I hinted around that it was time for her to find a new place to live. I politely asked her to leave. Several times, in fact. Of course, she did not leave willingly and fought to maintain the upper hand; the control she’d always had in our relationship. She resorted to her usual tactics – belittling me, pointing out my flaws, using my secrets and my fears to chip away at my self-esteem and confidence.
I just finally had to kick the “witch” out.
I’d known my roommate since my early teens, so she knew all my secrets and my deepest, darkest fears. She had been there through my lowest of lows. She’d seen me crunch through a family size bag of Lay’s barbecue potato chips while binge watching the Housewives of Atlanta, not House of Cards, as I led people to believe. She knew that my “C” cup was really a “B” cup with padding. She was standing by my side on my wedding day, during the birth of my daughter, when I was promoted to vice-president, and during the dark months after I lost my husband.
You know someone like my roommate. Most women have lived with, and had long-term, intimate relationships with someone like her. Unfortunately, many women still do, which is horrific because she is a true CONFIDENCE KILLER.
She’s the voice in our heads because she IS the voice in our heads. My pastor, Shanté Buckley, has a name for her – the Ratchet Roommate. The Ratchet Roommate resides in our psyche and is a crafty piece of work. For those unfamiliar with urban slang, the word “ratchet” derives from the word “wretched” and is generally used to describe someone who is nasty, vile and über tacky. She’s the monkey on our backs. She provides the running, negative commentary that critiques our every thought, decision and action.
“Why’d you say that? It was dumb.” “Your behind is too big for that dress!” “There is no way that you’re going to get selected for that board.” “Your friends didn’t invite you because you’re a drag.” “You’ve made your children neurotic.” “You’re not smart enough…You’re not attractive enough… You’re not…enough.”
How do most women ending up living with this confidence stealing Ratchet Roommate? Those closest to us let the fox into the chicken coop. She’s usually invited in by our loved ones and our teachers when we’re young, long before we are aware of the danger. Think about it. Girls are taught to work hard, be accurate, error-free, precise. Get the gold star. We were educated and rewarded for pursuing perfection. Pointless perfection. Remember how the girls in class excelled on spelling tests and with handwriting practice? Both skills have been rendered slightly irrelevant today with spellcheck and the increased use of computers. What if we’d been encouraged to question the obvious or to lead our classmates, instead?
My grandmother took great pains to teach me how to make a bed with hospital corners. Her thinking was that if someone checked underneath the comforter, the sheets would have a crisp, smooth finish, thus assuring my status as… the perfect homemaker, I suppose? Marriageable? We practiced over and over. To me, it made no sense. It made the bedding too tight to comfortably sleep. By morning, the bed was messier, due to my incessant tugging, than if we’d employed a more relaxed approach. (Plus, no one I ever invited into my bed has been particularly concerned about hospital corners.)
But, if I’m honest, I do feel “less” on those days that I drag the comforter catawampus over the sheets and call the bed made up. To make matters worse, I feel a twinge of guilt every so often that I’ve not taught my daughter how to make the “perfect” bed. See? Even though I kicked the Ratchet Roommate out, she continues to pay me unexpected visits.
As we grow from girls to women, we’re often socialized in ways that are not confidence building. Assertiveness historically has been met with a frown of disapproval. Even today, women pay a personal and professional penalty for being perceived as “too aggressive.” We’re encouraged subtlely, and not so subtlely, to be careful, to be safe, be polite, wait our turn, get more experience, to be… good girls. What successful startup was ever led by a person aspiring to these anemic attributes?
A few years ago, I happened across a book called The Confidence Code, written by Katty Kat and Claire Shipman, two journalists who, through their research into neuroscience, uncovered how dramatically a lack of confidence affects women’s leadership, success and fulfillment. They learned that a woman’s confidence is partly influenced by genetics but that, thankfully, there are strategies to overcome our genes.
That led me to do my own research and to talk to people in the field of neuroscience. It was freeing to not only know that I’d come to this planet hardwired with a certain confidence (or lack of confidence) level. Translation: It wasn’t totally my fault, for example, on those days when I could not live up to the “strong black woman” persona and that on Thanksgiving eve, I usually stayed up until 3 a.m., obsessively adjusting the place settings so they were all perfectly spaced on the table.
Here’s a fascinating fact on brain wiring. Studies show that female brains work a bit differently, physiologically, than the male brain. Women’s brains are wired to ruminate. The thing that makes us better multi-taskers and better at seeing connections with information also causes us to obsess over mistakes and to constantly re-play scenarios. Ruminating is a confidence killer.
Yes, indeed. I was the perfect guinea pig for the strategies suggested in the book to build confidence. I share a few that worked for me below.
Review accomplishments: Think about things you did well that day or positive feedback you’ve received from others. I actually use the Success Vision Board app by Jack Canfield of the Chicken Soup series to create a vision board of my goals. I can look at them from my phone or iPad when self-doubt kicks in or I feel unmoored and need to re-anchor. Create another explanation for your negative thinking. Maybe you haven’t heard back about the board position you’re up for because a decision has not been made, not because you weren’t selected.
Think about your relationship with social media: If you regularly feel dissatisfied with your life after checking your Facebook or Twitter account, curating may be helpful. On my low days, I stay off Facebook. I feel like an outsider peeking into the window of lives that look infinitely more exciting than my little ole one and my confidence nose dives. Instead, I hop on my personal Instagram account where I only follow people, places and things that delight me and bring me joy. Lots of videos with visually and spiritually striking things, exotic places, the antics of little kids… Curate your social media to carve out a sanctuary that is self-affirming.
Rewire your brain through thought exercises. Use positive ACTION-BASED affirmations to stop negative thinking. When the Ratchet Roommate insists you can’t get the funding for your nonprofit, turn that negative thought into 2-3 actionable steps toward your goal and ACT on them quickly. Studies show that action-based affirmations, unlike mere positive affirmations, serve to rewire the brain, and when acted upon, to increase confidence.
Do you have an honest girlfriend group that speaks “real talk” to you? If not, get one. This group is often not your besties, but resourceful women who know how to get things done. They push you outside your comfort zone. They provide a new approach when you hit a wall. They gently push you past your rationalizations for “why I can’t,” and help you reframe them to “Yes, I can.” Just as we sometimes need pushy girlfriends to block Mr. Wrong’s re-entry into our lives, we need that same group to keep the Ratchet Roommate away.
I envision a world one day where women of all ages burst into the song from the Wizard of Oz:
Ding Dong, the merry, oh sing it high and sing it low
Let them know the wicked witch is dead!