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Published February 23 2012

Emboldened: Adults seeking self-confidence, self-esteem boosts

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FARGO - Growing up on a ranch south of Sentinel Butte, N.D, Krista Mund experienced a girlhood marked with a happy receptivity toward life.

As a big sister to her brother, she enjoyed being in charge and was first to raise her hand for parts in plays and reading out loud in class at her small elementary school in Medora.

But not long after she transferred to high school in Beach, N.D., a shift occurred, and the moment has been forever fixed in her memory.

She was in English class, and the teacher had asked each student to read a section of a novel – “The Hound of the Baskervilles” as she recalls – out loud.

“I was reading and all of a sudden I started thinking about everybody listening to me, and I started to panic,” Mund said. “It was like a switch flipped for me. I couldn’t breathe – it was horrible.”

She made it through the reading, her reaction seemingly going undetected by others, but from that point on, every time Mund was called on to do something publicly, she relived that moment of panic all over again.

“I think what happened is, when you get older you’re more self-aware, including being aware of your flaws and the way people perceive you,” she said. “When you’re so young you don’t have that as much.”

And so she lived with that foreboding feeling, and the fears increased each time she was asked to perform in public, no matter how small a role.

Though Mund links her experiences to low self-confidence rather than self-esteem, the two have some commonalities; certainly, either can make it difficult to thrive.

In her work with adults with low self-esteem, Barbara Chromy, counselor at The Village Family Service Center in Fargo, said that like self-confidence issues, self-esteem can be triggered by an event or life change.

“It might be a change in job responsibilities, or a divorce, or something else happens that a person has to behave in a new way, and they find that skills are lacking,” Chromy explained.

In recent years, she’s discovered new ways of approaching the issue, including the method espoused in “The Self-Esteem Workbook” by Glenn Schiraldi.

“This really looks at your belief system and developing the belief that you are a valuable human being regardless of externals, like your job, wealth, relationships, and that even if you had nothing, you would still have your core value, your core worth,” she said.

For example, an individual who is unemployed and without a college education might view themselves as less valuable than someone who is working in a position that society tends to see as valuable.

“But a person in jail or prison has as much worth as someone who is a surgeon,” she said. “The fact that we’re created and alive means that we have self-worth.”

Most people develop their self-worth in childhood from a healthy, affirming parental environment, she said. Those who didn’t receive this might have more work to do in order to change the underlying, erroneous belief system.

Chromy brings materials incorporating this approach into a new, six-week course at The Village called “New Me,” which tackles assertive communication and self-esteem for men and women.

Though the first session is just wrapping up, another will be offered in April.

At the top of a flier she created, a quote from Anthony Robbins says, “The way we communicate with others and with ourselves ultimately determines the quality of our lives,” and sums up the intent of the class.

Chromy said many people are very compassionate and kind toward others but have a hard time doing the same for themselves.

“We might go through a period where there’s a lot of negative feedback or some negative experiences, and our self-esteem can really suffer,” Chromy said.

Overcoming fears

As an adult, Mund eventually saw how her life was being impeded by her fear of public speaking. She decided to take action not long after participating in a leadership workshop where she was asked to give a short presentation.

“My part was only a couple minutes long, but I had a knot in my stomach over that for weeks,” she said. “It just made me worry so much.”

That all changed when she joined Toastmasters four years ago.

“Now when something like that comes up or any presentation, I still worry but I don’t fret over it. It’s not on my mind constantly like it used to be,” she said. “It’s something I know I can do and I won’t die, like I used to think.”

The group has helped Mund overcome her panicked feelings of being in the limelight through offering tools for public speaking. By having the chance to give presentations in a safe environment, receiving helpful feedback, and hearing and evaluating speeches from others, her negative experiences have turned positive.

As was the case with Mund, Chromy said the impetus for seeking help often happens when reaching a crisis point or crossroads.

Both the “New Me” class and Toastmasters provide education and tools to help adults move better through life.

Mund named a few such tools that have been particularly beneficial to her, including visualization.

“That’s been huge and it seems kind of silly, but if I have to give a presentation I picture myself doing it, going through sitting there, waiting to be called on to go up to speak, walking up, taking the podium,” she said. “I go through every step and make it a positive thing … that’s something that athletes use, too, for their performances.

She’s also learned to focus on the audience rather than internalizing the experience.

“Before Toastmasters, I was focusing on me and how I was feeling at that moment. It’s been a big help for me to focus on what I’m saying and not be so internal.”

Repetition also has been of benefit, Mund said, and Toastmasters provides that opportunity to practice.

“I’d also read about famous people who, right before they go on stage, feel like they’re going to hyperventilate,” she said. “That was an eye-opener; to know I wasn’t the only one feeling that way and learning to turn that energy toward my speaking.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Roxane Salonen at (701) 241-5587