Two of the most common assumptions I come across about confidence go something like this:
People are either born confident or they aren’t. This presupposes that confidence is in our genes, is fixed, and cannot be changed.
Confidence comes from the way you were treated when you were young. This suggests that a person who had it tough when they were young is unlikely to be confident. Equally, it suggests that those who were brought up in an environment that was warm, encouraging, and supportive are more likely to be confident.
Neither example is accurate.
Sure, there may be cases when a person’s confidence can be supported or undermined due to their circumstances, but this still doesn’t explain how confidence works. It’s important to understand that confidence isn’t a fixed commodity, that it can develop at any age, and in very different circumstances.
People who lack self-confidence tend to undervalue, ignore, or discount the things that they are actually very capable of. They approach things in a reluctant and tentative way. They feel uncertain and often seek reassurance from others. They also assume confident people rarely if ever feel unconfident, which is completely untrue.
Confidence develops in different ways
People who are socially anxious often assume that skills in social activities contribute to confidence. This is because they are focusing on an area where they feel less confident. In fact, our confidence develops from a wide range of non-social activities such as:
- Being able to use a computer, a smart phone, or other techie things
- Knowledge in a particular topic such as history, economics, business
- Ability to drive a car, ride a bike or a horse
- Hobbies such as flower arranging, art, photography
- Organizational skills in business or at home, paying bills, saving
Confidence comes in degrees
I can happily climb a few steps up a ladder, but my confidence ebbs the higher up I have to go. Some highly competent sports people become tongue-tied during the post-match interview. Some people are most comfortable in the company of one other person, but the bigger the group gets, the more uncomfortable they become.
The degree of confidence that we feel is not fixed, but depends on what we’re doing. This means it’s unhelpful to think of our total selves as unconfident. It’s far more accurate and much healthier to think of our confidence as made up of component parts.
There are many different ways a person can be confident or unconfident, but if our focus is only on the areas where we lack confidence, this focus becomes self-defeating and potentially endless. Where we choose to draw the line is really up to us. It’s all about balance and feeling comfortable with the fact that while we may admire the confidence of others in certain situations, we are all different. Be comfortable in the knowledge that those whose confidence you admire will almost certainly have their own issues to contend with.
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Dr. Jerry Kennard is a Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.