Self-confidence is essentially an attitude which allows us to have a positive and realistic perception of ourselves and our abilities. It is characterised by personal attributes such as assertiveness, optimism, enthusiasm, affection, pride, independence, trust, the ability to handle criticism and emotional maturity.
Confidence is learned, it is not inherited. If you lack confidence, it probably means that, as a child, you were criticised, undermined, or suffered an inexplicable tragic loss, for which you either blamed yourself or were blamed by others. A lack of confidence isn’t necessarily permanent but it can be if it isn’t addressed. Our religion, the influence of the culture which formed our perspectives, our gender, social class and our parents, in particular, are all factors which influence and contribute to our level of confidence and esteem.
Confident people have deep faith in their future and can accurately assess their capabilities. They also have a general sense of control in their lives and believe that, within reason, they will be able to do what they desire, plan and expect, no matter what the foreseeable obstacle. But this faith is guided by more realistic expectations so that, even when some of their goals are not met, those with confidence continue to be positive, to believe in themselves and to accept their current limitations with renewed energy. However, having high self-confidence does not mean they will be able to do everything they want. That view is unrealistic, one for the perfectionists. A desire to be good at everything we do in order to impress others stems from a competitive instinct and lack of personal reinforcement. Any truly successful life has both rewards and the ability to learn from any setbacks, which increase our resilience, self- belief and determination. Real confidence requires that we face the possibility of failure constantly and deal with it. However, if we consistently lose out on both achievement and validation, even our identity is called into question.
Self-esteem is the opinion you have of yourself. It is based upon how you perceive your value as a person, particularly with regard to the work you do, your status, achievements, purpose in life, your perceived place in the social order, potential for success, strengths and weaknesses; how you relate to others and your ability to stand on your own feet. Because esteem is a perception of your worth, your own value of yourself dictates how others perceive you too. Buddhists classify low self-esteem as “a negative emotion or delusion, which exaggerates one's limitations in capacity, quality and potential for growth”. It results from having a poor self-image according to personal experience in all the elements of life mentioned above. People with poor esteem never feel in charge of their lives. They often feel like victims, or outsiders - ignored, excluded, unimportant, insignificant and unloved. As they spend their lives internalising the criticism of others, taking it to heart while searching constantly for that elusive acknowledgement, their personal assessment will reflect itself in the appraisal of others – no more, no less. But if we allow others to take control of decisions we should make, we gradually become dependent upon them too, abdicating responsibility for our lives, which tends to lead to us being doormats for other people’s benefit.
Low self-esteem usually has three sides. The first is exhibited by the individual who always seems to be the underdog, the under-achiever, the negative one who says “I couldn’t”, “I shouldn’t”, “I can’t”, “I have no choice” and “I have to”. The opposite side to that, and the second type, is the person who seems very confident superficially, a take-charge type of person, appearing to be much in control, very opinionated and often found in leadership positions. But this is usually a mask for low self-esteem because he/she is likely to be tense, serious, anxious and finicky. When things go wrong that’s when the low esteem comes to the fore. Often perfectionists, they find crises difficult to handle and tend to blame others for everything. They are usually demanding, self-centred, very independent, markedly self-sufficient in their distrust of others and slow to take criticism, instruction or direction. Locked in their own narrow world, they dread new experiences, always going by the book and resenting innovation. In effect, occupying leadership positions without being true leaders. This type of low self-esteem will often deny that anything is wrong, because their belief in being totally in charge and more competent than their bosses or subordinates, is their main protection. Yet being fully in charge of your life actually eliminates the need for anger, insecurity and the desire to judge, control or denigrate others.
The third type of personality is the one who is always seeking fun and happiness from others, especially partners and love interests. Laughter becomes a mask for the low opinion these people have of themselves, so everything is done with an emphasis on ‘fun’ to make them feel worthy - either finding it or giving it. Sensitive and thin-skinned, fun people have very low self-esteem, hiding their anxieties behind a bland mask of cheerful superficiality that tends to grate on others after a time because they don’t know when to stop being happy and playing the fool. Like the office clown who tries terribly hard to show how ‘happy’ she is, yet is anything but that; the practical joker who likes to laugh at the expense of others, particularly through racist, sexist or offensive quips – anything to feel superior; the lad who is always hanging out with friends because he cannot stand his own face or company for any length of time; the type who loves a dare, particularly in doing outrageous things, to show his bravado, talent and machismo, and the ones who boast to potential dates about being able to make them laugh and keep them happy.
In relationships, fun people find it hard to commit to others because of their acute social fears. The main desirable attribute they offer to potential partners is ‘fun’, always seeking laughter, sex and good times to hide their insecurity and pain. However, as ‘fun’ people always try too hard, they are in fact the most boring, mirthless people around, the type who have little humour themselves. It then becomes heavy work for their partners. This is because laughter has to be found within us. No one can make us happy, only enhance that happiness. Fun people’s method of feeling significant is to be the centre of attention in a more positive way. But, as their activity is often not genuine, more to hide their low confidence than to enhance it, their effort isn’t really effective. They never openly address their personal pain or hurt. They are reluctant to trust others and are even more reluctant to commit themselves to anyone, which makes them feel insignificant if they are not being perennially happy lads or laddettes. To behave otherwise would deny them the attention they crave.
Many people with low self-esteem gravitate towards the uniformed and public services where they can use the power invested in them, while being validated by the uniform and authority, to boost their self- confidence and ego. The strict hierarchy affords the security of a given status, reinforces the ‘traditions’ to be maintained, and the consistent feedback they require. However, that is also what makes change so difficult to introduce in these occupational fields. The fear of innovation and the lack of self-belief to carry it out foil them every time. Very confident people tend to become scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, writers or creative, artistic types, preferring to control their own environment and destiny. The commercial, media and technology spheres also appear to provide the freedom of expression and the font of opportunity they actively seek.
ELAINE SIHERA (Ms Cyprah - http://www.myspace.com/elaineone ) is an expert author, media contributor and columnist. The first Black graduate of the OU and a post-graduate of Cambridge University, Elaine is a CONSULTANT for Diversity Management, Personal Empowerment and Relationships. Dynamic extrovert with a passion for living and people. Author of: 10 Easy Steps to Growing Older Disgracefully; 10 Easy Steps to Finding Your Ideal Soulmate!; Money, Sex & Compromise and Managing the Diversity Maze, among others (available on http://www.amazon.co.uk ). Also the founder of the British Diversity Awards and the Windrush Achievement Awards.