Assertiveness as a concept came along much later in my life than confidence did. People talked about being confident all the time. No one questioned whether confidence was necessary. Self-confidence was taught in school—it was that important! Everyone wanted everyone to be confident.
Assertiveness didn’t make its way into my vocabulary until much later and was usually talked about in juxtaposition to aggression. You don’t want to be aggressive, you want to be assertive, was what all the people told us. Aggressiveness is scary, assertiveness is firm, but polite.
From then on assertiveness and confidence just kind of blended together. Unfortunately, without separating them we open ourselves up for some poor—and possibly dangerous—experiences.
Knowing What You’re Good At
Good old dictionaries distinguish confidence and assertiveness by defining confidence as a feeling and assertiveness as a behavior—often it’s a type of “confident” behavior, but more on that later.
Let’s start with the feeling.
Feelings are great. They’re important. I don’t always like having my feelings all the time, but I’ve come to recognize which ones feel better than others and, I have to say, feeling confident is awesome.
Truly. And a good part of childhood is, hopefully, focused on helping you find something that you’re good at. Maybe it was a talent of some kind:
- playing ball,
- getting good grades,
- making friends
—whatever it was (or is) that’s terrific! Even if your talent is that you know all the characters in Game of Thrones, that level of strong self-regard about something is awesome. Treasure it and don’t let anyone make fun of you for it.
And I hope you are not only good at it, but you feel confident in it. It’s possible to be great at something, but lack confidence at it and this is where we get to the “Is confidence necessary?” part. This ‘imposter syndrome’ is pretty normal and is often seen in my therapy office.
There may be other places where you wish you had more confidence. Possibly any of the things written above may be a place where you’re sorely lacking confidence. That doesn’t mean you don’t do it well—remember confidence is a feeling, not a behavior. You may be great at playing shortstop, but still lack confidence in your ability to be great at it.
Assertiveness is about your behavior. This is your ability to quiet, or leave behind, the self-doubt that comes to you when you need to take a test, go on a job interview, sing at your sister’s wedding, or do a presentation for your team.
In a perfect world, you will
1. feel confident about what matters to you,
2. have the skills to back up that confidence, and
3. present this all with self-assurance and assertiveness.
And yet, the world is not perfect.
When Having Confidence Becomes Too Much of a Good Thing
Here’s where it can get complicated: you can have a lot of confidence about something, and still shouldn’t do it. Mindy Kaling said, “Confidence is just entitlement” and we know the bad roads we go down once we start feeling too entitled to something.
Catching yourself in this is sometimes easy: you may be confident that you can fly a plane, but unless you’ve taken lots of lessons and had many, many hours of supervised instruction, You. Should. Not. Fly. A. Plane. (Especially if I’m in it or anywhere nearby.)
Doing so would indicate some severe over valuing of your ability—perhaps it would even rise to the level of a delusion.
More likely, this may be more present in your life when you feel you’re ready for something that you’re not. Perhaps you should not sing that song in public, post that article just yet, or present your deck/powerpoint at Wednesday’s meeting. Learning to distinguish whether your confidence has risen to the level of your actually doing something takes some intentional learning and I talk about this in next week’s post on your Internal Self Evaluator.
Is Confidence Necessary?
As I said above, though, many, people suffer from the lack of confidence even when they have the skills needed to perform well. They are ready to sing, post, and present, but they never feel (remember—confidence is a feeling) confident enough to do it.
Even surrounded by cheerleaders and mentors, they still might not take that risk because their confidence is too low. It’s good to remember during these times that, just as bravery doesn’t imply that you’re not scared, lack of confidence doesn’t mean you’re not ready to take that next step. Sometimes you have to ‘fake it till you make it.’
Learning if you are the type of person that under, over, or accurately assess your ability is going to be key for you.
But how? Stay tuned till next week for a list of ways to better evaluate yourself. As for now, just remember that we don’t feel assertive, but we can take action assertively. We may have the confidence to go along with it, and that’ll usually make it easier, but if we wait around to feel confident, we’ll get a lot less done done in our lives and feel a lot less fulfilled.
This article first appeared on HuffPost.
Justin Lioi, LCSW is a men’s mental health and relationship expert. He is a Brooklyn therapist (as well as also seeing clients online throughout New York State and internationally.) He received his degree from New York University and has been working with men and their families for over 10 years. Justin is on the Board of the National Association of Social Workers and writes a weekly column for the Good Men Project called Unmasking Masculinity. He can be found on local and national podcasts talking about assertiveness, anger, self-compassion, all with the goal of becoming the man you want to be.