Confidence: Different for Women and Men?

Do men and women experience confidence differently? If so, how does it affect their lives? More importantly, can they increase their confidence to achieve a more fulfilling life?

In my experience, there is indeed a difference between the way women and men experience confidence. Some of it is genetic, some environmental. And yes we all have the ability to increase our confidence. After all, confidence is a skill that can be learned and taught. Let’s begin with a discussion of the effect genetics have on confidence.

Genetics

Before we delve into this discussion, let’s acknowledge that these are generalizations. The fact that these generalizations don’t fit you should not cause you to doubt yourself. You are special. We are all different in some respects which makes each of us special in our own way. With this acknowledgment, let’s begin our discussion of genetics.

We all know that women and men are wired differently, something that’s evident at a very early age. Boys tend to explore the physical world more vigorously than girls. Let’s face it we rarely see women featured in videos of stupid human tricks. Boys and men attempt physical feats we shouldn’t and, later in life, marvel at the fact that we’ve survived as long as we have.

Girls’ explorations are more in the realm of emotions, feelings and relationships, something few of us master in a lifetime. Yet girls as young as 3, 4 and 5 are exploring this complex realm.

Whereas boys take apart toys to see how they work, girls try to parse out the elements of what they’re experiencing emotionally in their relationships. The implications are huge. When boys take apart their toys, absent it being terminator type toy, there’s only one way to reassemble it. Even mechanically inept boys will, with perseverance, figure out how to reassemble their toy. Consequently, boys’ explorations and experiments lend themselves to successful outcomes which stimulates growth in confidence.

As we’ve already acknowledged, understanding emotions, how to deal with them and their impact on relationships is something that few of us master. The complexity of this realm, the fact that often there is no one right answer, no single approach that works consistently, limits the success girls experience, which hinders the development of their confidence.

This is but one example of how genetics play into the difference in development of confidence in each gender. But environment is also a factor. Fortunately, we have more control over the environment we create for our kids than we do their genetics.

Environment

Again, we are going to talk about natural tendencies using generalizations so don’t evaluate yourself against these messages. Instead view them for how they can help you help your kids move forward more confidently.

Boys are encouraged to explore, to try, to fail, to pick themselves up and try again. That’s not as often true for girls. They generally don’t receive that kind of encouragement. Even if they do, their genetic tendency is toward caution.

In part, the reason boys get this encouragement is that their mothers, the primary force in early childhood development, admire strength in men. Knowing that the men in their lives, their fathers, grandfathers, husbands, boyfriends are strong, provides women with a sense of safety and security. As a result mothers encourage their sons to be strong and resilient. It’s why they encourage their sons to try, learn, try again until they succeed.

Because mothers innately look to the men in their lives for strength, safety and security, they tend not to consider these to be essential traits for their daughters. Consequently, mothers don’t as aggressively encourage the try, fail, learn, adapt-until-you-succeed behaviors in their daughters. Consequently, girls are likely to feel ill-equipped to handle these situations which then makes them more reliant on the men in their lives. This is not intended as criticism, simply an observation of the natural tendencies that influence the difference in confidence between men and women. These genetically-based typically operate at the subconscious level, for both women and men, which is why they aren’t readily apparent to us.

To give you a sense for how these tendencies manifest themselves throughout our entire lives I’m going to share two examples. The first is the result of a study of teacher interactions with students. What the study discovered is that female teachers more frequently called upon male students who raised their hands than female students. I’d be willing to bet that many of these female teachers, if asked, would bemoan the lack of confidence of their female students and want to help them become more confident. Yet their behaviors, operating on a subconscious level, aren’t encouraging girls to be more confident.

The second example promoting female reliance on males came by way of a business women’s conference on confidence. I was one of two male attendees. Three female professors from one of St. Louis’s most prestigious universities offered the following suggestions to the mostly female audience:

  • Work harder.
  • Work smarter.
  • Find a male mentor.

I wanted to jump up screaming “Are you kidding me?”

  1. Most women work harder than most men. Telling them to work harder is insulting.
  2. Work smarter is sage advice for all of us…regardless of gender.
  3. Do you really believe that women can’t achieve what they want without the assistance of a man? How is a woman to gain confidence in her ability to enjoy whatever she wants in life if she first has to gain a man’s assistance to do so? That is the most ludicrous, self-defeating piece of advice I can image…offered by highly-educated, highly-respected professors at a prestigious university.
  4. These are but a few examples of how we create different environments for boys and girls and the implications these environments have on both genders. There is one more implication that I want to share with you. It relates to where each gender looks for their source of confidence.

    Source of confidence

    By virtue of both genetic and environmental influences, boys and girls learn to look in different places for their source of confidence. Girls and women look to background and experience for their confidence. If they don’t possess what they consider relevant experience, they’re unlikely to pursue something that intrigues them. If they do possess the experience, they’re likely to discount heavily the value of their background and experience. Men discount their background and experience too, just not as heavily as women do.

    Boys and men, because they’re encouraged to explore, to risk failure, look more toward their ability to learn and adapt for their source of confidence. This difference is often described by women as men’s tendency to “fake it ’til they make it.” Men aren’t faking it, they’re relying on their ability to learn and adapt which they’ve honed over the years, with the encouragement of their mothers, through repeated attempts, failures, learning, adaptation and frequent success.

    The good news is that regardless of whether you’re male or female, what your genetic makeup is or what environment you experienced in the formative years, you have the ability to increase your confidence by retraining your brain to think differently. As you become more confident you develop the ability to teach kids to become increasingly confident. In other words, you become adept at creating an environment that supports growth in confidence for both your daughters and sons.

    For you

    Genetics and environment have influenced your current level of confidence, but they need do so no longer. You have the power to retrain your mind to look at things differently and make that new, more productive way of thinking so automatic that it feels natural…like you’ve always thought that way.

    For women, reminding yourselves that you’ve always found a solution to the issues you’ve faced, without the assistance of the men in your life, is one way to change your source of confidence from background and experience to your ability to learn and adapt. Once you discover that this is the true source of power, for both men and women, you’ll no longer feel that you are at a disadvantage. Then you can pass this awareness along to your daughters, by living the message day in and day out.

    When a woman suggests that you find a male mentor, smile, thank the person, then completely ignore her advice. Don’t rely on anyone else to get what you want from life, you have the ability to do it on your own. This from a man who will be celebrating his 46th anniversary this year. I treasure my life with my wife and the joy our marriage affords, but neither she nor I rely on each other for our happiness. We each pursue our individual dreams as well as our joint dreams.

    For men, you too experience doubt, fear, anxiety and frustration. It’s in these times that you too need to remind yourselves of all the times you’ve dealt with difficult situations successfully so that you don’t lose sight of how powerful your ability to learn and adapt is. Be willing to admit your vulnerability to your kids, regardless of gender, so that they can learn more effectively how to deal with the challenges we all face by virtue of our humanity. Strength does not come from being fearless, but being proactive in the face of fear. The earlier your kids learn this lesson, the stronger, and more confident, they’ll become.

    For our kids

    Help your kids understand the genetic implications sex has on confidence so that they aren’t so confused by the differences and can learn from one another at an earlier age. It’s important that they learn that the differences are complementary…that each gender’s predisposition has advantages and that they can learn from one another. The earlier they learn to appreciate each other the healthier their relationships will be later in life.

    Create an environment that is equally, if not somewhat more, encouraging for girls. Remember girls’ genetic inclinations are toward more complex emotional explorations and greater caution. Neither tendency lends itself to greater confidence for girls. Consequently, girls may need more encouragement to explore, fail, learn and adapt in areas other than emotions and relationships where success if less well defined.

    Finally, let your kids know that they have the ability to retrain their minds to be more confident in pursuing anything they want in life. For with confidence, everything is possible.

    If you’d like to reap the psychic and financial rewards of being able to help others be more confident, check out the Teaching Confidence Certification program.

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