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.