In order to achieve true connection, happiness, and intimacy with another person you must expose your vulnerabilities and shed the mask. (Click here to read our article on that subject.) Why are so many people afraid to open up and truly invest in a relationship? They lack self-confidence.

Self-confidence is a vital ingredient for a successful relationship. The Torah’s command to “love your friend as you love yourself” implies that you cannot fully love “your friend” until you “love yourself.”

Self-love and self-confidence are actually skills that can be practiced and learned. A prerequisite to self- love is the recognition that acceptance cannot come from anyone else, but rather has to stem from you. One way to practice this is through self-talk. Reminding yourself that You are enough, you are great, you are special can be a powerful way to enhance self-confidence. Another way to instantly improve self-love is through self-care. Taking care of your own spiritual, emotional, and physical needs will instantly create a better sense of self. People often spend so much time focusing on the needs of others that they forget to take care of themselves. Saying “no” to others and “yes” to yourself at times is a valuable skill.

Fake it till you become it

Think of a man winning a marathon. What does he look like as he is crossing the finish line? Amy Cuddy, a Professor at Harvard University, observed that in moments of victory, such as wining a marathon, we naturally assume what she calls a powerpose – arms up and an open body. When we feel self-assured or confident we open up our bodies; when we feel timid or emotionally vulnerable we assume closed postures.

Past research has shown that our body language reflects our cognitions, but Professor Cuddy wanted to know if our body language could actually change the way we think. Can you trick your mind into feeling more confident? She conducted a study to see if posing in a powerpose can change the chemical and behavioral responses of our mind and produce real power. She found that people who performed powerposes for a few minutes had lower levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) and elevated levels of testosterone (a hormone that causes a feeling of power). The powerpose is a scientifically proven way to increase confidence and lower stress. (1) It is an easy, quick tool to utilize before a stressful situation such as a job interview or a first date. Your body language does have a direct influence on your mind.

Finding Balance

Our physical actions have the capacity to change how we think and feel. We can fake it until we become it. Building confidence can start with adopting an outward act and that will eventually translate into true inner confidence. Walk straight, head up, shoulders back and you will feel more confident.

I am not advocating shedding all protective gear and opening up the first time you meet someone. Sharing too much too soon is like blinding an oncoming driver with brights. That type of over sharing can be detrimental to a relationship.

So how do you shed the mask in a healthy way? Real vulnerability is sharing little by little with a person who has proven that they have earned your respect and love. It is okay to have some form of a mask initially, but it should be removed piece by piece until you are left bare with someone who has earned the right to hear your story and can bear the weight of your story.

A marriage partner is there to help carry your load. The Hebrew word for marriage is nisuin, which derives from the root word noseh, to carry. Marriage is a commitment to carry each other no matter how difficult it becomes. Marriage is a relationship in which you are free to be yourself with the person who will help you carry your burden (and vice versa.)

Vulnerability and being real, honest, and open is essential to building a meaningful and lasting relationship. But it’s a tightrope. It is not productive to share too much too soon and ruin a potentially good thing, but hiding everything can prevent real love and connection from developing. The key is to find the right balance, which is different for everyone. We owe it to ourselves to find that balance as each of us craves to be loved as we are.

Let’s review the practical suggestions that can help develop the confidence to be real in a relationship:

  1. Love Yourself. You must learn to love yourself for who you are before you expect someone else to love you for who you are. “Love your fellow man as yourself” implies that loving yourself is necessary for healthy relationships. Self- talk and self-care can transform your self-confidence for the better. Remember: you are special.

  2. Fake it until you become it. Act confident and carry yourself with confidence. Even if it feels unnatural at first it will eventually seep in and you will start to feel more confident.

  3. Someone who can bear the weight of your story. Find a balance and pace for shedding your mask that works for you. Relationships take time to develop and having some sort of mask or armor is normal at first. The mask can come off organically, bit-by-bit, with someone who has proven worthy of hearing your story.

This article is based on a lecture given by Sarah Pachter

  1. Carney, D. R., Cuddy, A. J. C., & Yap, A. J. (2010). Power posing: Brief nonverbal displays cause changes in neuroendocrine levels and risk tolerance. Psychological Science, 21, 1363–1368.