This was demonstrated for me all too clearly yesterday when I met my mother for lunch. As I arrived, she was already engaged in an animated conversation with a glamorous woman of her own age. The two seemed delighted to have happened upon each other, exchanging telephone numbers and doing the whole air kissing thing. The moment the woman, who it turned out was an old school pal, was out of ear shot, however, my mother began hissing vindictively about her. The woman’s crime as it turned out was an over abundance of confidence. According to my mother, she was ‘full of herself’ and always had been.
This, is seems to me, is the paradox. We all crave more self-confidence but, to actually express any belief in ourselves, invites scorn and ridicule. Is it this anomaly then that leaves most of us crippled with self-doubt? I can list a whole host of things that I am bad at but struggle to come up with even one that I excel at and I don’t think that I am unique by any means. What’s more, for most of us, if we did have a talent we would be more inclined to keep it to ourselves rather than shout it from the rooftops, for fear of alienating the people around us. As we all learn in our formative years, nobody likes a big head but is there a difference between being confident and being, as my mother likes to say, ‘full of yourself’?
I think there are probably three categories surrounding self-confidence and only one of them falls under the guise of acceptability. At the bottom, we have people with absolutely no self-esteem at all; neurotic people, who drive everyone around them to distraction with their constant need for affirmation. These people are draining and, I would argue, just as self-obsessed as the over confident although their self-obsession is all about what they can’t do rather than what they can.
The other end of the spectrum is the uber-confident and this can take many forms. Some are genuinely talented people, who see no reason to be coy about their accomplishments. Others are somewhat deluded and merely believe themselves to be exceptional individuals and then there are those who are embarking upon an aggressive quest for greatness and, as part of their plan, accentuate their successes like a mantra. Whatever the motivation or form it takes, it’s this category that we seem to be most unsure about.
The rest of us, you see, fall somewhere in the middle. Whilst not exactly shouting our achievements from the rooftops, most of the time we muddle along until, now and again, something sends us tumbling headlong into the spiral of self-doubt. I have read numerous blog posts this week about crisis of confidence and I’m wondering if there is something in the air because I have had a wobbly couple of weeks myself. The strange thing is though, when self-doubt paralyses us and makes us so miserable, why do we feel so negatively towards shows of confidence from others?
Does society collude to keep us from embracing our greatness? I was certainly brought up to value self-depreciation over self-confidence or ‘showing off’ as it was generally termed by parents and teachers. We are taught to play down our achievements and, those who present themselves as talented or skilled, seem to bring out the desire in others to somehow prove that any self-belief is misguided. It’s as if we somehow fear self-confidence and feel compelled to want to crush it. I recently read in a magazine that we can only fully empathise with people who we see as worse off than ourselves, which maybe explains why we find confident people so hard to like.
The article went on to say that we all secretly prefer to be around people who we perceive to be less attractive and less successful than ourselves, which I don’t necessarily believe. All of my friends are gorgeous and brimming with accomplishments even though they would never dream of acknowledging them. Maybe, if instead of colluding with each other to diminish our triumphs, we rejoiced in our dazzling abilities, those nasty crisis of confidence wouldn’t be so debilitating.