Thursday, April 22, 2010

An Essay on Self-Confidence

Living as a human being poses many challenges because we are self-conscious creatures. Confidence and self-confidence become an important part of everyone's lives as individuals but also as a society. However, many successful people who project confidence rather well surprisingly lack of self-confidence. This article is an incursion in my understanding of self-confidence and the reasons why I have an ironclad self-confidence.

Table Of Contents

The Three of Us

Everybody Hates Us

Self-Confidence is Indestructible

Self-Confidence is Hard Earned

Building Self-Confidence


The Three of Us

There are three perspectives of our own self: internal, persona and attributed. The internal personality is the one reserved to ourselves and it is the self that we are actually experiencing. The persona is a projected personality that we desire others to see, which is an edited version of our internal personality. Finally, the attributed personality is the personality that others attribute to us based on what we say and do and it's ultimately our reputation.

The differences among the three perspectives may affect self-confidence because it is demanding to maintain three different selves (persons) in one. It is like being an actor in three different plays or films at the same time.

DETECTING DECEPTION The greater the differences are among the three perspectives of self in a given person, the more deceptive this person is.

Excessively conflicting perspectives of self is likely to erode self-confidence over time, except, perhaps, in the case where the person has very little sense of guilt or remorse (e.g. a psychopath). Those conflicting perspectives perpetuate a lie and may completely isolate the internal personality from the outside world, leading a person to feel bad about being oneself, or its persona or its reputation, or all of them.

Everybody Hates Us

The world is revolving around each of us, individually. We feel lonely and everybody hates us. We believe others have more self-confidence than us. Our self-confidence is deeply affected by this. Little you know, everybody feels like this.

There is no human conspiracy but our need for socializing combined with the fact that we are alone in our own “head” makes it prone to secretly develop a negative perspective of ourselves and increase our sense of being unique whereas we are in fact alike. It is also extremely difficult to assess the level of self-confidence others may or may not have due to its very nature; self-confidence is truly revealed under high pressure situations. The world does not hate you. Ironically, however, envy and jealousy from those who lack of confidence may be a contributing factor to hate self-confident people.

DETECTING DECEPTION For the same psychological reasons, liars believe everybody lies as much as they do and they rationalize their lies through this fallacious thinking: (1) “I am a human being,” (2) “I am a liar,” (3) “Therefore, every human being is a liar.” (generalization) or (1) “Everybody lies!” (ad populum).

Observing others for most of my life has taught me that very few people are truly self-confident. Some are better at projecting an image of confidence than others. The reason behind the underwhelming number of people who are truly self-confident is because most people are building their confidence on a volatile self-esteem at the expense of and instead of their self-confidence. Understanding the mechanism of self-confidence helps to reduce fears and embarrassment as a result of self-confidence, or more precisely, lack thereof. I came to understand that self-confidence is something to be built.

Self-Confidence is Indestructible

Everybody can crush a self-esteem but self-confidence is nearly indestructible. Self-confidence cannot be overthrown or destroyed by others but they can however reach out our inner self if we let them to and which may lead us to crush our own self-confidence in some situations.

Self-esteem is a favourable impression of oneself (see definition) but various studies indicate that we tend to be highly biased in our assessment of ourselves and it is mostly favourable. Self-esteem in our society is overvalued and greatly encourage our dissatisfaction as human beings because self-esteem is fragile and can be affected by many sources outside our purview. Consumerism is most likely one of the outcome from this; an incessant and uncontrollable need to define ourselves by consuming products.

Self-confidence on the other hand is a realistic confidence in one's own judgement, ability, power, etc. (see definition). A life-long process helps us to determine and measure these characteristics pertaining to ourselves. This process is mostly based on trials and errors and our ability to distinguish successes from failures. Concretely, to determine one's particular ability, it is necessary to know what are the highest achievements attained with this ability and the biggest failures which define its limitations.

Self-esteem may become a detractor to our own self-confidence when ego and pride take over to override factual data (success, failure) by perceptual data (“I am the best”, “I am worthless”). Therefore, it is not surprising that some people utterly fail in one area but remains oblivious in order to maintain and protect their persona and self-esteem.

DETECTING DECEPTION Self-deceit may occur for many reasons and one of them is when our perception distorts reality in such manner to ignore and even override this reality.

Failures are part of life and define us as much as our successes. Being oblivious to our failures is denying ourselves a part of what we are.

Self-Confidence is Hard Earned

There is no such thing as an unchallenged self-confidence. Self-confidence is built over the years and it is hard earned. It is impossible to destroy self-confidence that is based on an accurate assessment of our successes and failures, even when it is challenged. Internal and attributed personalities are influential in the process of building self-confidence but the persona is mostly based on one's own self-esteem.

Concretely, for example, anxiety may affect and undermine our self-confidence when it comes to our internal personality but reducing our emotional triggers and resolving unresolved feelings will contribute to strengthen our self-confidence. Likewise, for example, being challenged by peers about something we have accomplished may affect and undermine our self-confidence when it comes to our attributed personality but most often our self-esteem gets in our way and contributes to further self erode a fragile self-confidence. Finally, when it comes to our persona, self-confidence may be affected and undermined if there is an important difference between our internal personality and persona and we become aware of this difference.

Many highly skilled professionals or otherwise may be overthrown in an argument about their own field of expertise, that is, even when they are right, when challenged and/or in an unusual or uncomfortable situation. I have seen it over and over. This is indeed due to their focus on building their confidence on a volatile self-esteem rather than building self-confidence. They often define themselves by their attributed personality in social interactions rather than their actual knowledge, which is much closer to their internal personality.

Being challenged by oneself and by others is the most effective manner to develop true self-confidence because it involves either becoming certain about oneself or otherwise evolving. Doubts gradually disappear over time. Focusing on self-esteem may eventually lead to dissatisfaction and inability to maintain one's self-confidence whereas focusing on self-confidence may lead to a fulfilling satisfaction and may eventually improve one's self-esteem.

Building Self-Confidence

Building self-confidence takes time and is more difficult to build than self-esteem. The first step addresses the internal personality and is naturally summarized in know thyself. Challenging your internal personality is usually done through experiments during youth where it becomes possible to understand one's abilities and limitations (physically and intellectually). Most people experience this part of their lives in due manner. Additionally, introspection becomes a determining factor in developing self-confidence at the internal personality level but most people overlook this step in our modern society.

The second step addresses the persona and is summarized as be true to yourself, be responsible. Creating nonexistent and overclaiming personality traits will inevitably dissociate the persona from its internal personality; and it could become a liability for eventual internal conflicts that may undermine self-confidence. Furthermore, in an oblivious individual, the discovery of the actual differences between both personalities may cause a traumatic shock. We obviously all want to appear better than we actually are but don't forget that you are doing yourself a favour if you stay close enough to your true self.

The third step addresses the attributed personality and is summarized as be seen for what you really are, be reputable. This is the best manner to avoid eventual internal conflicts but also bad surprises for your peers. The influence from others may contribute in distorting your assessment in your abilities, depending on how susceptible to influence you are. It becomes paramount to not let others influence your thoroughly collected assessment but not to the point to be stubborn by letting your self-esteem prevent an opportunity to challenge and improve your self-confidence.

Self-confidence is built in layers where each layer serves as the foundation to the next one. Your self-confidence leans on your assessment of your abilities made during the development of your internal personality, reinforced during the development of your persona and finally sealed with your attributed personality.


An indestructible self-confidence is thus built by doing a proper assessment of ourselves and by reconciling of our three selves, that will survive through life experiences and to the (un)desired challenges brought by other people. The reward of focusing on self-confidence rather than self-esteem is a life where one can accept and live with doubts without being afraid or constantly doubt about oneself.


  1. Get to know yourself, your own strenghts and weaknesses (internal personality) and let everyone see you as you really are (so more-or-less internal personality= persona= attributed personality) . That´s the way to gain self-confidence. Have I got it right?
    It certainly seems logical, but the problem is, that while it is easy to read, it´s much more difficult to put into practice. For one thing, it´s the doubts about oneself and for another, there´re some social expectations (both you´ve mentioned).

    „Self-confidence on the other hand is a realistic confidence in one's own judgement, ability, power, etc.“

    However, there are two sides of the coin. By taking too much confidence in one´s own judgement, one can easily hurt others. That´s because he is so sure of himself and his opinions, that he wouldn´t take into concideration he might be wrong.
    On the other hand, one makes himself vulnerable by, let´s say, showing his bare internal personality. At least, that´s how it appears to me.

    Thanks for the link :)

  2. You are absolutely right, Michaela. It is difficult to put into practice. Likewise, it's fairly simple to become rich or famous but it requires a lot of work. The question is whether or not someone prefers to live with the negative outcomes associated with the lack of confidence and the positive feelings associated with the status quo. Changing is generally difficult, long and sometimes painful.

    I laid out a blueprint in my section Building Self-Confidence. I left out concrete examples because I recognized that building exercises may vary according to each individual, some exercises are more effective on some individuals more than others. It's still a good idea to provide concrete building exercises. Suggestions are welcomed.

    A person who lack of confidence can equally hurt others but in different manners. Too much of anything is by definition too much. :)

    You brought an interesting question about ethics. Is self-confident people unethical when they are neglecting others' feelings? Is it more ethical to require (force) self-confident people to nurture those who lack of confidence? There are many who lack of self-confidence that will refuse to give their opinion even when given the opportunity. Is it the burden of self-confident people to investigate opinions of those who lack of self-confidence? It is ethical to give the burden to self-confident people instead of having those who lack of self-confidence building their self-confidence? Who's ultimately responsible?

    The problematic goes beyond the ethics: it's unhealthy to lack of confidence. People affected by the lack of confidence continuously experience negative emotions and they may feel undermined by those who have confidence and may experience jealousy, hatred, etc. Those people can hurt others who have confidence to make themselves feel better.

    I understand one prefers not reveal everything about his or her internal personality to strangers, new acquaintances, coworkers, etc. The important is that other personalities (persona, attributed) do not overly differ from, and preferably match, the internal personality. A person can hurt others when his or her three representations of self are overly different, regardless of his or her self-confidence (or lack thereof).

    Vulnerability in a relationship is not negative by itself and there are types of relationships that benefit from it. In fact, vulnerability is a requirement for a successful love relationship. Intimacy cannot exist while wearing psychological armours, in the same manner one cannot kiss another who is wearing a helmet.


  3. "Is it the burden of self-confident people to investigate opinions of those who lack of self-confidence?"

    Why should it be a burden? No investigation needed, sometimes it´s enough to listen and maybe be willing to change your mind if it seems (or rather proves) that your opinion is wrong.

    "The problematic goes beyond the ethics: it's unhealthy to lack of confidence. ... Those people can hurt others who have confidence to make themselves feel better. "

    I completely agree with the first statement, but I think it´s more likely for those people to die of heart-attack.
    Now, how´s that possible? How can somebody without confidence penetrate the "indestructible" self-confidence of somebody else and hurt his feelings?

    "A person can hurt others when his or her three representations of self are overly different, regardless of his or her self-confidence (or lack thereof)."


  4. 1) Self-confidence boosts the ability to express oneself with less or no doubts, which in turn may appear to others as inflexibility. It may appear even more so for people who lack of self-confidence. I believe flexibility is not a particularity of self-confidence because it can be also found in people who lack of it.

    I agree it is important to listen to others but it is also important to remember that each person is responsible for himself or herself. My point is that the expectations of some people who lack of confidence are unrealistic. Those people have the responsibility, to themselves at the very least, to make sure they are properly heard, just like the rest of us!

    2) I believe you are confusing self-confidence with lack of feelings. People who are self-confident have feelings and they can be hurt.

    For example, let's imagine a person who lacks of confidence is in a love relationship with a person who has confidence. The former constantly wonders if she or he is good enough for the other one along with several other questions. Those questions are often running in one's head without any data to back up their worries or suspicions. The internal pressure can become painful to the point the person take negative actions to relieve this pressure, e.g. the person may be unfaithful if she or he believes she or he is going to lose her or his lover. Do you believe a self-confident person would not be hurt?

    Most people believe they cannot hurt others because they have been hurt by others. The reality is nothing alike and it's probably impossible to completely avoid it. Fortunately, there are plenty of good people who will rarely hurt others because they are careful and caring.

    An indestructible self-confidence does not equates to invincibility, which some people clearly confuse. The nature of any living being is clear about life — it is fragile and vulnerable. The confusion combined with the very nature of our lives makes it prone to develop a particular emotion (toward those who have self-confidence) known as Schadenfreude: the pleasure derived from the misfortune of others. A perfectly normal person can experience such negative emotion when all the conditions are met. However, those persons will not take actions to cause misfortune to others — which would otherwise be a psychological disorder.