Guest post by Dr Geoffrey Arnold
Towards Increased Confidence
For many people, self-confidence is something they simply wish they had more of. The value placed on confidence is understandable for lots of reasons. Confidence can be connected to many of the things which make a substantive difference to the quality of our lives – examples here would include improved performance and achievement of goals. There are also psychological benefits such as overcoming anxiety and feeling more in control of one’s life.
In some respects, however, confidence (at least as it is commonly understood) may be an over-rated quality, particularly as a measure of a person’s personality or character. But there is no escaping the fact that confidence plays a vital role in meeting personal needs and aspirations – and in helping others to do the same. So, how do we develop more confidence? It might be instructive to first take a closer look at what confidence is and how we might describe ‘the confident person’.
Confidence as ‘Self Trust’
The word ‘confidence’ comes from the Latin ‘confidentia’ meaning ‘firmly trusting’. Self-confidence is accordingly treated in this article as a matter of trust. Some attention will also be given to the more common and more modern understanding of ‘confidence’ as a kind of belief in one’s abilities.
So two types of confidence can be considered here. The first and most essential is self-trust, or what is more commonly linked with the term ‘self-belief’. I prefer to use the term ‘belief’ for the second type of confidence and for matters of ‘the head’, whereas self-trust is more clearly a matter of the head and the heart.
Self-trust is more than believing oneself to be a good, worthy and valuable person (as important as these matters of self-esteem and self-worth are). There is also a deeper kind of ‘keeping faith’ with oneself, not as a perfect or even near-perfect person, but rather as someone who can be resolutely supportive of oneself – ‘firmly trusting’ as the definition above suggested – not only when needed in a crisis but also more generally in life.
Self-trust is not about trusting oneself to get everything ‘right’. It is also not about trying to ‘measure up’ to anybody’s expectations (including our own). Most of these efforts to ‘measure up’ to something are fear-based and have more to do with self-doubt than self-trust.
Self- trust is a matter of having a high regard for oneself, choosing to be calmer, and loving oneself along with other people. This can involve an on-going conscious decision (‘from the inside’ so to speak) to think highly of oneself, especially when there are feelings of self-doubt or anxiety. The psychologist, Carl Rogers, often stressed the importance of learning to accept oneself, not in a grudging kind of way but as a liking or appreciation of oneself. For Rogers, self-trusting ultimately involves a ‘flow of experiencing’ where the important thing is not to experience oneself in any particular pre-formulated way but rather to move freely and acceptingly along with life.
“Acceptingly’ here does not mean that the truly confident person just accepts whatever comes along. What it does refer to is a kind of willingness to receive situations as we find them, take ownership of what we are doing and move along with the progress of our lives. Progress comes with new understandings and interpretations of one’s experience. And if there is going to be a positive kind of progress, there has to be a valuing of not just ourselves but other people and the world we live in.
Self-Trust and Relationships
The confident person genuinely values this interactive situation with people and the world. She (or he) ‘receives’ life and living as a process without trying to impose any part of the process on self or others. She is aware of her experience, especially her more significant feelings. She does not retreat into avoidance, denial, arrogance or other artificialities. Her communication with others is also consistent with the reality of her own experience.
Sometimes we need help to support this self-trust. Having self-trust is not about sailing smoothly and independently and never getting upset. The objective is not to prevent bad feelings from arising but to accept them as natural and find a gracious way of handling them. Supportive relationships can make a vital difference here because trust is not something that we develop all by ourselves. We learn trust (including self-trust) in relationships and we sustain it by our experience of positive relationships.
Self-trust is also something that develops from our own actions. Actions help us to learn more, strive for more (if that is desirable) and find out what is possible. Sometimes we find that we can do things we didn’t imagine possible – in other words, our lack of confidence was “all in the head”. At other times, we find that our aspirations were not realistic or we needed more time and support. Either way, actions and good feedback are important keys to confidence.
The Interaction of Thoughts and Feelings
Our own thinking does play an important role in confidence, and changing negative thinking patterns can be an essential part of developing confidence, but the deeper self-trusting kind of confidence goes beyond this cognitive work. Self-trust is more than positive thinking and a positive self-regard. It involves being open to a wide range of experiences, including the experience of failure. It chooses the calmer approach to life’s challenges by recognising that many things are not worth getting upset over. In other words, the confident person understands the question “Is it important enough?”
Confidence also involves recognising strengths without pushing aside or denying weaknesses. There is a basic trust in the totality of oneself as a person (where totality does not mean ‘perfection’ or ‘completeness’, but simply means all that one is as a person). The process of being changed as a person over time is also welcomed. The positive regard for oneself is not rigidly egotistical but can resolute when necessary. This is the kind of resoluteness which can move along with life’s fluid changes without losing the ability to make adjustments.
“Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought”. St Paul
There is of course a difference between thinking highly of oneself and thinking too highly of oneself. The latter can be associated with being arrogant, pompous, haughty, or narcissistic. There is also a difference between the false humility of self-deprecation (putting oneself down) and the more genuine humility which can acknowledge incompleteness, vulnerabilities, fallibilities and all the other things that come with being human. But incompleteness isn’t a reason to lack confidence. We can accept our incompleteness and also recognise our human dignity – there are rich possibilities that come with human incompleteness! Human potentiality always allows for the development of more personal growth, maturity and wisdom.
The Second Type of Confidence: The kind of Belief which says “I can do this!”
The second type of self-confidence is the belief in ones’ abilities. ‘Ability’ of course refers to being able to do things (including the ability to give something a try!). The confident person believes he or she can do things. The unconfident person is less comfortable and more cautious – which in many situations is not such as bad thing of course – such as where safety is involved! What is commonly called ‘over-confidence’ can be a problem, although sometimes it might be better described as ‘mis-judged’ or ‘mis-directed’ confidence.
But in general, the confident person thinks positively about abilities and, just as importantly, thinks positively of his or her capacity to manage failure or any problems arising from the attempt to do things. In other words, confidence not only says “I can do this!” or “I can try this!” but also says “I can cope if this doesn’t work out or go well”.
The person who is confident may have ‘belief’ but beliefs can be mistaken, sometimes with significant consequences. So we need some flexibility with a sense of ‘confident belief’. There is a difference to note here between this true flexible confidence and the rigid certitude that is the hallmark of dogmatism. We don’t need to be certain in order to be confident. And we usually don’t need certainty in order to undertake things and do them well.
Truly confident people can, accordingly, admit to error, doubts, uncertainty and negative feelings. They have the flexibility of mind to acknowledge such things and they make adjustments where required. They don’t necessarily always look confident, they can be introverts or extroverts, but they have the inner resources to keep taking the next step into their own maturity.
In Part 2 of this exploration of confidence we will look further into the very practical question of how we can develop confidence, and include a few counsellor’s perspectives on specific ways of becoming more self-confident, as well as dealing with potential obstacles such as anxiety and ‘nerves’.
Dr Geoffrey Arnold is an experienced counsellor who has worked with people with anxiety and depression issues (including ‘at-risk’ of suicide), grief, and general adjustment to life’s challenges. He is also a marriage counsellor and educator. He has a multidisciplinary PHD in education, philosophy, psychology and theology that focused on the big topic of ‘wisdom’.
To me, Dr Geoffrey Arnold goes by the name of Dad, Dadsie, Daddy, or Daddo. He is my rock. The person who I’ve always been able to rely on. The person who has been my guiding light through every crisis, small or large, that I’ve ever experienced. He is the most caring and giving person I have ever met. The first person to help loved ones, and strangers, who are experiencing difficulty. The ultimate advocate for the underdog. He has saved more lives than he will ever know. He is my hero, in every sense of the word. I’m so happy to be able to share some of his knowledge with you on my blog.