Sunday, May 14, 2006


I want to begin by thanking Eloise for starting me off on this thought yesterday when I read her blog entry, I just don’t know what to do with myself, and the attached comments. I continued to crunch away at the subject whilst having my weekly creative time with the hoover, and got that lovely warm feeling when things started to click into place.

The subject is really that of self-belief. This is a subject that has often blipped my radar and is mostly responsible for the title of this blog, along with my love of ancient history. Why do I often feel misunderstood (which sounds rather self-involved for a woman in her forties) and why do people so often think I am arrogant or pretentious? Why do I care? Hmm; the last question is probably the easiest to answer – I hate being misunderstood because I’m a communicator and it makes me feel like a failure.

I think I found the answer to this a little while ago when I worked out that most people judge according to their own standards and behaviour – thinking I’m arrogant, pretentious, or anything else negative, says more about them than it does about me. But when does self-belief become arrogance, or does it?

One of my clearest memories from childhood was the horror of having to use the telephone to call someone I didn’t know. I was incredibly shy, although anybody who has known me during my adult life would have a very hard time believing it. I used to work out exactly what I needed to achieve with the call, how I would do it and what all the possible permutations of the exchange would be (what if the person is rude, or I get a wrong number) – it was very important to have counter measures and contingencies fully planned out ahead, I couldn’t rely on my ability to react naturally. Writing that seems so odd – I honestly don’t recognise myself – my ability to think on my feet has served me enormously well.

So, if I was such an unsure child, where did my high level of self-belief come from? To add to the big negative of being naturally shy, I also have a mother who never tired of telling me I couldn’t do things. I don’t mean she wouldn’t allow me, I mean she would tell me that I would fail – she never gave me a reason why, she just gave it as an intractable fact. She wasn’t being evil or nasty – she truly believed it herself, because of her own life experiences. I simply never listened to her. I knew she was wrong, that I could do anything if I set my mind to it. And now I’m wondering if it was perhaps one single event that sparked that in me. Did I make such a good job of one of those horrible phone calls, or tell a really convincing lie (the one I remember best from childhood was that my dad was Elvis), or make up a story or a poem (the only ones I wrote as a child were funny and end-rhymed) that everyone I read it to loved? I honestly don’t recall – I just know that fairly early on in life, I knew I could do anything if I tried. Now that’s not arrogance – that’s self-belief. defines arrogance as: “overbearing pride evidenced by a superior manner toward inferiors” and that is something I have no memory of ever doing.


Cailleach said...

LOL Messalina,
I used to think of it, with regard to myself, as having a superiority complex. But that's more a sideswipe at my own ego!

I attended a course a few years ago on Cognitive behavioural therapy, where the main thrust of the course was that we tend to place too much value on what others think of us, rather than how highly we value outselves. If we learn to disregard our perceptions of what we think others think, then we make ourselves much happier (or so it goes).

Confidence comes from self-belief, as you rightly point out. But that confidence also comes from our experience of living and what our ultimate reactions are: positive or negative. It's easy to find the negative in things, especially when it comes to our selves, as we may feel that being positive is tantamount to bragging, and we wouldn't want to do that, would we? ;¬)

It's all part of a bigger picture of ourselves, which we're never allowed have - just in case we go mad, because "we can't handle the truth!"

Philosophy features heavily this weekend. Studying Bergson, Laforgue and T.S. Eliot... I came here for a break! ;¬)

Messalina said...

It's fascinating stuff, isn't it? :o)

I think your cognitive therapy course was right - I am getting better and better at discarding others' views of me with every passing year and yes, absolutely, it makes me MUCH happier!

As to life experience, I'm also wondering if having enough negatives can be an effective trigger for a strong self-belief? Maybe the more my mum told me I couldn't, the more determined I got? Kind of makes sense as I'm very pig headed (which helped me stop smoking) and will always opt for contrary behaviour where possible ;o)

The other area I started to wander into with this subject was my current interest in addiction. I think I have an addictive personaility - that feeling that something really pleasurable (be it a cigarette, a piece of cheese or an orgasm) can't be repeated enough, even though you KNOW that it will never match up to first time pleasure. However, I choose not to indulge those addictions - mind over matter - because I would rather have the eruption of pleasure of something rare than the buzz of the familiar pleasure. So, following that argument to its natural conclusion, does that mean that a person with less self-belief is more likely to give into addictions? I guess that makes sense.

Hmmm, wonder if I should consider a philosophy course... ;o)

Eloise said...

It is interesting to see your take on my blog entry. I am becoming more and more confused by my mix of apparent self-belief/arrogance (I know I can do anything I put my mind to) with paralysing self-doubt (I'm not good enough, I am going to fail everything and die alone). I've never studied CBT, but I've been on the receiving end of it and I remember being told that I couldn't be depressed because I had detailed and ambitious plans for my future, at the same time, I was told to write down all negative thoughts, and then told to stop writing them down when I asked for another sheet of paper!
I think that often self-belief/arrogance is often a mask for shyness, and perhaps that is where yours came from. I know that I become very intellectually arrogant as a defense mechanism when I am uncomfortable or unfamiliar with my surroundings. It seems like I am cocky and self-assured, but it is a nervous response more than anything else. I suppose addictions feed into this in a similiar way, often people start using as a crutch for when they feel awkward, and it becomes imprinted that they can only feel comfortable if they are drunk/high/exhilarated. Of course, then you become addicted, and the psychological becomes chemical as well.
At least, that's what they tell you in 12 step meetings.

Kult said...

It's strange how people can get over their fears when they were younger, I felt completely stunted and awkward all the way through school - and now old pals keep telling me how much I've changed. I think it is strange - I suppose you always knew you were bright - were lessons a breeze? And then if you get a different view, my mother was (is) the same, convinced me I'd never go to college. She was right, heh. But I skipped college, and I admit my main motivation is to get the highest classed degree in my family, which is immature, but works brilliantly.

Most people who don't have an interest in the arts lump us under pretentious/arrogant. Price of being a poet.

I met my OU tutor at a day school last weekend, and she wants to do career guidance sessions with me (she's putting together a course), direct my talent or something, and I think people have always misunderstood the fact that I just enjoy reading and learning for raw intelligence. I'm not a wayward genius, but I know I'm fairly smart to turn out a decent essay. I guess I don't mind being misunderstood, since most of the time I don't understand myself. I've had very positive and very negative experiences throughout, now my self-belief is pretty messy, but it makes little difference now. I've gotten used to it, and don't care anymore what people think. The world is much bigger than when you were seven.

Messalina said...

Hi Eloise and Kult - you two are far ahead of where I was at your ages in understanding yourselves and your surroundings, and you are both so honest with yourselves and others - really great to see. And the good news is that with every passing year, you'll understand a bit more and your map of the world will widen another notch! :o)

I was a total failure at school after a strong start up to the 2nd year of high school. I was far more interested in boys, motorbikes, fags and booze than studying and often didn't go to school - I had a fabulous childhood. I don't remember even wondering if I was intelligent or not, it never really came up. I'm confident that my Mum thought I was an idiot since my reports invariably said things like I was lethargic and didn't try. The truth was, I was bored most of the time. The only lessons that interested me were English (writing stories), History (but only pre-20th century) and then Architecture and Law in the lower 6th (stayed on to re-take some O'Levels but got pissed a lot instead) because the teachers were really good.

Sounds like a good opportunity to get some input on your career plans Kult. What you describe your passion for learning as is what I call being an information junkie - we just can't get enough! And your comment "the world is much bigger than when you were seven" just has to be used in a poem or something - too good an observation not to do something with it!

Steven said...

I'm not quite sure that there is such a tangible division between self-belief and arrogance, at least to the extent that they can be mutually exclusive. To say that arrogance is self-belief seems a clever spin, a turning of the sow's ear into the proverbial silk purse.

I'd be more willing to reckon that there is a dynamic between the two of them, and the goodness that exists in one can at certain points swing in the direction of the other, and at some points can be entirely open to interpretation. Traits that are antithetical to one another are there for us to swim between.

It's just my feeling that none of us are superhuman, and that we are likely to contradict our own undoubtedly good motives at every turn, so it's useless really to set ourselves in the realms of patricians, and to instead just try our best to be good to one another.

Two of my closest, funniest friends unashamedly admit to being arrogant, but one of them, who has to live with a serious illness, also obviously has bucketloads of courage; but then just like anyone else they would be disgusted by a person behaving in an arrogant fashion.

I guess it's just part of human nature.

Self-analysis is something I can get lost in, but I never really understand enough, and it never seems to add anything. It's better just to experience, in my view.

Messalina said...

Hi Steven,

I'd hate to think that I could behave in the way that the dictionary defines arrogance, although you do make a very interesting point. We really shouldn't look for black and white in human behaviour.

Timmy said...

This is gorgeous!