What is confidence and where does it come from? (Series 2)

Stajkovic describes confidence as the combination of hope, self-efficacy, optimism and resilience. A confident person is someone who figures out what to do and how (hope), develops a belief that they can do specific tasks (self-efficacy), forms a positive outcome outlook (optimism), and works on the belief that they can bounce back if things go bad (resilience).

The peculiar thing about confidence, however, is that it does not seem to directly relate to skill. There are many gifted individuals who have very low confidence, and of course vice versa. How is this explained? Where then does confidence come from – is innate or can it be learnt? Like all nature versus nurture debates there is no conclusive answer on this and arguably it’s both.

Psychoanalytic theory is all about the structure of the personality and gives us some ideas about what shapes confidence. Unsurprisingly it takes us back to our early childhood experiences. Freud hypothesized the super-ego which he saw as ‘the judge’ or ‘the critical parent’ within the psyche. A super-ego which is ‘too strict’ will cause inhibitions, impacting confidence. Klein talked about ‘good’ and ‘bad’ internal objects, believing that low self-confidence results from difficulties in sustaining an internal good object. Subsequent Attachment Theorists postulated the importance of a strong emotional and physical attachment to at least one primary caregiver being critical to personal development. By having a strong anchor the child feels safe to explore and through this experience is able to acquire confidence.

Confidence is not, however, a fixed entity – it’s a continuum that can move from high to low, low to high. We as humans have an amazing capacity to change and grow. Even if our early experiences have meant that our start-point confidence levels are minimal it does not mean we cannot move on and foster them, even though to do this might not always be easy.

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