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Every human being has amazing natural talents. Learning how to be confident about them without getting lost in the blind spot caused by delusional self-esteem, however, can be a problem for some.

Be honest now: Do you think you're better than other people?

Most people do. A majority of human beings feel, even if they can't articulate the reasons why, that they are smarter, better looking, and more worthy than others. 

Statistically speaking, at least half of people are below average, so there are a lot of people who hold high opinions of themselves who are just plain wrong. But that's not a bad thing if you can at least recognize the possibility of your blind spots.

Self-Confidence vs Self-Enhancement

The phenomenon of self-enhancement, seeing self as better than an objective person would, is found in infants, children, teens, adults, and senior citizens.It occurs on every continent and in every culture. It's not always a dysfunctional attitude.

Because most people avoid low self-esteem symptoms by pumping up their self-confidence with an inner pep talk, most people have it in them to deceive others, too. People who make a habit of misrepresenting facts to the people on whom they depend tend to acquire more resources. Social scientists DePaulo and Kashy estimate that half of misrepresentations in communications with others have the goal of acquiring things from others. People who are deceived are always developing new methods of detection. People who do the deceiving are always developing new methods of detection. People who know how to be confident tend to develop their skills of deception and detection just a little faster than the competition, at least until they run into the blind spot caused by pathological narcissism.

When Does Self-Confidence Cross Over Into Pathological Narcissism?

The little white lies people tell themselves serve a variety of purposes. If we deceive ourselves that we are better looking, smarter, stronger, or better prepared than we are, we can overcome the limitations of low self-esteem to "give a shot" at trying something new. Excessive self-confidence opens the door to a "lucky break" that we can't enjoy if we don't show for it to happen.

Self-delusion also aid in social advancement. People can tell something they know to be a bold-faced lie to win over followers, and then use their skills at deception to convince themselves that something they know is false just might be true. In service of the objective of the lie. Americans are very aware of many examples of this principle. 

When deceiving others is punished, people don't do it as often. When deceiving others is rewarded, people tend to develop essentially automatic skills at twisting the truth to achieve goals. They can even generate their own false memories and false attitudes that crowd out the memories and attitudes that would interfere with their abilities to deceive other people. 

Successful liars become lazy about facts. They don't want to know anything that contradicts the lies that work for them. They become selectively attentive to new facts, honing in on those that reinforce their selling proposition. They will misremember basic facts so that they can project even more self-confidence when they lie. When they are aware they are lying, they will rationalize that it's OK to reach an objective any way they can. They will eventually convince even themselves that lies are true. Pathological narcissism is about more than just lying, but many pathological narcissists tell lies to get the attention they crave.

Continue reading after recommendations

  • von Hippel W, Trivers R. The evolution and psychology of self-deception. Behav Brain Sci. 2011 Feb
  • 34(1):1-16. discussion 16-56. doi: 10.1017/S0140525X10001354. PMID: 21288379
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