Confidence vs. Arrogance

When you say that Subway sandwiches are sh*tty, it means they taste bad.

But if you say that Subway sandwiches are The Sh*t, it means they’re awesome — like an orgasm for your taste buds.

Sh*tty and The Sh*t look and sound similar but at the core they’re opposites. The same goes for confidence vs. arrogance.

In trying to understand the subtle difference between the two, I did what everyone does when they want wisdom and guidance but are too lazy to do any legitimate research: I surveyed my friends on Facebook.

My status update said: How can you tell the difference between confidence and arrogance? Here are some of the responses I got:

  • Confident people believe that they are right and are unafraid of those who may see things differently. Arrogant people not only believe they are right but also feel superior to those who do not share their point of view.¬†Confident people do not belittle those who disagree. Arrogant people do.
  • Perhaps confidence is arrogance without the fear, and thus without the defensive postures.
  • Arrogance reeks of insecurity.
  • Confidence is believing you can do anything anyone else can do. Arrogance is believing no one can ever do what you can do.
  • Confidence is more internal while arrogance is external. Confidence is quiet while arrogance is loud. Confidence is positive while arrogance is negative.
  • Confident people don’t necessarily involve other people in their confidence and if they do, it’s more indirect like watching a confident athlete go for gold. A person can be alone and confident. Arrogance involves other people. You can’t be arrogant by yourself. You need to be overbearing and shove your supposed confidence and self-grandeur upon others.
  • Arrogance comes from a mean-spirited place of condescension and over inflated sense of self worth, or it may actually be an indicator of how small the arrogant person feels about themselves and they’re just trying to tear others down so they feel better. I think true confidence can come from a person’s sense of optimism.
  • Arrogance is the emotional and psychological tool of those who seek power and authority to dominate others. Confidence is the quiet and unassuming sense of emotional, physical and/or intellectual competence that allows a person to pursue various goals with hope for success.

Aren’t my peeps smart and wonderful?

One Step Further

It’s not enough to simply understand the definitions of arrogance and confidence. We need to take things one step further — we need to understand how arrogance and confidence move throughout our own lives.

But this can be tricky. From personal experience I’ve realized that it’s easy to point out others’ arrogance but difficult to spot our own. It’s also easy to misinterpret someone’s confidence as arrogance, especially if our own sense of worth or intelligence are threatened.

Everyone Is A Little Arrogant Sometimes

If you don’t think that sentence applies to you, you just proved me right.

But in your defense, arrogance is kind of a sneaky mother sucker. For example, I was once in a heated discussion with someone who was coming off as pushy and arrogant. I let him get under my skin, I got defensive, and I said some pushy and arrogant stuff in response. If I were truly confident to begin with, I would not have taken this person’s aggression personally nor responded with hostility.

Like I said– sneaky. Sometimes you don’t even realize you sound arrogant until people start avoiding you.

Enthusiasm Can Look Like Arrogance

One of my grad school professors told me I’d better watch my ego.

This came as a big shock to me. Mostly because I know what my flaws are and so does everyone else who knows me well: I’m a pushover, I lack confidence, I’m a total sloth, I suppress my anger (and then let it seep out in passive aggressive ways), I have classic middle child syndrome, and I struggle with anxiety.

But when I signed up for this professor’s course on Bereavement Counseling, none of my usual flaws applied. I was enthusiastic about this topic, and I was confident in my call to serve others in this manner because I spent two intense years surviving grief in my own life.

While I certainly wasn’t an expert at bereavement counseling, I knew I wanted to be. So I went above and beyond with my course work and projects. And as the only person in my program who specifically wanted to learn more about death and dying, I paved the way for my graduate school to create an internship opportunity and professional relationship with a local hospice.

But in the end, what my professor saw in me was a person who was way too comfortable with talking about death. When I referenced our textbook during class discussions because I was inspired by it, he thought I was trying to show him up. When I created a short film for one of our projects and ended it with a lighthearted joke, he thought I was being cocky.

We should be open about our fears and vulnerabilities (because that’s what confident people do). But I don’t think we should be ashamed of our passions, skills, or interests for fear of appearing arrogant.

Arrogance Can Look Like Humility

Moments before I saw my very first client in therapy, I was terrified and frozen in a state of panic. I was hyperventilating right there in my comfy office chair thinking: What if I screw up? What if I don’t know what to say? What if this person thinks I’m an idiot? I don’t know what the hell I’m doing! Ack!!

And suddenly a C.S. Lewis quote popped in my head: “Humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less.”

And I realized that the reason I struggle with so much anxiety is because I make everything about me. I focus on my own my fears and needs instead of focusing on others.

While anxiety is often associated with self-doubt and fear (and can even be mistaken as humility), anxiety is also a type of arrogance — a preoccupation with how others perceive you, a fear of not being perfect, and a self-absorbed way of sitting in your own worry.

Arrogance has many faces.


Your Turn: What are your experiences with arrogance vs. confidence?

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20 Responses to Confidence vs. Arrogance

  1. Kim Astrid says:

    Hi Andrew Mac, I find that your comments are so On Point!! Very well said! Your comments have been very useful to me.

  2. Hi!
    I would like to learn more about these two topics [ Confidence vs Arrogance ( Attitude ) ]

    I enjoy the development of the two moral issue.

    Francois M

  3. Rurik says:

    I think confidence and arrogance are very similtar since one can easily be considered a confident person by someone and by someone else he can also be considered an arrogant person. What I’m trying to say is that maybe arrogant and confident is just different points of view.

    • Kimberly says:

      True! But also, everyone’s interpretation of your words/ actions is a projection of their own issues…so I guess the closest thing to the truth is what’s in your heart, plus how people who know and care for you would classify your attitude.

  4. Kellsey says:

    My wife just expressed to me tonight that I tend to portray “quiet arrogance”. That my body language is one of humility, yet my speech is of correction of others and intellectual superiority of my peers. Thankfully I did not get defensive with her inquiry of myself. But, it did get me to thinking. I don’t realize that I do this at the time, but I can see where I can’t let a person just think the way they do, differently than I, or not correct someone when they simply mispronounce or misspell a word. (Even when I know I do NOT have or use correct or perfect grammar!). And, if i were not arrogant to some degree, then I suppose outwardly arrogant men would not offend me to the point of utter disgust and dislike for them, just because of their arrogant body language. It is just confusing to me how my body language can be the opposite of my mental or verbal portrayal. Any experience with this so-called quiet arrogance?

    • Kimberly says:

      Hi, Kellsey. First, I tip my hat to you for not getting defensive, and for being brave enough to explore this further. As for your question, I definitely think someone can seem humble on the outside but have arrogant thoughts and attitudes on the inside. Take me for example. I’m an introvert, very laid back in a group setting, and I have a pretty warm and gentle vibe. But when I feel angry or annoyed (Hey, I’m no angel!), my thoughts and words become negative and harsh, but my overall personality as expressed through my body remains the same.

      Side note: If you’d like to bravely explore your own tendency toward arrogance, look at your emotional wounds from youth– they always explain why we’re harsh with ourselves and with others.

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  8. AndrewMac says:

    I have what may be an interesting insight into this. I suffer from Bipolar Disorder, so my self-esteem, arrogance and confidence levels have fluctuated often. When I am healthy I am naturally confident, and it stems from fearlessness. This is how confident people can be vulnerable; they’re not anxious about being hurt. Very often when my self-esteem is at its lowest, I become bombastic to compensate for it. I’ve come close to being really physically hurt being that way. When I am feeling confident, I question authority, (not legal authority) because authority relies on submission, which is the opposite of fearlessness. I believe that confidence is attractive because it is an emotional THE emotional quality that defines leadership. Confidence is about trust, and people who trust themselves do so out of security.

    • Kimberly says:

      Hi, Andrew. I haven’t heard many others relate confidence to trust, but you make a great point! Whether it’s trust in your own ability, or the trust you have with others who will have your back if you fail, or even trust in a Higher Power if you are religious/ spiritual…all of these can foster courageous action. It’s also interesting to hear what confidence can feel like for someone who experiences both depression and manic episodes. Thanks for you 2 cents!

  9. I don’t necessarily see arrogance as a bad thing all the time. There is a very specific difference between confidence and arrogance. Confidence is always based on past perfomance. You’ve doen it before so you believe you can do it again. You have had this question before and you researched the answer to it so you are confident your answer is correct. Or it may be that you have been trainin glong and hard for a competition and so you are confident that you are prepared and the hard work will payoff. Arrogance is not based on anything. It is an absolute resosultion or postion with no factual or sustantial basis. We generally admire confidence becassue it points to a legitimate cause and effect relationship a that demonstrates principles we prize as a society such as hard work leads to success, practice makes perfect, or the best predictor of future outcome is past performance. These are cornerstones of logic. They comfort us by reinforcing that their are definitive patterns that rule the world. Nature is consistent and unchanging. In a way Confidence is an expection that the universe is in perfect working order. It is faith confirmed by experience. It’s the essence of common sense.
    On the other hand, arrogance has the audacity to rebel against comon sense. To be arrognat is to say “past performance is nothing. The laws of nature don’t apply. The previosu answers are wrong, and your just goign to have to trust me on this. ”
    Arrogance is not inherently bad, but it rubs peopel the wrong way because it demands blind faith to support. Blind faith is a precarious position to be in, and therefore we all feel threatened by arrognace. But it should be noted that any kind of new discovery, any challenge to the status quo begins as arrogance. But once it is demonstrated and established it becames confidence, because it is now based on past performnace.

    • Kimberly Eclipse says:

      Hmm, never thought of it that way. You are right, the audacity of blind faith was the start of many innovative inventions, ideas, and remarkable careers, and I’m sure it came off as arrogance to all the doubters and naysayers. It makes me realize that arrogance is in many ways a natural part of youth (if not literal age, then level of experience or knowledge within a particular field). Onlookers can either feel threatened or annoyed by the arrogance, or accept it as a part of life that doesn’t necessarily harm anyone. Interesting spin on things — thanks for your comment!

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  11. Eliana Marcelino says:

    Today I went through a very difficult, heart aching experience. But I suppose the best and most while things in life come through effort and often these challenging experiences have in fact the most beneficial impact on us.

    I arrived at a work trial today in an industry I have limited experience and I was nervous, anxious and wondered if I’d do well enough to get the position.

    My main concern was to be liked by the boss and accepted by my colleagues, do the job well and show my keeness and enthusiasm, my willingness to be loyal to someone who gives me an opportunity and even to work for free for a couple of months until I am fully trained and up to speed with the somewhat complicated procedures to be followed.

    As a result of how I felt and how I tried to communicate that I showed to be uptight, too serious and even complicated. I asked too many questions, some with the intention to show that I knew the context or technique at hand, others that were not worth worrying about at that stage yet (trying to show that I paid attention to detail and really cared about doing a great job).

    I talked about myself too much and even tough I noticed I was doing that I could not stop doing so. The more I talked the more anxious I got and the more anxious I got the more I felt I needed to talk to fix the situation.

    I was pleasantly surprised at how honest and opened my now new employer was when she said that I needed to relax, trust myself and let go. She told me that I needed to worry less about myself and more about others.

    I didn’t quite understand that particular point in a very long conversation as I felt that this would make me a very selfish person and I would hate to think of myself that way.

    I suppose that is exactly what my anxiety and insecurities make me in the end. I’m so worried about trying to make others like me that I overlook their needs at the time. How could I figure out what they may need from me if my main focus is to prove to them that I can do something or even worst, if they can’t get a word in to tell me what that may be.

    Finding out on my first day that she had a criticism about me personally was hard and upset me. However, I see it as a positive thing, an opportunity to change. Not to mention that I value the fact that she took her time to share this so openly with me. It would have been easier for her not to hire me, say that I had no experience and be done with it.

    I’m still upset and not sure if I can change. I want to, I really do! I have struggled with this most of my life and I feel like I keep ruining the good opportunities that come my way.

    I feel alone in this because most people (this article excluded, and my boss today) only give me quote like advice when I open myself and my fears up to them. Or they feel the need to make up excuses for me, such as “ooh, your boss just doesn’t appreciate how much of a good employee you are. They are taking you for granted and will nly realise what they lost once u leave!”. I need to face but deal with this not run away.

    How do you stop being your worst enemy?

    • Kimberly Eclipse says:

      Hi Eliana! Welcome to ABL and thanks for sharing your experience.

      First, I commend you for sincerely wanting to improve based on constructive feedback from your new boss, despite feeling the uncomfortable sting of criticism. You’re right, it would have been easier to simply criticize others for not liking or hiring you. Instead, you’re trying to grow from the experience. And to that I say bravo! Looks like you’ve already got 2 things on your side:

      (1) Courage and willingness to change
      (2) Awareness about your weaknesses

      Don’t underestimate how awesome this is! These 2 ingredients are the foundation for change, and they can take you a long way in life.

      As for how you can change, I’d like to share a story. One time while I was in training to be a therapist, I was talking to my supervisor about how worried I was about my ability to counsel a challenging client. His response was one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten: “Don’t take this the wrong way, but you have to remember– it’s not about you.” And then he ended our conversation with, “Now go get ‘em!” Clearly, he knew that my weakness was my confidence level, so his strategy was two-fold:

      (1) Refocus my thoughts and energy on SERVICE to others, not my own weaknesses.
      (2) He communicated that he believed in me — not necessarily in my present level of competence, but in my ability to improve (in skill and confidence) over time. A little drop of faith (on his part and mine) can go a long way.

      And I think that’s what needs to happen (and CAN happen) for you. :)

      As for a more practical tip, when I’m feeling anxious before doing something scary (treating a new client or teaching a new class), I do some deep breathing and I focus on a little mantra: I am an instrument of healing. How can I be of service? You can make up your own mantra. Just make sure that some part of it focuses your attention on the higher calling of helping others (which is applicable no matter what field of work you’re in). It’s all about reframing: perceive each situation as an opportunity to do something awesome for somebody, not as an opportunity for failure or embarrassment.

      Another tip that has helped me during interviews is to slow down my speech and thinking, which helps me to be my authentic self as opposed to rambling on and on in an effort to look like something I’m not. (Note: You don’t look dumb if you take a moment to breathe and think before answering a question!) Also, it helps to visualize the interviewer as a regular person — someone who has hobbies, loves their family, and hell, poops in the morning or whatever. Then you talk to them with your guard down and the true you has space to shine.

      You’re welcome to share your thoughts or questions on what I’ve written above. And please let me know how it goes. Good luck!

  12. Sheryl says:

    Arrogance is such a tricky bugger. It goes back to the eye of the beholder: things that look like arrogance can actually be something else and things that are arrogance can sometimes get a free pass.

    Like anyone, I can be genuinely arrogant at times.

    I know a trap I fall into (far too often for my liking) is overcompensating for insecurity – and then looking like the biggest arrogant jerk you’ve ever met. It’s hard to come up with the right balance of admitting my own insecurities and still appearing competent – give too much honesty to the insecurities and I look weak or like a bad bet, ignore them too much and it comes off as arrogant. It’s like a tightrope act. All about the balance, which is very tricky to figure out.

    • Kimberly Eclipse says:

      Whew, join the club! It’s totally a tricky balance and I too have been known to eff up, as you read in this blog post. It takes a lifetime to find that balance because that’s how long it takes to develop *true* confidence — the kind that is so full of purpose, humility and gratitude that there’s just no need to puff up the ego with outward arrogance.

      It’s actually frustrating when people refuse to talk about their insecurities, mistakes and vulnerabilities. (Politicians do this and it drives me mad! Argh!) At the same time, I don’t think you need to reveal all your insecurities unless it benefits the listener — like when you share your fears so that people don’t feel alone in theirs. But in a different context (during a job interview for example), insecurities are irrelevant. Instead, you talk about your areas of weakness but spend more time giving details about how you continually work hard to overcome them. You’re not ignoring your weaknesses, but you’re also admitting that haven’t completely conquered them. (Because really, who does?) Whether you are a politician, a job applicant, a blogger, or a friend, I think people just like to see that you are making a concerted effort to grow. In the end, that’s all we want for ourselves, what we want for others, and the very best that we’re capable of doing in our lifetime.

      • Sheryl says:

        Funny you mention the job interview context! I had an interview the other week where, of course, the what are your three biggest weaknesses questions came up … and for the first time ever, I enjoyed answering it.

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