Core Decorum: Self-confidence

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The American Psychological Association defines self-confidence as “trust in one’s abilities, capacities, and judgements.” However, it seems like the correct understanding and application of self-confidence has been undermined by our current culture of social validation.

“Trust” is a heavy word that implies a giving up part of oneself. In order to trust, you have to relinquish all notion of control in whatever you’re trusting, and place your faith in someone or something outside yourself. The idea of trusting yourself, then, seems on its face to be a contradiction in terms, yet as Catholics we can understand it to be trusting not yourself per se but in what God made you to be. To have self-confidence is to trust that God knew what he was doing when he made you.

But Psychology Today reports that 85% of people worldwide are significantly affected by a lack of self-confidence. 65% report that they wish they had more self-confidence, but simply can’t seem to find it. Gee Hair Survey found that 55% of men think they aren’t liked by others and 53% of adults have had self-esteem dips since the pandemic. NHS Digital found that there was a 77% rise in self-confidence issues in teens and young adults in the UK in 2022. Why is self-confidence so hard to come by these days?

So much of our time and energy are spent on digital platforms, where more and more of our lives are being played out in a virtual setting. Our concept of ourselves is being shaped more and more by how our image or our thoughts are validated by others via likes and comments. We have developed what Jean-Jacque Rousseau called “amour-propre” or vainglorious self-love, a self-image dictated by outside opinions to the point that we think of ourselves in a sort of third-person sense. We live our lives as if we’re on a Zoom call; interacting with others, sure, but not without checking ourselves out every couple seconds. We post a picture on Instagram, and stare like Narcissus at ourselves whenever our reflection lights up with a “like.” And if not enough people like it, how can you like it yourself? Our self-confidence has fallen because we can’t stop convincing ourselves that everyone is looking, when in reality everyone is just looking at themselves.

It is human nature to seek outward validation, and the fact such a strong impulse is present within us means that God placed it there for a reason. However, just like every other natural desire, there is the chance it can be perverted. Social media provides an easy, addictive way to receive cheap validation. As a result, our healthy impulse to do good and avoid evil, so that one day we may be affirmed by St. Peter because of our works, is subverted and replaced by an impulse to be affirmed by others because of our looks or possessions.

Understanding self-confidence in terms of trusting ourselves is not valuable because we attribute our capacities, abilities or judgments to ourselves in virtue of ourselves, but in virtue of them being a reflection of our Creator. If we can learn to trust ourselves and our abilities by trusting in God, and not by seeking validation in others, we can have true self-confidence, for “in God — whose word I praise, in God, I trust and am not afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” (Psalms 56:4).

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