Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Arrogance or Confidence?

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on October 25, 2012

Arrogance or confidence-what’s the difference? “All the other doctors released the medical records,” the trustee of a patient’s estate told me. “Yes, but that does not mean that all the other doctors did the right thing,” I respond. “Releasing medical records after someone passes away requires a court order,” I point out the law. I have confidence in knowing this fact, but to an untrained ear, I might sound arrogant and stubborn. As a psychiatrist, I have more medical training than non-medical therapists. This is true, but to some, this would also sound arrogant. As a psychoanalyst, I have more psychotherapy training than my non-analytic colleagues. Again, true, but potentially misconstrued, if spoken aloud. As a teacher of psychoanalysis, I convey psychoanalytic ideas, in a way which I hope enlightens my students, but I travel a fine line of sounding over-confident, as opposed to relative certainty. Is it that my confident colleagues can view alternative points of view with curiosity, whereas insecure folks view differences of opinion with contempt? The issue here is that the arrogant person, rarely, sees him/herself as arrogant. He/she sees him/herself as confident. Arrogance is a judgment laid on others, sometimes out of envy, and sometimes out of a certain tone, and sometimes out of experiencing a feeling of inferiority. At the same time, arrogance can be attractive when it is viewed as confidence. So many folks lack certainty, that when they are in the presence of one with certainty they are drawn into their presence. This may, in part, explain charisma, another challenging quality to articulate. Relationships often flip over, when it begins by admiring confidence, but over time, becomes a hatred for arrogance. I struggle with these ideas. Help!

9 Responses to “Arrogance or Confidence?”

  1. Jon said

    To my mind, confidence is knowing what you are saying or doing. Arrogance, on the other hand, is knowing that you cannot be wrong in what you are saying or doing. Truly, this distinction is one of self-confidence and self- arrogance. How others perceive you is more a matter of how one projects these inner feelings. To have been trained in a field, to have experience in what works and what doesn’t, to understand at a deeper level; these are confidence building experiences. To be a true believer knowing that one is doing the only possible way of doing it; that is arrogance.

    The distinction of confidence and arrogance reminds me of a wonderful quote by the mathematician George Polya on the nature of pedantry and mastery. He wise stated, “Pedantry and mastery are opposite attitudes toward rules. To apply a rule to the letter, rigidly, unquestioningly, in cases where it fits and in cases where it does not fit, is pedantry… To apply a rule with natural ease, with judgment, noticing the cases where it fits, and without ever letting the words of the rule obscure the purpose of the action or the opportunities of the situation, is mastery.”

    Hope this helps.

    • Shelly said

      Jon, you continue to blow me away. I have to agree with you on the difference between arrogance and self-confidence and I really didn’t know the difference until you articulated it so nicely in your response.

      Shirah, this reminds me of when we were young and there was a question of who to ask a religious question. It was very important to phrase the question correctly so that we could obtain the desired outcome. Some religious practitioners were so rigid in their interpretations that they looked only to the letter of the law and neither left nor right; nothing could sway them because that is what the law told them and that was that. Others, with more life experience and who truly understood the spirit of the laws were able to see the impact of the laws on daily life, gave different rulings on the exact same issues. You are one in the second category because of your life experience and training. You are a teacher, a physician, a psychoanalyst, and a human being above all. You are, as Jon says, a master. You are not arrogant, but confident. Feel good about your decisions.

      • Shirah said

        Jon, I agree with Shelly, that your response to my query was quite helpful and clear. Thanks!

        Shelly, I agree with you that our childhood experience helped to shape my relationship with ideas, in that learning how different teachers conveyed different principles was key to my connection with psychoanalytic thinking. In other words, some people look at ideas in a rigid manner, whereas others use them as a springboard to discussion and further thought. Of course, it is the latter that I relate to. Thanks, as always.

  2. ashanam said

    You do know more than most people about many things (I think). But I agree that arrogance is hard to very pin down. We do better when we see the world in a slightly unrealistic way–just a little too positively. So confidence and arrogance both involve a degree of self-deception. Perhaps arrogance just involves more.

    • Shirah said

      Interesting, Ashanam. So, you are saying that arrogance involves more self-deception. I am going to think about that. My first reaction is that makes a lot of sense. Thanks!

      • ashanam said

        Maybe it is also one’s regard for everyone else. Arrogant people tend to think a lot more of themselves than they have reason to (as opposed to confident people, who only think a little bit too much of themselves). But I’m also thinking arrogance involves a degree of contempt for everyone else, rather than neutrality or even an appreciation for the overall value of those who may know or are capable of less (or just different things) than oneself.

        • Shirah said

          Good point and well said, Ashanam. The contempt in arrogance, as you point out, is key to the experience of feeling belittled in their presence, on the one hand, yet, in awe of their “confidence” on the other. The complication is that some people project arrogance on to others, not because the other has contempt, but because the person projecting feels so small about himself. This again, is where things get grey. Thanks again.

  3. blankpaperblackpen said

    Ok, I do have some thoughts here. IS it possible you are uncomfortable feeling anger and or fear along with confidence, and because you may be uncomfortable with the combinations (think: sort of like co-morbidity), that you feel a sense of discomfort or guilt that this feeling/knowing must be “bad” because it includes fear or anger? You might be mixing it all up into a guilty sort of self-diagnosed “arrogance”, when really you are a combination of confident (of your knowledge) AND afraid and/or angry (your feelings). So, what do you think of that? If you agree, or can see what I mean at least, do you think Arrogance is always based in fear and is a self and other-deceiving mask we wear for self protection?

    • Shirah said

      I do agree that arrogance is based on fear and that it is used for self-protection. My issue is that confidence is also helpful for a good sense of self. So, where is the line between healthy self-esteem, and defensive arrogance? One could say that one builds a skill set out of fear of being helpless, but the fact that this is fear-based does not mean that it is destructive to the person or those he/she loves, By contrast, arrogance is very destructive, because, by definition, it implies a sense of superiority over others, and so this is demeaning to loved ones. Thanks.

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