Warning: potentially triggering story ahead.
A few years ago I had a high-performing entrepreneur come to see me for hypnosis to deal with lack of confidence and a pile of random fears (most of them based on social situations).
"Well, you certainly don't come across that way," I said. "You seem very outgoing and confident."
"Yes, I know. It's all on the inside, but I hide it well."
We all need to learn to hide it well. Whether we are business owners who are defining our value, employees dealing with monstrous bosses who are constantly digging to find weakness, or navigating the world of dating...I don't believe that most people feel the way they portray themselves on the outside. I myself often hear, "Oh man, I'd NEVER mess with you," a LOT, and I find myself wondering what it is about me that comes across that way. Yes, I'm profoundly confident, but I'm also...well...kind of a wuss. I hate confrontation, I'm scared of pain, and my worst fear is saying no and being hated for it. The truth is, I'm a mix of strength and weakness, as we all are. I show my strengths on the outside, though.
Anyone can fake it. And faking it is POWERFUL. It's a tool we all need to learn to use.
Years ago, I worked as a cocktail waitress at a bar on the water. Our clientele was a mix of obscenely rich men who would pull up in their yachts and drink all day, and plastic blondes vying for the attention of the aforementioned men.
These guys were pretentious, entitled nightmares who attempted to make up for their insecurities with the size of their wallets. They'd grab us, demean us, and basically attempt to bribe us for sex. I held my own, because I can be funny and cutting, and have a way of deflecting unwanted attention without setting someone off...but the situation was wearing on me. There was one guy, Jeff, who also owned a boat but wasn't nearly of their financial caliber. He was down to earth, fun, and very protective of the waitresses. More than once, he told off men who were getting too touchy with me. He was a good guy.
Or so I thought.
On my last night working there, I was stuck there past 3am and was leaving to walk out to my car. The waitstaff parked about a quarter mile from the bar, under a bridge with no lights. It was scary as hell. It was a pitch-dark walk through those tall weeds that grow by the water, and the underpass looked like a murder scene waiting to happen. We girls always walked out together, but for some reason I was left alone that night. As I set out, Jeff saw me leaving and told me he didn't want me walking to the underpass alone, and that he'd drop me off.
Although I liked him, I got a sudden rush of fear when I thought about him driving me. I had no idea why.
"I'm fine," I babbled. "I like the night air."
"Oh man, that's crazy, I'm NOT going to let you walk alone. I'd feel horrible about myself letting a woman walk out there by herself. Hold on, I need to grab my coat."
I was physically shaking by this point, and again, had no idea why. He had always been more than awesome to me, and he was the least intimidating guy ever. He returned with a big smile and guided me to the stairs that led down into this underground parking lot where people stored their boats. Again, I resisted.
"I'd really like to get some air," I said.
"No way," he answered. "It's way too scary for you to be alone out there." And he gestured toward the stairs.
I descended the stairs, my throat thick with dread. It was so dark down there, and the space was filled with massive boats. His car was parked beneath one of the boats, and he unlocked the door for me. I got in. He went to the driver's door and opened it, slid in, and started the engine, locking both of our doors. And then he turned the engine off.
"Oh no," I thought.
He was staring into space, smiling, breathing heavily. I pulled at my door, testing it, but nope...he had locked me in. I felt like I was in a horror movie as he slowly turned his head toward me, his eyes totally blank and that weird smile on his face.
"Are you scared?" he asked. "You are, aren't you? I can SMELL it. I can literally smell your terror right now and I'll be honest...I'm getting SO excited seeing the fear in your eyes."
My heart skipped so many beats, it felt like it would never start up again. I wanted to cry and scream and vomit all at once, and all I could think about was how I had never thought this last day of work would be my actual last day, ever.
I took a deep breath, and within three seconds several thoughts rushed through my head.
One, that I was being a perfect victim right now, shrinking into my seat, frozen with terror.
Two: that was exactly what he wanted.
And three...he was feeding off my fear; it was empowering him. Although I was almost shaking myself to pieces, taking my power back might be the only thing that could save me from getting raped...or worse.
So instead of crying or whimpering or screaming for help (as I REALLY wanted to do), I sat up straight, looked at him, and snapped, "Listen, mother*****r. I don't know what the f*** kind of game you're playing here, but you are f***ing with the wrong person. I've been working since three, I'm starving, and I'm not in the mood to deal with any bull****."
The second the words came out of my mouth, he shifted completely. The smile left his face, and he sat silent for a moment, thinking. I waited for a few moments, and then burst out, "WHAT THE F***? Drive or let me out, I am F***ING done with this stupid game, whatever it is."
He started up the car, and drove me to the underpass. As we drove, I frantically thought about how to gouge out an eye and a tear off a testicle when he inevitably tried to strangle me there. But he didn't. He stopped the car and didn't say a word as I got out, then peeled off. I shook all the way home.
I'm convinced that faking it saved me that night.
And if I can fend off a potential rapist/murderer by faking bravado when I have never felt more cowardly in my life, you can all at least PRETEND to be comfortable with putting out the vibe that you are incredible and amazing and so much more than enough....even if you don't believe it. Yet.