Beyond Words

Words, Wit and Wisdom for Today's Style and Decision Makers

The Fine Line Between Confidence and Arrogance September 14, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 4:06 pm



Have you ever been around someone whose confidence is bordering on arrogance?  I’m not talking cocky, as in athletic prowess, or secure, as in at peace with themself, I’m talking a plain ole know-it-all.


I recently enjoyed a spontaneous and fun dinner with my friend Karen during which we discussed the difference between confidence with arrogance.  What is the distinction, and how can we make sure we remain proud of ourselves but not full of ourselves?


Webster defines confidence as a feeling or consciousness of one’s powers or of reliance on one’s circumstances: the quality or state of being certain.”  On the other hand, arrogance is defined as “an attitude of superiority manifested in an overbearing manner or in presumptuous claims or assumptions.”  When looking at them that way, it’s easy to see the difference.  Or is it?


In short, arrogant people are what I like to call “braggy.”  If you ask my daughter, she’ll tell you it’s one of three things I detest (the others being sneaky and phony.)  Arrogant people think they are perfect and better than anyone else, they rarely apologize or admit defeat, and they are surprisingly equally disliked and admired.  People look up to them because they are often successful, but once they are faced with any type of adversity, they don’t know how to handle it.  “This can’t be happening to me, I’m perfect!”  And, even though they are sometimes likable they are more often not well-liked because they are…well…arrogant!


Perhaps actress Angie Harmon said it best recently in “Good Housekeeping” magazine:  “I tell my kids everybody needs to be respected.  There is no one on this planet who is better than they are and they aren’t better than anybody else.”  This, mind you, from a stunning-former model-successful actress who’s married to a former NFL star.  If anyone could be arrogant, it’s Angie Harmon!  How refreshing to know she’s the furthest thing from it and is raising her kids that way too.


I didn’t have a lot of self-confidence growing up, which is one reason I made it my goal to raise a daughter who is self-confident.  Since day 1, my mantra to Kristen has been “Believe in yourself.”  I’m happy to report she is very confident, sometimes (I must admit) over confident, but confident nonetheless.  Every now and then she does need to be reigned in though, and I remind her that humility is as impressive and admired as confidence.


Aaahh humility.  How can we, as a society, promote being humble while at the same time encouraging independence and ambition?  Defined as “not proud or haughty,  not arrogant or assertive, unpretentious,”  being humble is not only Biblical, it’s benevolent.  Power and money tend to make even the most humble of people over-confident and ultimately arrogant.  It’s almost inevitable, but as Abraham Lincoln said, “nearly all men can stand adversity but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”


One of my favorite bloggers, Gretchen Rubin of “The Happiness Project,” recently wrote about something similar, something she calls “oppositional conversational style.”  This, Rubin describes, consists of conversations with someone who disagrees with and corrects whatever you say.  You know the type, you say the sky is blue, they’ll say it’s green.  Conversations with these OCS sufferers, who tend to be arrogant by the way, are draining, unpleasant, and annoying.  They don’t listen, they’re always right, and by mid-conversation, you really don’t care!


In the end, arrogance is often not the result of over-confidence, but rather a deep-rooted lack thereof.  Know-it-alls often times are hurting inside and make up for that hurt by being overbearing.  They know it and it ultimately catches up with them.  They let others down and even themselves, and according to Oprah Winfrey, “there is no greater disappointment than the disappointment in oneself.”  Ouch.


Maybe it, like so many things, just comes down to being happy with yourself.  Confident people don’t have to be everything.  They’re convinced they are where they’re supposed to be and are satisfied with their lot in life.  It doesn’t mean they don’t try to meet goals or achieve great things, they just don’t have the need for constant approval and admiration.  They don’t need to prove anything and they generally aren’t the jealous types.  They are, quite simply, content.  I’m confident if more people were honest, that is what we’d all like to accomplish.  Let’s start today.


“The only cure to envy is happiness, but the difficulty is that envy is a terrible obstacle to happiness.”  Bertrand Russell.


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