The Google dictionary defines self-confidence as “a feeling of trust in one’s abilities, qualities, and judgment.” It is a sense of self-efficacy, in which we recognize our skills and strengths and the ability to succeed. It is a feeling that we are “behaving virtuously, that we’re competent at what we do” (Mindtools.com). It has to do with the value we attribute to ourselves. Self-confidence eliminates much of the need to perform in a certain way to get people to like us. It is connected to our social networks, the activities in which we take part, and what we hear others say about us.
Healthy self-confidence, commonly used synonymously with self-esteem, is very much about balance. On the one extreme are under-confident people, who avoid taking risks, think badly of themselves, underestimate their abilities, and base their behavior on what others think of them. On the other extreme are the overly-confident, who are often narcissistic, have a sense of entitlement, believe they are always right, and will not tolerate disagreements. (We probably know some people like this, and they drive us crazy.) Both extremes can be harmful to the person and those around them and can lead to destructive behavior.
In his blog post on Psychology Today, Michael J. Formica cautions against the “feel-good” version of the self-esteem movement so prevalent today. He says that the commonly held view today links self-esteem with happiness, but in the process of seeking self-esteem we have merely managed to create a generation of overly-inflated egos that have been shielded from failure and negative experiences. He argues that this falsely elevated self-esteem is an “ultimately destructive influence.” Others have gone further to say that inflated self-esteem brought about by the “everyone’s-a-winner” approach does more harm than good (see Cytowic, 2012, “The Key to Self-Esteem”). Finally, Formica suggests that we return to an idea of self-esteem built on character and performance, leading to an “authentic and grounded sense of self” in the next generation. Thus, in fostering self-esteem, we do not want to create a proud and faulty self-image. The desire is to foster in ourselves and others a realistic self-confidence.
One career-building resource lists these qualities of a self-confident person:
“Doing what you believe to be right, even if others mock or criticize you for it.
Being willing to take risks and go the extra mile to achieve better things.
Admitting your mistakes, and learning from them.
Waiting for others to congratulate you on your accomplishments.
It is evident why these qualities would be valuable for youth (and for any adult). Self-confident youth are less likely to engage in destructive behaviors and give in to negative peer pressure. Building a good self-image can be essential during a time in life when many teens struggle with themselves physically and socially.
The good news is that healthy self-confidence is something that can be developed and fostered. Cytowic says that one of the keys to this is accomplishment. He says,
The solution to this muddle is actually simple: If you want self-esteem, then do estimable things. Accomplishments and know-how can’t be handed out or downloaded into someone’s brain . . . They must be earned through individual effort. It is the endeavor that generates a sense of pride and inward esteem.
Carl E. Pickhardt suggests encouraging “multiple pillars of self-esteem” by helping your teen to look at multiple aspects of their life for identification and evaluation (friends, sports, academics, hobbies, family, etc.). Encourage them to learn from their mistakes to do better next time, instead of getting lost in a cycle of harsh self-evaluation and criticism. Pickhardt quotes what he calls his favorite prescription for strong self-esteem:
There’s a lot of talk about self-esteem these days…It seems pretty basic to me. If you want to feel proud of yourself, you’ve got to do things you can feel proud of. Feelings follow actions.
“Confident people inspire confidence in others” (Mindtools.com). You can help teens by modeling healthy self-confidence yourself by providing a good example of self-confident behavior and attitudes. Provide teens opportunities to try new things. Encourage them in areas where they are strong. Help them to find positive sources of identity and self-worth.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
Do you agree with the doctors quoted above that the self-esteem movement has taken a destructive turn? Why or why not?
What is the difference between a faulty or over-inflated self-esteem and healthy self-confidence? How are each developed?
What are the potential negative effects of under-confident and over-confident views of self?
How would you define your current level of self-confidence? How does it affect your attitudes and behaviors in positive and/or negative ways?
How can you encourage healthy self-confidence in those around you? Can you think of other ideas beyond what was mentioned in this Overview?
How does your faith or religious view affect your self-confidence or what you think a self-confident person should look like?
Self-confidence should be based in a realistic view of self, in which a person recognizes both his strengths and weaknesses, can learn from his mistakes and failures, and can accurately assess his abilities and use them to work toward success.
We should be wary of over-inflated confidence that is not based in an accurate self-estimation. Many believe that the current self-esteem movement (which says that every child is a star and a winner) has lead to a generation of children and young adults who severely over-estimate their abilities and warn of the dangers of this reality.
Healthy self-confidence is built in part by accomplishment and experiences. The words and estimation of people close to us can have a positive and negative effect on self-confidence.
Self-confidence is something that can be developed and fostered in ourselves and others. We should seek ways to build healthy self-confidence in our young people. This cannot be done outside of relationships.