Questions About Confidence


By Sam Brown

What do people mean when they say they want to be more confident? What do they mean when they say they are attracted to or desire confidence in a romantic partner?

These are serious questions. I really don’t completely understand what the desire for confidence is all about.

I’ve been thinking about this for at least a year. Maybe longer. I’d hear about or read someone listing the traits they’re seeking in a date or potential spouse and many people, both men and women, would say “confidence” and I’d ask myself the same question and think “confidence” isn’t even in my top ten of desirable traits, so what gives? Why is confidence so important to so many people in romantic relationships?

Last year in a BBC article titled “Does Confidence Really Breed Success?”, I read this by psychologist Jean Twenge:

What’s really become prevalent over the last two decades is the idea that being highly self-confident – loving yourself, believing in yourself – is the key to success.

Now the interesting thing about that belief is it’s widely held, it’s very deeply held, and it’s also untrue.

Also:  “psychologists rarely use the word ‘confidence’.”

So why do many people desire this thing that is not the key to success? What do people really want when they say they desire confidence?

I touched on the topic of confidence last year in my post “The Future Will Belong to Those with Empathy”. The point I made about the desire for and focus on confidence possibly being related to the fact that we are increasingly called on to sell ourselves may partly explain why people think confidence is key.

Do people really want to be able to sell themselves well? Do they what this in other people?

Andrew W.K.’s advice to a person who lost their confidence and wants it back again made me start wondering about confidence again.

Does the letter writer want to feel confident?…

I’ve lost my confidence. I used to be able to wake up in the morning knowing who I was, feeling sure of myself and ready to take on the world. But over the past few years, I’ve felt myself slipping away and it’s come to the point where I no longer recognize myself.

…Or look confident?

Yet when I look at my life, I feel boring — like there’s nothing outwardly special or impressive about me these days.

Is confidence swagger? Or as Andrew W.K. suggests “an (unseen) inner conviction”? Can you be confident without feeling confident?

These questions are sincere because I’m really unsure what people are talking about when they are talking about confidence. Is it a feeling like happiness? Is it necessary for success or does success breed confidence? Are people delusional when they seek confidence? Is it magical thinking to believe confidence will abolish all fear and doubt in your life? Is it a lazy substitute for actually becoming skilled at something? Is it a cheap substitute for simply being a decent human being?

I don’t understand those who believe that they should believe in their ability to be and do whatever you want before they do it. I don’t understand those who think they should always feel good about themselves.

I believe in gaining skills and abilities and trusting yourself. But you’re never done. You never arrive at the point of complete mastery and complete self-belief. Ever.

There’s no place anywhere inside of me that believes I will feel good all the time and in any situation. No place at all.

So I never seek to be confident. I never seek it in other people. I will never be completely sure and I don’t believe other people can be completely sure of anything either all the time.

What will confidence bring to a romantic relationship? I’d put kindness, reasonableness, and the ability to communicate well above confidence.

Do people who want to be confident and seek a mate who is confident because having confidence is the opposite of weakness and a confident person is low maintenance?

Do people think “I want to be able to get from point A to point B without any pesky emotions getting in the way” and do they want it to look effortless? I’ve found commitment, curiosity and desire can work as well.

As you can read, I have trouble understanding the concept of confidence. I’ve never thought “I can do anything I want!” or needed to think that before attempting things. I let desire and curiosity motivate me. Maybe that’s what people mean by confidence — desire and curiosity. I have no idea.

Thinking you need confidence seems like a hindrance and not helpful.

Twenge notes in the BBC article that since the 1960s and 1970s when more focus was put on high self-esteem and confidence, kids have grown up with higher expectations and as expectations grew so did the incidences of anxiety and depression.

It’s similar to how the rates of obesity increased the more our society focused on healthy eating, thinness, and dieting.

Should we forget about focusing on confidence? Yes. That’s the only question can answer with confidence.



10 thoughts on “Questions About Confidence

  1. You make several excellent points, Melene. I don’t wish for confidence so I can look better to others, but I do crave it sometimes to propel me to action. To overcome fear of failure is a desire of mine, although to succeed, in spite of the fear and uncertainty I may feel, would probably be a more accurate way of putting it.


    1. I understand what you’re saying. But, do you really need confidence to propel you to action? I wonder if maybe there isn’t enough desire there. These are serious questions. I’m not judging or criticizing.
      Like what if you eliminated the idea of needing confidence and just do the things you want to do everyday and then suddenly one day you find your desire to do something is so overwhelming that it propels you to action.
      This way of operating isn’t for everyone. This whole post is just me thinking out loud. I have no answers.


      1. I’ve been thinking of your response, putting it to myself and my own actions.Then I forgot to acknowledge your response and to answer altogether, sorry about that!
        Actually, I think you are right. I plowed on with my novel writing in spite of insecurities and because I had an overwhelming desire to do so, then wound up getting a publisher anyway. So yes, confidence is overrated in that regard.
        However, it is still a trait I admire in others, though absolutely and by far NOT the most important one.
        Thanks for giving me a lot to ponder over, Melene.


      2. I feared I may have hurt your feelings and I certainly didn’t want to do that with my comment. Your story about getting a publisher despite your insecurities, despite not having a ton of confidence is a beautiful example of how far desire can take you. Yes, having confidence is great but not necessary. Congratulations on getting a publisher!


      3. No worries there, Melene. You said nothing to hurt my feelings, but you gave me pause enough to rethink my response. Perhaps if I told you this, you might better understand where I was coming from: my first husband was filled with insecurity and it affected our marriage and his entire life. It still dogs him even now. Meeting Paul made me see how refreshing quiet self-confidence can be, and how much more enjoyable life is, living with someone like that. And let me reiterate that is not the quality I most admire in him.
        Thanks for the congrats!


  2. In the fairly recent past, there have been so many books about developing confidence, showing confidence, projecting confidence etc. I always like ppl who possess a quiet determination to get something done. This involves doing the job, completing it well and then NOT bragging abut it.

    Sometimes I find that other ppl’s level of “confidence” by far outweighs their ability to complete the job or task well.

    Let us also remember that * con artists* (short form of *confidence artists*) do well in fooling and defrauding others. It’s fine to be confident, to be strong in the solid belief that the job can be well handled, the task well done, etc, but I believe that the quiet strength and inner determination and true ABILITY must equal or outweigh the outward show of *confidence*.

    I believe that kindness. compassion and empathy are extremely important and essential characteristics to look for in a potential partner or friend. Confidence is fine as an *accompaniment* to other decent qualities of truly good character.. But confidence ALONE is not in itself a fine quality.

    I think that in recent times, the qualities of kindness, compassion and empathy have been viewed in a rather pejorative light. That is sad. People seems to think that “strength” and “confidence” standing alone are pre-eminent “qualities”.

    Thank you, Melene, for raising such an interesting, and discussion worthy topic on this forum. I have actually been thinking about this issue for quite some time. Thank you again, Melene. Always a pleasure to read your well written, and uplifting posts.


      1. Thank you, Melene! No, I don’t have a blog. Sometime I think about it. Thanks for your lovely, kind words!


  3. I am starting to question almost every word I use, and frequently look up familiar words in the dictionary to make sure I am using them right. Given that language defines our very existence, it is disturbing to me that people are becoming so careless about the way they express themselves. For example, the word love is so overused in marketing now that, for me anyway, it no longer has any meaning at all. Thank you for writing about this, it is a vitally important topic that more people should be investigating and debating.


    1. Rachael, I’ve been thinking about your great comment since yesterday. I think I’m going to write even more on this topic. We have words for hazy notions like confidence and none for very specific emotions and experiences. Thanks for getting me to think deeper.


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