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Blog Short #176: Truly Confident People Are Humble

Photo by Ridofranz, Courtesy of iStock Photo

When you think about being confident, is humility part of the equation? Maybe so, but often not.

Confidence feels strong, assured, assertive, self-reliant, secure, capable, and bold. Humility is associated with modesty, meekness, quietness, unpretentiousness, and self-effacement. Some might see it as the opposite of confidence.

We don’t usually associate humility with confidence, but true confidence is informed by humility. Without humility, confidence teeters on the edge of narcissism.

So why would you want to think about this?

Because almost everyone would like to feel confident. There are benefits:

  1. Confident people are attractive and get a lot of social and professional mileage from their self-presentation. They’re admired, sought after, and more likely to succeed.
  2. Feeling confident also makes it easier to interact socially, perform well, and not worry so much about how others perceive you.

In other words, being confident helps you in most facets of your life.

Today, let’s look at how humility plays a role in being confident and what you can do to increase them both.

Confidence versus Narcissism

To understand how humility is a part of confidence, it would help to differentiate confidence from narcissism because they’re often interchanged and confused with each other.

Narcissistic people generally present themselves as very confident – sometimes ultra-confident – especially up front. They can be charismatic, engaging, and exude power.

The same can apply to someone who’s confident yet not narcissistic, but there’s a difference in how they see themselves and others.

A narcissistic person:

  • Sees himself as the center of the world. In other words, his approach to interactions and deeds is ego-centric.
  • He regards others as a means of acquiring admiration, attention, and validation of his superior worth.
  • He feels himself to be above the standard rules of behavior. He can do what he wants without censure because, after all, he knows more than anyone else.

A truly confident person minus the narcissism:

  • Sees himself as part of the world. He recognizes that he has a place with everyone else and feels a kinship with his fellow man. He belongs.
  • He regards others with empathy, respect, and worth. He doesn’t see others as a means to inflate and maintain his ego. Although he believes in his abilities and strengths, he also welcomes and appreciates the talents and assets of others.
  • He embraces behavioral practices that contribute to the good of others while also validating and affirming their contributions.

More to the point, a narcissist gains value for himself by setting himself above others, whereas a confident person values both himself and others as equals and knows that he can learn from people who know more than he does. He welcomes those opportunities. He has no need to one-up or assert superiority.

A confident person is a team player, whereas a narcissist stands apart and above.

Here’s where humility comes in.

Characteristics of Humility

Too often, people view humility as weak.

Picture a person who’s easily taken advantage of, won’t speak up, stoops over a little, stands in the back of the room, caves to other’s demands regularly, has low self-esteem, and is unsure of himself.

That’s an exaggerated characterization, but it captures most of the misperceptions people have about humility.

Being humble doesn’t mean having a low opinion of yourself. On the contrary, you affirm your personal assets but without arrogance.

Humility is a character strength, not a weakness.

Dr. Anna Katharina Schaffner cites the core characteristics of humility defined by researchers as follows:

  1. Accurate self-perception
  2. Modest self-portrayal
  3. Other-oriented relational stance

Being humble means that you seek to know yourself, warts and all. You accurately perceive and acknowledge your strengths and weaknesses without either pride or self-condemnation. You’re open to making mistakes, recognizing them, and improving upon them.

Secondly, you present yourself without boasting, gloating, or attention-seeking behavior. Humility, like confidence, means being comfortable in your own skin. You don’t have something to prove or a need to stand out. Your self-esteem is intact but not inflated.

Third, you value others. Your energy isn’t consumed by self-focus, but you extend yourself to others through empathy, affirmation, respect, kindness, and a willingness to work together. You appreciate the struggles of being human, which allows you to feel belonging and compassion.

Last, you operate with a growth mindset (Dweck). You take up challenges from a place of interest and curiosity rather than a need to prove yourself. Mistakes are welcome because they provide opportunities to learn and grow. You see yourself as a student of life that never graduates but continues to evolve.

Now, let’s put it all together.

How to Increase Your Confidence

To increase your confidence, you must gauge whether you need more humility, less narcissism, or both. Using the definitions above, you probably have some idea of where you are.

By the way, we all have some narcissism, so don’t be afraid to acknowledge that. It’s normal and part of ego development. You just want to be aware and keep it in check.

Focusing on increasing humility will help you do that if you think you need work in that area.

Here are some quick exercises you can do to help you work on creating healthy confidence.

1. Make a thorough list of your strengths and weaknesses.

These can be psychological, emotional, intellectual, or practical. If you don’t know where to start, use this list of character strengths and virtues Positive Psychology offers (download it here).

You don’t have to measure yourself precisely by each of these, but use them as a guide to think more specifically about yourself.

2. Evaluate your self-talk.

What messages do you regularly repeat to yourself about your worth, value, and performance? Are you overly critical? Do you beat yourself up when you make mistakes? Conversely, do you overinflate your values and see yourself as better or above others?

This exercise will help discern your level of self-esteem and the degree to which you use narcissism.

Something to keep in mind is that the flip side of narcissism is chronic self-condemnation. Both keep you from developing true confidence.

3. Next, evaluate how you see yourself in the world.

For example, you might have decided that human beings are horrible, and you want nothing to do with membership in that club. Or you feel you’re not as good as everyone else and never will be. Those are the extremes on the continuum. Where do you fit in?

Use these questions as a guide:

  • How do you relate to others? Are you kind, empathetic, and respectful? That doesn’t mean you spend time with toxic people, but how do you generally comport yourself?
  • Next, how do you feel when interacting with others? Are you comparing yourself or feeling inadequate? Maybe envious? Or are you unsure and uncomfortable? If you’re highly introverted, you may always feel uneasy with new people, but there’s a difference between that feeling and seeing yourself as less than or unworthy. Take some time to think this one out carefully.

4. Last, identify your mindset.

Do you operate with a growth mindset or a fixed mindset?

Are you open to learning new things or hearing new information, or do you think you know more than most people? Do you see mistakes as challenges that offer you growth or as reflections of your failures?

I’ve attached a description of these two mindsets based on Carol Dweck’s research. Look at the list for more details.

Last Note

If you go through these exercises, you’ll get a good idea of where your level of confidence lies and gain more self-awareness about other things, such as your inner voice, view of the world, emotional accessibility, etc.

It’s good to take an objective personal inventory occasionally to become more deliberate with your personal growth and well-being.

That’s all for today!

Have a great week!

All my best,


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