Can You Have Too Much Self-Confidence?

When Too Much Self-Confidence Is a Bad Thing

Self-confidence
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Under most circumstances, having self-confidence is a good thing. Confident people tend to be more successful in a wide variety of domains. It is this strong sense of confidence and self-esteem that allows people to go out in the world and reach for their goals. In his book Self-Efficacy: The Exercise of Control, psychologist Albert Bandura explained that it is confidence, more than any other quality, that contributes to positive outcomes when pursuing goals.

But can you have too much self-confidence? Is it possible to have too much of a good thing? In most cases, knowing your strengths and having the assuredness to go out and take risks are admirable qualities. But when this confidence makes you inflexible, opposed to trying new things, and incapable of listening to others, it can become detrimental to success and well-being.

The Effects of Too Much Self-Confidence

Excessive self-confidence can cause a number of problems in an individual's personal, social, and professional life.

  • Missed opportunities, such as not taking on projects because they seem to easy or beneath your abilities
  • Taking on too much, such as saying yes to projects that you lack the skills to complete
  • Social consequences, such as alienating friends by coming across as arrogant
  • Workplace consequences, such as coming off as overly conceited without the requisite skill
  • Relationship consequences, which can result from being too concerned with your capacities and performance and not enough with your partner's

In one review of earlier studies on self-esteem, researchers found that high self-esteem could sometimes have undesirable consequences. Kids with higher self-esteem were more likely to engage in risk-taking behaviors. People with high self-esteem also tended to have worse relationships because they blamed their partners for any problems with the relationship. High self-esteem was also linked a higher frequency of violent and aggressive behaviors.

That isn't to suggest that self-esteem and confidence are bad things. In some situations, even excessive self-confidence can actually lead to some success. Highly self-confident people can sometimes bluff their way through situations, convincing others that they truly have the abilities behind their inflated sense of self. In other cases, excess confidence can be seen as deceit or even narcissism, qualities that might make an employee less appealing to current and future employers.

Overconfidence in our own abilities is something that happens to everyone once in a while. You might overestimate your ability to finish a project by a certain date, only to run out of time before the project is due. The good thing is that such overconfidence is often self-correcting. Just a few instances of turning in late or shoddy work is probably enough to make you take a serious look at your time management skills. The next time a project is due, you are more likely to manage your time wisely and be more realistic about how long it will take you to complete the work.

It is when this overconfidence is habitual that more serious and often lasting consequences can arise.

What Causes Too Much Confidence?

A number of different factors can contribute to excessive levels of self-confidence. Upbringing, culture, personality, and past experiences can all play a role in shaping how a person's sense of self develops. We are all essentially the center of our own universes, so it isn't really surprising that our own perceptions, experiences, thoughts, needs, and wants tend to loom largest in our minds. But why do some people seem to form such an exaggerated sense of self?

Research suggests that certain cognitive biases can play a role in contributing to too overconfidence in one's own opinions and ideas. These biases cause people to interpret events and experiences in ways that are biased toward their own existing beliefs, attitudes, and opinions. As a result, people often tend to believe that their own way of thinking and acting is superior and "correct." This can result in people failing to consider how other ideas might be beneficial as well as failing to see any possible drawbacks to their own approach. It is this illusion of personal infallibility that can contribute to having too much confidence. 

Perceptions of Confidence

So how do we determine what levels of self-confidence are appropriate? And are such levels the same for different people and across different situations? Self-confidence is not just a psychological construct; it is also heavily influenced by culture. Individualistic cultures, for example, tend to prize self-confidence more highly than do collectivist cultures. Society’s expectations for how much confidence people should have exerts a powerful influence on how we perceive confidence both in ourselves and in others.

For example, during the earlier half of the 20th century self-confidence was sometimes viewed as a detriment, depending upon who you were. People were expected to obey authority figures, including those who were older or who ranked higher in the social hierarchy. Self-confidence in children and women was particularly frowned upon, as kids and women were usually expected to be obedient and deferential.

As the cultural tides have shifted, society’s expectations in terms of self-confidence have also changed. People are encouraged to be independent and self-esteem has become a prized characteristic. Parents want their children to be self-confident, to know what they want, and to have the motivation to achieve their goals.

Social Norms Influence Perceptions of Confidence

But how we perceive self-confidence is not always consistent from one individual to the next. For example, research has found that female leaders who behave the same as their male counterparts are more likely to be perceived as bossy, emotional, or aggressive. This confidence double standard makes it more difficult for women to be promoted in the workplace and to rise to leadership positions. The behaviors needed to succeed in the workplace are the very same ones that women are often punished for exhibiting.

Research also suggests that we tend to penalize others when they behave in ways that are considered violations of the social norms. Norms dictate that men should be confident and assertive, while women are expected to be nurturing and warm. Behaving outside these norms can have a number of consequences for both men and women. Men who are not highly assertive may be seen as timid or weak, while women who are self-assured are viewed as bossy.

How Confidence Is Expressed Can Lead to Social Consequences

In one study conducted by Yale researchers, men who expressed anger actually boosted their perceived status. Women who expressed the same anger, on the other hand, were rated as less competent and were thus accorded lower wages and status. The researchers also found that women’s anger tended to be attributed to internal characteristics (“She’s an angry person”) while men’s anger was blamed on outside circumstances. Interestingly, providing some type of external explanation for the anger eliminated this gender bias.

So in many cases, it may not be that people are too confident. Instead, unspoken gender norms and stereotypes may cause people, especially women, to be judged as overconfident when they are really just expressing normal levels of assertiveness.

Certain expressions of confidence, however, may not carry the same social and professional risks that other displays of self-confidence might. Researchers Melissa Williams and Larissa Tiedens found that women who expressed dominance through body language and facial expressions, such as standing tall and using a loud voice, did not suffer the same loss in social perception. 

While this obviously does not solve the problem of gender bias, such research does point to ways that people can express confidence without being labeled as “too confident.”

Are Today’s Kids Too Confident?

Another example of how perceptions of confidence can be influenced by culture is how kids are sometimes viewed by older adults. Criticisms of youth often suggest that today’s kids are frequently the recipients of so-called “participation trophies.” In other words, children receive praise for simply participating, not for the actual content of their performance. Such praise is designed to build confidence and self-esteem. Critics suggest that this approach leads to a sense of entitlement or even unearned confidence. That children move into adulthood believing that simply showing up is enough to succeed, making it harder to accept when this success does not come so easy.

However, researchers such as Carol Dweck have found that praising efforts plays a critical role in building what is known as a growth mindset. A mindset is an underlying belief about intelligence and learning. People with a fixed mindset tend to believe that intelligence is an inborn trait. Those with a growth mindset believe that they can become smarter through their own efforts.



People with fixed mindsets tend to give up in the face of challenges because they believe they simply lack the innate traits and skills needed for success. Those with growth mindsets, on the other hand, have the confidence and understanding that they can overcome the challenge through study, practice, and effort.

So what’s the best way to build confidence and a growth mindset? Dweck suggests that praising efforts, rather than outcomes, is the key. Doing this helps kids realize that their own efforts and actions determine the outcomes, which helps them gain the confidence they need to keep soldiering forward even in the face of difficulty. This doesn't mean lavishing praise on kids for doing nothing. Rather, it means recognizing their efforts instead of only focusing on the results.

So why do older generations perceive younger people as overly confident? Are today’s kids really too confident for their own good?

This perception is more likely due to shifts in cultural norms and expectations. Older generations were encouraged to be quiet, obedient, and out of the way. Seen, but not heard, was typically described as the ideal when it came to kids. Culture has shifted, as has our understanding of child development and children’s needs. So it may not be that kids today are too confident - they are simply allowed a level of self-expression that older generations may not have gotten to enjoy as children.

Building Authentic Self-Confidence

Is it possible that you have too much self-confidence? For many people, the answer to that question is probably not. In fact, people often tend to deal with the opposite problem – having too little confidence.  So if you have a solid sense of self and the assuredness to go after what you want in life, that's great! If your sense of self extends to caring about and being concerned with the lives of others, then your confidence levels are probably just about right.

If you are focused purely on yourself leaving little room for other people, then there might be a problem. There’s nothing wrong with being confident, but if this confidence is expressed as narcissism or grandiosity that damages your relationships, then there is a chance that it may be excessive. Or that you are expressing this confidence in a way that is not helping your health and relationships.

When helping children develop healthy levels of confidence and esteem, praising them for efforts is only one part of the puzzle. Confidence also comes from having the love and support of dependable caregivers, as well as a solid guidance system that balances rewards with appropriate boundaries. In such settings, children are able to explore the world, discover their personal strengths and limits, and develop the ability to self-regulate.

The problem with too much self-confidence is that it often involves a grandiose view of the self without much substance behind it. People who think they are the best, smartest, or most qualified are, after all, sometimes the worst, most uninformed, and least qualified. Except they are often the only ones unaware of their shortcomings, a phenomenon known as the Dunning-Kruger effect.

In other cases, excessive self-confidence involves ignoring the needs of others in favor of one's own interests. This can lead to major problems in all kinds of relationships, including romantic partnerships, friendships, and family ties. After all, who wants to spend time with someone who thinks he is better than everyone else and who only thinks about himself?

So what can people do to ensure that their self-confidence is realistic, authentic, and socially appropriate?

  • Focus on the effort, not the outcome. Whether you are evaluating your own success or offering praise to your children, try to place a greater emphasis on the work that went into the task rather than just focusing on how things turned out. You cannot always control how things go, but you can control the amount of work you put into achieving your goals.
  • Keep learning new things. Even if you are highly confident about your skills in an area, keep looking for new challenges. It is easy to become overconfident if we think we know everything there is to know about a subject. Finding new challenges to overcome not only sharpens your skills; it also reminds you that there are fresh ways of thinking about things.
  • Listen to what others have to say. Overconfidence can sometimes cause people to become rigid and even dogmatic. Instead of assuming that your way is the right or only way, try to keep an open mind. You might not always agree with other people, but it is important to listen in order to gain a new perspective.

    A Word From Verywell

    Self-confidence is usually something that people wish they could improve, yet sometimes excessive levels of confidence can be a problem. When confidence becomes arrogance, it can alienate others and make it difficult to succeed both socially and professionally. Developing a healthy sense of self-confidence is important to success. Such confidence allows people to believe in their own abilities to take on challenges and overcome obstacles. Strive to strike the right balance with a strong sense of self-confidence without the pomposity of egocentrism.

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