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Monday, September 21, 2020

Arrogance vs. Confidence, Self-deprecation vs. Humility

One of the most popular posts of all time on my writing blog, has surprisingly, little to do with writing. And yet, at the same time, seems to have everything to do with it. When my blog was a baby (less than a year old), I wrote a post about the differences between confidence and arrogance, and humility and self-deprecation. It still gets regular hits.

Which wouldn't be a problem . . . except, since then, I've refined and updated some of my ideas. 

And I'd like people to have the more refined version. 

So this is sort of a repost, but not really a repost, and sort of not about writing, and yet totally about writing. 

Because let's be honest--on our own writing journeys, it can be easy to zigzag all over the place between these characteristics, whether it's because we've just finished a manuscript that is obviously bound to be the next great American novel (or . . . insert whatever country you hail from) or because we've just found out our editor hates our characters. It's like one of my favorite writing memes.

So, I want to talk about the differences between arrogance and confidence, and humility and self-deprecation--and how to discern each.

(And as a quick aside, please note that the word "pride" has several different definitions in the English language, and for this article, I am talking about the arrogant definition, not the one related to pleasure (ex. "I am so proud of what you've done" is the same as saying, "I am so pleased with what you have done.") Unfortunately, the fact "pride" has so many different uses in the English language has led to a lot of confusion and ambiguity in certain circles, including my original post, which is why I'm mentioning this at all 😊.)


Arrogance vs. Confidence

When I was a teenager, I had a wise ballet teacher tell my class, 

"The difference between confidence and arrogance is how you treat others."

She's right. Sometimes I think society confuses confidence with pride. Likewise, society confuses humility with self-deprecation. In reality, it's completely possible to be confident and humble at the same time, without being prideful.

People who are arrogant want themselves to succeed and be better than everyone else. On the other hand, people who are confident want themselves and everyone around them to succeed.

Arrogance and pride are about comparing oneself to others, and evaluating oneself as having more "value." That value may be in a skill, like playing the violin, or in a social circle, like having more friends or influence, or in ideology, like having the "correct" beliefs, or in appearance, like being more attractive. Really, it can be about anything. 

Those with arrogance have goals and take actions that stem from a desire to be better than everyone else.

On the other hand, a confident person wants themselves and others to succeed. A confident person will cheer others on and treat them well. A confident person believes in her talents and abilities and potential, but is also teachable. She may acknowledge her shortcomings and work to overcome them. At the same time, she may submit to whatever needs to be done to move forward. That is someone who is confident and humble. 

So, confidence and arrogance depend on how you regard others. When you start dissecting this, it makes sense. Confidence comes from security. When we are secure in ourselves, we don't feel threatened by others' successes. Why would we? We're secure. (Remember, you don't have to be perfect to be secure.)

Arrogance, pride, conceit, ironically, doesn't actually come from being too confident, but from insecurity--a fear that if others succeed, we have less value. Pride and selfishness are also linked. When we don't want others to succeed, we're being selfish.

While I don't believe all forms of comparison are bad (without comparison, there would be no discernment), comparing and judging or evaluating in this way can be problematic.

Self-deprecation vs. Humility

In recent years, I have added a second part to what my ballet teacher said:

"The difference between self-deprecation and humility is how you treat yourself."


Sometimes the world tells us, or we tell ourselves, that in order to be humble, we have to belittle ourselves. But self-deprecation isn't humility. 

Some people have such low self-esteems that they can't bear to be teachable. It's too excruciating to hear what their weaknesses are, let alone try to overcome them. They may submit to whatever needs to be done, but with a heavy heart and not always willingly.

Like arrogance, self-deprecation often comes from a comparison game that stems from insecurity. 

Rather than evaluate how we are better than others, we evaluate how we are worse than others, and then treat ourselves accordingly. Notice again, how we see our value in relation to others

If you are too self-deprecating, you can't believe in yourself, which can often mean that you sabotage your own successes. If you have zero confidence, you can't progress, because you don't believe you can become better. 

In a strange way, both arrogance and self-deprecation are self-damning: because when you believe you are better than others, and that's what matters, you don't need to become better; and because when you believe you are less valuable than others, and that's what matters, you can't become better.

Self-deprecation can smother your motivation and individual worth. Don't mistake it for humility like most of the world does.

Humility, on the other hand, comes from security. When someone is humble, he understands he has more room to learn, grow, and become better. He understand that there is more out there than what he is, and is open to it. And that's okay.

He understands he can become more.

Being confident and humble is about being secure with yourself.

It's not about thinking you are better than someone else or worse than someone else, it's instead about accepting yourself, as you are.

And I mean, not just sorta accepting yourself, or halfway accepting yourself, I mean really accepting yourself--which means accepting all that you are. Flaws, regrets, weaknesses, strengths, skills, abilities, potential. You don't need to fight yourself. You don't need puff up yourself. You don't need to condemn yourself (that's not your job anyway--leave that to a higher power). 

You just need to discern yourself, and know, that that is enough. You are enough.

Be comfortable with yourself.

Because when you are, you can be humble enough to keep growing, and confident enough to stay kind.

And not only could we use more of that in the writing community, but in the whole world.


  1. What an interesting read. I always had a different twist on self-deprecating. I view it as the more social, verbal way of embracing your shortcomings bc I perceive humility as more of a resistance to talking about one's self too much. Food for thought!

    1. That's the fun thing about abstracts--they carry slightly different interpretations/meanings. Anyway, I'll have to think about that too!

  2. Really enjoyed this post. I was able to see these different traits in the characters that are in the show my husband and I are watching. It made the show even more interesting to me.

  3. Humility traid the fine line between arrogance and self depreciation.
    Fine Traid line represents ?

    1. How you treat others and yourself, is what I would say

  4. Wonderful read ❤️


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