinnest girl on my gymnastics team, the bubbliest performer on stage. I excelled in many areas, but the constant striving took its toll on my body, my sanity, and my soul.
I realized I could never be Perfect, but it was a truth I refused to accept, and my constant struggle to maintain these two realities—my desire for perfection and my inability to achieve it—led to undercurrents of anxiety and depression that permeated my life, only occasionally revealing their ugly faces, but always lurking in the background.
I wish I could say that I outgrew these nemeses in the same way that I had slowly eased out of my unabashed confidence, but that is not how my story has played out. Anxiety, depression, insecurity, perfectionism—these foes of mine have manifested themselves differently with each season of my life, but they’ve never gone away.
Even in my happiest, healthiest moments, I’ve continued to struggle with one or more of these demons in some capacity. Sometimes they seem to go on hiatus, but they always reappear with a vengeance, and usually in the least likely moments.
Last year was a good one for me, and as December approached, I had the realization that I might finally be getting a handle on a few of these problem areas, specifically my feelings of insecurity. I even documented a newfound sense of confidence as one of the things I learned in 2016. But then, without any warning or even an apparent trigger, my confidence cracked and unfounded inhibitions began to creep back in.
Once again, I was overcome by paralyzing feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt. I scrutinized everything about myself—my body size, my parenting, my homemaking skills, my capabilities as a writer—and I was devastated by the ways in which I seemed to be falling short. This self-flagellation led to crippling anxiety as I hyper-focused on my perceived incompetence in every facet of my life.
I’ve been talking about this as if it’s in the past, but to be completely honest, it’s something I’m still dealing with on a daily and even hourly basis. Some mornings it’s hard to pull myself out of bed because I don’t want to face my personal shortcomings.
My gut response is to quit: quit trying to accept my body, because I know I never will; quit blogging, because none of what I have to say is worth reading; stop inviting people to my home, because it will never be clean enough or chic enough for me to be proud of. Give in to the lies, because they are so loud and persistent that they must be true.
But here I am. I haven’t quit, and I’m continuing to fight. Those voices are louder than ever, but I’m surviving by relying heavily on a few tried-and-true tools.
The first tool is reflecting on others’ stories. I remind myself of other perfectionists I know or I’ve read about who have continued to make peace with a messy home, or a less-than-stellar parenting moment, and I’m given the boost of courage I need to follow in their footsteps. Or I see a friend tackle a fear head-on, and know that I am capable of doing the same. Just making myself aware of others who have struggled in the same ways as me and been victorious can help me push past the momentary paralysis and move on with my day.
It’s also been helpful for me to think back on my own story—those times, either in the distant past, or more recent—when I’ve looked insecurity in the face and refused to be defeated. I recall how yesterday was also a “fat day” for me, but I still put on clothes and a smile and survived the discomfort; I can do it again today. Or I remind myself of the blog post I wrote last week that wasn’t my best piece, but I still pressed publish and the internet didn’t crash, so maybe I’ll share another post again tomorrow.
Step by step, I build up my defense system, and with each day that I conquer my inner demons, I’m given another day’s worth of successes to inspire me in the future.
Though it may sound trite, I’ve also found great strength through prayer. I wish that this was my very first response to the initial inklings of anxiety or self-doubt, and that’s certainly becoming the case, but often I forget to turn to God until I’ve exhausted every other resource. By then, I’ve sunk so low that it can be hard to articulate a full prayer or even reflect on a favorite Scripture.
It’s in these moments when I lean into a mantra I learned years ago in a women’s Bible study. I don’t remember anything else from the study that semester, but this particular prayer has stuck with me through the years. It goes like this:
“God is good.
God is in control.
Breathe in. Breathe out.“
I prayed this prayer frequently during my time of depression following my miscarriage. I prayed it throughout my pregnancy and less-than-ideal labor. I’ve prayed it more times than I can count during trying parenting moments in the past two years. And it’s been on my lips a lot these past couple of months as I ask God to hold me afloat when waves of anxiety are threatening to consume me.
My final tool for waging war in this ongoing internal battle is what I’m doing here: being honest. I’m talking about my struggles today, not because I’ve pushed passed them and am ready to share a nicely packaged survival story; not because I’m seeking pity, because the last thing I would want is for you to feel sorry for me; and not even for more altruistic reasons, like a desire to help you feel less alone in your personal battles (though that would be a nice byproduct of this post!).
My main reason for writing this is because I know that the minute I open up about a personal battle, it ceases to have power over me. My struggles thrive in secrecy, but shrink back when exposed to the light.
So here I am, telling the truth and baring my soul. It’s not pretty, but it’s real. And though I doubt I’ll be shedding my insecurity label any time soon, I’m at least making my face visible next to that dictionary definition. Who knows; one day, I just might make my way up to the C’s so that I can once again lay claim to the Confidence that was once mine.