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What is Confidence?

The Definition of Confidence


We all speak of confidence as something important to life quality, but too few people really know what it is. Confidence is also hard to quantify, and equally hard to describe in detail, but it is real enough on a massive emotional scale, as it dictates our level of happiness and positivity.

Both confidence and happiness are states of being, not destinations to which we can aspire. They have little to do with material things, or even external interactions. Those may enhance personal feelings momentarily, but do little for long term emotional wellbeing and satisfaction. Confidence dictates happiness which has to start from inside us, according to how we feel about ourselves at any given time, and whether we are prone to be more positive or negative.

A simple definition of confidence could be: A positive way of thinking and acting, that is enhanced by personal experience, and powered by self-belief, to keep individuals motivated. However, nothing is ever simple when it comes to our emotions!

Confidence is determined by three basic elements: our level of self-belief, our sense of belonging, and our level of self-love and acceptance (self-esteem). These aspects, that form a highly personal triangle, are closely interwoven, and each one affects the other two in a routine way. Most important, our achievement and sense of belonging absolutely control the level of our esteem and self-acceptance. Without the first two aspects being fulfilled, we are likely to believe there is something missing from our lives, and suffer an ongoing sense of inadequacy.

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. It could also be connected to the kind of relationships you have had with others, especially if you have been romantically hurt or rejected. 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.

The way our family treats us (especially in childhood), the state of our relationships, and our progress at work, all affect our sense of belonging and self-esteem through a need for positive acceptance. Coupled with the success we have in our careers (professional validation), these elements will always affect how we feel, how much self-belief we have, how much we value ourselves, and how motivated we are to progress consistently.

When any of these three elements are out of synch, when they lose their positive edge, it is usually difficult for the person to focus or function, and it can lead to depression, an eternal feeling of unworthiness, and even mental illness. In short, any missing element creates a domino effect for everything else. That is why real confidence cannot be faked. One either has it, or one doesn't, because its loss means an important damaged link in the emotional and social interaction chain. We have true confidence only when we are happy with those three elements of life, which then make us more content within ourselves. We tend to love ourselves more, and have a higher opinion of who we are, when all three key elements are positive and abundant.

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 perfectionists. Furthermore, 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 personal validation, we begin to feel such a 'failure', that even our identity is called into question. Low confidence is reinforced by low self-esteem. Like sad twins, the two go hand in hand. 

The Origins of Confidence


Your confidence comes from two distinct places: your background and your education. Nothing happens by accident. Your present knowledge, attitude and actions are influenced entirely by your education and social background, which include everything you learnt from your parents, family, school, college and work; people you met, and events you participated in. All those aspects would have influenced you, and moulded your current perceptions and character.

For example, if, from an early age, you are used to seeing people stealing to survive, you will come to see that kind of activity as the norm, because everybody else around you does it. In such a situation, stealing would be regarded as 'natural' to you, and routine, though deviant to others who do not share it. Examples of how cultures dictate our actions include thriving drug cultures, violence, politicians in hock to lobbyists, and white-collar business crimes, etc. Hence why some communities get locked for generations into certain types of behaviour. Such actions gradually acquire a normalcy and a chilling routine about them, because almost everybody does it, which sets up corresponding expectations and then makes that behaviour acceptable.

Such a belief would not change, unless you were shown a different way through travel, education, or a change of values. Or you began to mix with people who survive by other means. But old habits die hard, and you would take a lot of convincing before you eventually changed your own behaviour. That is the main reason why some people never recover from a traumatic, or unhappy, childhood, particularly if others reinforce their negative experience in later life. People who change easily would already have their doubts, or be actively seeking a new perspective and approach. They would need only a catalyst to push them into that positive direction. 

Fears Dictate Action
Despite a history of low esteem, we are all capable of change, if we really want it. But it won't come without great effort because change is the thing we fear most. We genuinely believe we lose the old us, like favourite suits we have grown accustomed to, or lose the old ways of doing things, which makes us feel comfortable. But, fear of losing our old selves is groundless. Only thoughts and actions change, not people, and each of us has power over what we think and do. We do change, yes, but not in some dramatic way, only in small, imperceptible shifts which then amount to a whole new experience when viewed over a period of time; rather like still frames on a film which become animated when they are run together.

Gradually, we become more confident, and worldly-wise, but our personality does not really change. The only things which would change are the knowledge of our surroundings, our ability to deal with life's challenges, knowledge of the choices available to us, our perception of our situation, and our routine actions. It is our fears which dictate our actions and, if we are fearful, we will be reluctant to act. We would still change in those circumstances, but, being forced, the process would be more superficial, stressful and problematic.

For example, it is a lack of confidence, faith and trust, in others and their capabilities, that causes people to seek to control their existence and interactions unnecessarily. This kind of control stems from being let down a lot in childhood and feeling vulnerable and insecure. Such people find it hard to leave anything to chance. They believe that if they let go or act differently, everything would fall apart and others would not be able to cope. But should they fall ill, be out of the picture or simply drop dead, there is one guarantee above all. After the initial shock of the loss, people around them would continue as usual, and perhaps in an even more competent manner. One only has to think of children who lose their parents to see how quickly they adapt to their new circumstances and get on with their lives. The trauma would be felt, but circumstances dictate that we can never stand and stare. We always have to move on in time with the relentless flow of life, much wiser from the experience. 

The Human Confidence Triangle©


We are social beings who need others with whom to interact, and validate our presence, otherwise we could go insane from loneliness. Thus we all have an innate need to belong - whether to a group, community club, workplace, social media, or otherwise (it makes us feel valued and wanted), and that need drives everything else. With confidence being an internal state, it means that the happier we are about our bodies, identity (especially self-love), sense of belonging, personal value, and achievement, the more contented and confident we are likely to feel about our situations and interactions, regardless of whatever is happening externally. 

Thus how we actually feel when we wake up each day drives our thoughts, actions, and self-worth, which, in turn, impacts on how we react to possibilities, opportunities, adversity, and other people. If we are anxious, stressed, or don’t feel very good about anything, we are not likely to be thinking enhancing thoughts, or seeing the world in optimum mode. Our perception will be limited to our fears, with everything appearing overwhelming.

Yet confidence is not just a single word. That is why much practical advice about how you can boost it in an instant does not work, because confidence has deep roots in three essential aspects of our lives: our sense of belonging, our self-belief, and, most crucial, our self-love and self-acceptance. The combination of these three crucial aspects forms our individual Confidence Triangle - the backbone of our attitude and approach to life, which dictates everything we do.

Together, these three elements also decide our self-esteem, which is the foundation of our emotional health. The weaker they are, the less confident we feel, and the stronger they bind together, the more empowered we are. Hence each aspect affects the other in a never ending circle. It means that almost every major problem, obstacle, or difficulty we encounter will be connected to one or more of the three emotional strands of our Confidence Triangle.

To begin with, the BELONGING aspect is the most important for us. It emerges from how were treated in childhood. It’s the domain of our parents, relatives, peers, and immediate community, and it ultimately decides how we feel about our world; the attitude and perspectives we have; and even our identity. This sense of belonging is tied up with our need for protection and security. It starts as soon as we are born and bond with our parents. It carries on through adulthood, always modifying itself through the social friendships we make, the intimate relationships we create, and our work interactions. Any of those relationships not in tune and we are likely to feel unappreciated, undesirable, undervalued, and even unwanted

The SELF-BELIEF aspect is controlled by our aspirations and ambitions. When those are not in sync, or have not lived up to personal expectations, we tend to get a feeling of worthlessness, incapacity, and self rejection. Or we might blame others for that feeling of ‘failure’. SELF-LOVE and SELF-ACCEPTANCE comes from having a strong sense of both belonging and self-belief, which profoundly influences the acceptance of ourselves. We are likely to feel significant - a person who matters - valued and worthy, which then controls how we feel about ourselves and others. 

Acceptance and Self-Esteem

Acceptance is important to self-esteem because we cannot have real self-confidence without accepting ourselves fully, warts and all. And we can’t have inner peace and happiness if we are constantly feeling anxious, or insecure, about situations and people. When we feel unhappy with ourselves, we tend to be critical; to compare ourselves to others negatively, or wish we were someone else, losing our confidence through non-acceptance. It's like building a great house on shaky ground. Whenever there is an ill-wind, it will be blown over! Once we lose that confidence in ourselves, it affects everything else in our lives: that’s how important our Confidence Triangle is to our emotional health.

For example, we are prone to more problems, difficulties and illnesses when our self-esteem is low, because we tend to laugh less, often loathe ourselves, and systematically lower our resistance to coping with the rigours of life. With a lack of confidence we make far more mistakes, because we become unduly anxious, especially if we are being watched, and it reduces the quality of our performance. We also appear either negative and thin-skinned to other people (mainly through extra sensitive, or aggressive, behaviour), or are excessively fawning or friendly, to mask our feelings of inadequacy. In a vicious circle these actions only prompt others to reject our behaviour, which then reduces our self-acceptance even more, damaging personal competence and confidence even further.

Self-esteem is high only when there is acceptance of ourselves and others. If we believe we are wonderful because of our self-belief and belonging, we are likely to have high self acceptance and a stronger self-image, and are likely to feel greatly empowered and motivated. On the other hand, if we think we are victimised, worthless, undervalued, discriminated against, and neglected, we carry around low self-esteem like a huge boulder, which not only knocks out our potential, but also blunts the reactions of others.

The Confidence Triangle is the greatest influence on our daily lives because it involves the people who matter most. That is why it is never good to fall out on a long term basis with the closest people to us, like parents or partners, because it immediately affects our sense of belonging and worth, no matter how much we might pretend otherwise, and ultimately affects our aspirations and achievement. It is also the main reason why, when relationships break, they sometimes hurt so much, because it immediately reduces our sense of belonging, self acceptance, desirability, and value.

In a competitive world there is no place for low confidence or faint hearts, because the key root of the Confidence Triangle is self-belief. You really have to believe in yourself to get ahead, or be successful. If your esteem is low, there is no self-belief, because that belief is positive perception based upon pure faith, created and sustained by a knowledge of past achievements. Low self-esteem is dominated by negativity and a denial of those very achievements. It is hard to recall past glories when we are down. They become insignificant, or non-existent, in our eyes, as we cease to acknowledge our capabilities and potential.

*Excerpt from e-book: 'What is Confidence? Understanding the Human Confidence Triangle©' by Elaine Sihera

The Twin Side of Confidence: SELF-ESTEEM


Self-esteem is the opinion we have of ourselves which is controlled by acceptance of ourselves as worthy individuals. If we believe we are wonderful, we tend to have high self-esteem, and, if we think we are worthless and insignificant, we carry around a low self-esteem that not only affects our potential, but also influences the reactions of others. Gradually they pick up the negative body signals we send out, and treat us accordingly.

Nathaniel Branden (1930-2014) was the first writer to popularise the concept of self-esteem (The Psychology of Self-Esteem,1969). His book, heavy on philosophising and light on emotions, emphasised the power of thinking, personal principles, and individual values, to shape self-esteem and build confidence. However, he ignored the most potent force of enduring self-esteem: self-love and self-acceptance. He thought that the act of thinking and questioning alone would enhance our awareness and help us to love ourselves. According to him, we had to “cherish our ability to think” to get high self-esteem. But while thoughts influence feelings and emotions, they alone do not give us self-love, or personal confidence. Something else is also in operation.

Any feeling of well-being is controlled by how we feel about ourselves, not just how we think. Hence we are prone to more illnesses, more problems, and more difficulties, when our self-esteem is low, because we tend to feel bad, laugh less, become more critical of our situation and others, often hate ourselves and, systematically, lower our resistance to cope with the rigours of life. With no confidence and low self-esteem, we appear either negative to other people (seemingly through aggressive behaviour), or excessively fawning or friendly (to mask feelings of inadequacy). In a vicious circle, these actions only prompt others to reject our behaviour, which erodes our self-esteem even further.

Low self-esteem is driven by fear: the fear of not being good enough, not being wanted and valued; of being worthless and insignificant.People with low self-esteem seldom feel in charge of their lives. Self-conscious in appearance, and often difficult to please, they tend to be mean with appreciation and praise, and inspire little faith in, or respect from, others. They often to find it hard to resolve personal difficulties because, being too ready to blame others, or afraid of challenging them, they expect such scapegoats to provide the answers. As they are likely to internalise the criticism of others, while searching constantly for that elusive acknowledgment, their personal assessment will usually reflect itself in the appraisal of others. Blaming others often becomes a handy support for doing nothing, while maintaining their low esteem and sense of inadequacy. 

The Importance of Self-Belief to Self-Esteem

Ultimately, no matter how simple the achievement, if we do not manage to get it, we will remain unfulfilled and dissatisfied, and its loss will affect subsequent actions, and inevitably, our self esteem. However, achievement depends primarily on self-belief, and when that is non-existent, we are likely to regard ourselves as 'failures', which then lowers our self-esteem in our own eyes.

The level of esteem will also be controlled by our sense of belonging. If this is high, because we feel loved and secure, we will be able to take disappointment in our stride and weather any temporary setbacks in achievement. We will be more willing to try again because our confidence will get us through the bad patch. Thus the emotional pillars of self-belief, belonging, and self-love and acceptance make up our self-esteem and the level of confidence we desire. Once any of these key pillars is missing, our confidence will be affected badly too.

If you are feeling low at this moment, one, or all, of those three elements is the culprit. You need to examine why you feel that way because genuine confidence will not be possible until each is addressed. Or if you are tempted to reject yourself, find fault with your body, perhaps feel depressed about it, or find yourself being too critical of others, there is one key question to bear in mind, especially if you are seeking relationships: Which part of your Confidence Triangle is out of sync, and needs attention first?

More important, how can anyone else love and value you, if you loathe yourself, and have low self-esteem? It has to start with you first.

But what makes us this way? Why is our self-esteem so tied up with our desire to belong and to achieve? 

Drive for Control
It could have a lot to do with an innate drive for power and control. We have a strong capacity for freedom of thought, choice, and action, yet any potential for hurting others with this unrestrained freedom is tempered by an equally pressing desire to be loved and wanted. Without exception, at some point in our lives, we all want to be recognised, feted, and adored; to be known for something of value. Just for one brief moment in time we would all like to be noticed and honoured.

In short, what propels us forward in life is an overriding need to be somebody. Once we believe we are somebody, we tend to feel wanted; we feel we have achieved; we accept ourselves more readily, and our self-image and esteem are very high.

The Greatest Single Asset in Life


There are many assets we have that serve us well, according to the situations we are in, the interactions we enjoy, and our personal goals. They could range from our own personality, particular talents, creativity, skills, money, qualifications - anything that can be used to enhance our existence. However, there is one hidden asset that rises above all else, but which many people would not even consider an asset, because it is not so easy to possess, and not tangible to feel, but it can have dramatic and enriching effects on the quality of our life and achievements.

Confidence is our greatest single asset, no matter what other advantages we have. Talent, qualifications, or looks are not enough for realising potential, or making an impact. We must have the confidence and courage to utilise them to full effect. But being little understood, confidence as a powerful motivator has been much undervalued, and there isn't much research in it.

That is not so surprising, as we cannot appreciate what we don’t understand. Hence confidence as a tool has often been expressed through trivialities like how we should act, or dress; what we should say; the way we should prepare for the unknown, etc., with very little information addressing the root causes of confidence - the way we actually feel, and why, which affects our confidence level. Some confidence advisors do mention positive thinking and self-belief, but it is well nigh impossible to be positive, if one doesn’t know how to be positive, or why one is feeling negative in the first place! That’s putting the cart before the horse.

Confidence is a product of self-esteem which, in turn, is dictated by self-belief, self-love, and sense of belonging. When those three elements are absent, it is impossible to have true confidence in one's self, because the essential foundation would be missing. One would have very low self-esteem which means equally low confidence to match. 

Ineffective Confidence Tips
That is why many tips for 'boosting' self-confidence are ineffective, because they ask people to do what they are not capable of. Thus to tell someone of low confidence to 'express an opinion' or 'walk with confidence' is like giving a leaflet about learning to read to an illiterate person!

For example, one tip in an article was this: 
"Make a conscious effort not to compare yourself to others. Affirm your uniqueness. Remind yourself of your talents and strengths."

The advice about the futility of human comparison is a good one, but low self-esteem is about feeling worthless. It is well nigh impossible not to compare one's self with others and be found wanting. Additionally the low confidence person cannot 'affirm their uniqueness' if they do not value themselves enough to appreciate that uniqueness in the first place! They also cannot focus on their talents and strengths if their weak self-belief tells them that they don't have any! It would be very difficult for them to see those strengths. 

Another tip said: "Accept yourself. Admit your mistakes and move on."
That tip means well, but is overly optimistic, because the basis of low confidence is a lack of self-acceptance, always thinking the worst of one's self. How does someone of low esteem suddenly accept him/herself? That's what a confident person does; one who already possesses the self-belief to do so. Such tips merely put the cart before the horse.

No amount of physical action is going to override negative, debilitating thoughts that plague a person every day, and have dogged them, most likely, since childhood. Exploring one's past/present to understand one's self enough to learn what is causing the low feelings and low esteem is the very first step. Once those thoughts are controlled, the other steps toward building that confidence might stand a chance.

That is why people who simply follow 'confidence tips' might be able to cope with an immediate situation (situational confidence), but are soon back to their normal fearful selves, because the root cause of low self-esteem has not been addressed. The only sure thing to boost our self confidence is to focus on WHY we lack self-belief, do not love ourselves, or believe we have no value.

In essence, confidence is not a physical asset but an emotional one that begins from THOUGHTS, self-appreciation and self-love. The reasons for low confidence usually lie in how we are treated in childhood, or in a faulty relationship somewhere. Once we can identify them and begin to understand the negative ways they affect us, and how we can turn them around to our advantage - mainly through emotional exploration and self-education - we are on our way to appreciating our unique selves, and building true confidence within us.

However, many people, especially men, fear that emotional exploration; fear the answers they might find, and resist it. So the low confidence and esteem continue to dog them, while they put up with behaviour which is not appropriate, in order to feel valued and a sense of belonging.

Having the confidence to do anything we desire is a powerful tool for our development and self-worth. It means that we will be more equipped to take advantage of any opportunity, and even create our own opportunities. Yet confidence starts from self-belief and self-acceptance. Without those two anchors, true confidence is likely to be elusive.

How confident do you feel right now? Not sure? Are you truly ready to achieve what you desire? Take the Confidence Quiz to find out.

The Real Value of Confidence in Wellbeing and Success


Confidence is one of those things we know greatly influence the extent of our happiness and success, but which seldom seems to conform to expectations, no matter how hard we seek it, especially in interacting with others. One cannot see confidence or touch it, but without this essential life ingredient, we can feel very miserable and isolated. Without it we are likely to think we're failures -€“ life's rejects. Even more galling, everyone else seems to have this precious self-assurance, while we are left to wonder where, and how, we missed out.

For too many of us, confidence is a scarce commodity. It comes and goes in fleeting gusts and, just when we think we have it covered, it flutters away mockingly, deserting us at our most needy moments - especially when are trying to impress or cope with obstacles. We are left feeling either helpless, nervous, vulnerable, impotent, angry or disgusted with ourselves; perhaps in a state of depression brought on by what we think we should have done but didn't. Make no mistake about it, confidence dictates the quality, timing, and effectiveness of our actions. It also affects the tone of our voice, what we actually say and the impression we ultimately give.

Real confidence cannot be faked. It affects us from the time we are very young and has to be nurtured and maintained by others around us. False assurance is what we give to ourselves when we are unable to get any reinforcement, or positive feedback, from the people who matter. It bolsters our ego and self-esteem temporarily, but it can be easily knocked away at the slightest negative reaction, leaving us feeling bare and weak. We all tend to feel confident in one area of the triangle of life (either family, work, or relationship) and nurture that aspect, while feeling inadequate in the others.

Real confidence comes through recognition and encouragement of our actions by ourselves and our peers in a kind of 60/40 split. The acknowledgment and reinforcement of our peers is an important tonic to our identity and self-esteem. If we know we are good at something because of our self-belief and the way we are regarded and reinforced by others, it will take a great deal to change that opinion. If our self-perception is never confirmed by others, especially the ones who matter, we are likely to feel insecure, and unsure of ourselves. That is why it can be difficult to get over a relationship when it breaks. It doesn't matter how many other people might fancy us at that moment. All that matters to us then is the one we have parted from. And unless they are responding positively, we are likely to feel rather worthless!

Deviance and Anger

The power of confidence within the family is indisputable. A child who is told repeatedly he is good for nothing is likely to turn into an adult who believes he/she is worthless, useless and has no talent. He may try harder to carve his own future in a competitive arena by utilising any encouragement given to him in later life. But he is likely to be either apathetic, lacking the necessary confidence to make the right decisions for a successful existence, or just happy to settle for what he can get.

Worse still, she could decide that, if she is already worthless, she cannot change, so she might as well be deviant or 'bad', an attitude which does not depend on the approval of others, and which actively creates conflicting situations she can easily control. If he chooses this way, he will carry that anger against others with him, and his new false assurance will encourage negative actions that will be channeled towards his environment and community, or even himself - the first steps in deviant and selfish behaviour. It is not so difficult to see the important role confidence has in our growth, development and feeling of social inclusion.