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"Arrogance before the fall", but what about having Self-Confidence?

Updated: Oct 21, 2022

We hear conflicting messages about pride and self-confidence. On the one hand: we view cockiness, bragging, narcissism as off-putting. Yet, we hear positive messages to believe in yourself, and to be confident in who you are. I will think through the problem of arrogance, the benefits of self-confidence, and try to discern the difference.

The problem with being arrogant.

Most of my confusion is surrounding the word "pride". On the one hand, it's perfectly okay to say, "I take pride in my work." There are healthy definitions of pride that denotes self-respect and respect for others, eg "I am proud of you." But yet, pride has many negative connotations as well, eg "You think you are more important than you are. You are too proud to admit you are wrong." So for the sake of clarity, I will label "pride" as problematic and provide different vocabulary for "healthy pride" in the next section.

Pride is an exaggerated sense of self, our importance, and our abilities. Pride is characterized by an attitude of superiority, arrogance, self-absorption, selfishness, egocentrism, narcissism, lack of empathy, talking about yourself excessively, not listening, judging and criticizing others, puffing yourself up, demanding, looking down on others, and being uptight and stuck up.

Pride often has roots of low self-worth and shame. If we view ourselves negatively, we may compensate by trying to be superior to others. We compare ourselves to others and develop the habit of highlighting other peoples' flaws as a way to conceal, deny, and ignore our own issues. We criticize others as a defense from recognizing our own shortcomings.

Pride is fueled by external validation. Pride constructs our self-identity based on what we've done, our reputation, and how people view us. At first glance, this conditional view of oneself seems rational, but the reality is that if we use our external performance to define who we are, then we will often be disappointed because we are all imperfect. Pride says, "I am always right. I know more than you." Which doesn't work, because sometimes I am wrong. And at times, some one else will know more than me and I will have to listen to them.

So in light of these messages teaching against being arrogant and prideful, I have found myself reacting when people tell you to: take pride in yourself, sell yourself, market your self, self-promote, be proud of your brand, show people what you're made of. You typically hear this line of advice when applying for school or jobs or when trying to expand your social network. I find myself saying, "No thanks, I'm not going to do that." I do not want to come off as a know it all or being too arrogant. I over reacted to the advice to be proud, almost to the point of being passive, self-deprecating, deferent, and not standing up for myself. I don't want to be doing that either.

So what does it mean then to be self-confident?

The benefits of self-confidence

An authentic and stable self-confidence is valuing ourselves as we are. Self-worth is a function of self-respect apart from any accomplishments. Being self-confidence starts with saying: I am human. I am valuable. We all have self-worth regardless what we've done in our lives including our failures. We don’t have to prove anything to anybody, even to ourselves, to have self-confidence. If we attempt to accomplish a task and it fails, that doesn’t mean that we are worthless. If we complete a task, we don't have to boast about it. Self-confidence is knowing, accepting, and appreciating who we are, just as we are, flaws and all.

It is refreshingly freeing to have the confidence to say: “I am sorry, I was wrong, I made a mistake. Teach me. I want to learn from you.” Because that is the reality. That is who we are. We are not perfect. We make mistakes and that is okay. We can learn from others.

As we grow in knowing ourselves and accepting who we are, we realize that we don’t have to be perfect. Living authentically with self-confidence invites people toward us. We are approachable, relatable, rather than intimidating. We don’t see ourselves as better or worse than anyone else. We recognize that we are all a part of humanity; we all have different strengths and weaknesses

When you are self-confident, you don’t need to achieve something great to have worth and value. We may be motivated to pursue excellence because it is meaningful, but not because it defines who we are as a person.

Where do we draw the line between arrogance and self-confidence?

1. The ability to listen.

Arrogance believes that they have nothing to learn from anyone, so they don't listen. They act antagonistically, trying to contradict other people's perspectives to show that they are right. They demand to be heard and be in charge. They work hard to show others that they are wrong.

Self-confident people are aware that they don't know everything. They are open to learn from others and take the time to listen and consider different points of view.

2. The need for attention.

Arrogance demands attention because it believes I am more important than you.

Self-confidence says, we are all human. It is considerate of others' needs. It has respect for self and others, so it says, "Let's support one another with whatever each person is going though."

3. Dealing with insecurity.

Arrogance denies their insecurity either intentionally or because they are unaware and blind to their own flaws. Arrogance believes: I am not the problem, you are.

Self-confidence has the self-awareness to admit faults. They have the humility to accept their weaknesses, and is willing to put in the effort to heal and address their flaws.

4. Responding to feedback.

Arrogance is offended and reactive when they are given feedback.

Self-confidence is able to receive feedback without escalation.

5. Attitude of gratitude.

Arrogance is disgruntled and discontent. Even when something goes well, arrogance has to fault find.

Self-confidence is able to celebrate victories, practice contentment, find joy in the small things, and express gratitude.

6. Relationships.

Arrogance needs to be in control of relationships.

Self-confidence is able to trust in relationships.

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