Effect of Self Confidence and Body Language on Mental Health

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22/03/19 Psychology Reference this

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How Can Self Confidence and Positive Body Language Impact an Individual’s Mental Health and Life Opportunities?

More than ever before, researchers, politicians, psychologist’s, parents and individuals are dwelling on the importance of becoming aware and addressing the issue of mental health. Mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, and anorexia are associated with low levels of self-confidence (Mental Health Foundation, 2018). Mental health disorders and in particular depression, can lead to an individual with psychological, physical and social symptoms that make it difficult to combat daily life. One of the key symptoms being low self-esteem and low self-confidence (NHS Choices, May 10, 2016), therefore it is vital that individuals find a way to improve their self-confidence and body language to improve their lives and well being. Self-confidence can be a subjective and personal matter to each individual, hence the multitude of definitions, however, it is universally accepted, that at the most basic level, self-confidence can be defined as the belief in oneself (Benabou & Tirole 2002). Body language is a natural complex behaviour, consisting of both conscious and unconscious movements which convey attitudes and feelings. It is important to understand the relationship between both, body language and self-confidence. Body language is said to be an indicator of self-confidence and the way an individual present themselves through their body language can determine the level of confidence they hold. Issues of self confidence and body language are relevant to key areas of society such as business, justice and social media.

Studies have demonstrated that improving self-confidence can be increased by the rehearsal of certain body language acts, in essence, the ‘fake it till you make it’ approach. In a much publicised Ted Talk, Harvard Business School social psychologist, Amy Cuddy shared the incredibly interesting findings of her research, that just by adopting a powerful posture can affect chemicals in the body, thus, making one feel more confident. In this study participants adopted either a powerful stance, with their chest and head lifted and arms propped on their hips or, a timid pose, hunched over with arms crossed. Both conditions were in their respective positions for 2 minutes. The findings demonstrated that those who maintained power poses showed a 29% increase in testosterone, an important hormone closely related to dominance and confidence, the findings also showed a 25% decrease in the stress hormone cortisol. The outcome for group 1(low power poses) was that they experienced a 17% rise in cortisol and a 10% fall in testosterone. This implies that by adopting a good body language, specifically a more powerful stance, can physiologically cause one to be more confident, and can be implemented in real life settings. This a great breakthrough for those experiencing nerves, it is able to biologically calm an individual down and further making an improvement in their wellbeing (Amanda McCorquodale, Feb 2, 2016).

Self-confidence is essential for day-to-day interaction in life, and also has the ability to influence both minor and major life events, for example, meeting new individuals to perusing an interview for a promotion. Depending on the level of self-confidence and body language an individual holds, the turn of events can either result in a positive or negative outcome. When confidence is lowered thoughts are replaced with doubts and negative feelings and this is portrayed through the individual’s body language, when this is the case it is harder to conduct the required task (Bandura, 1986), which ultimately reduces well being. Psychologists have discovered that humans possess the natural tendency of judging others on the way they present themselves. When it comes to first impressions, body language is crucial in the first few seconds of meeting someone.

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Interviews have the power to improve an individual’s life and well-being, this especially applies in an interview case as there is a lot at stake, and if unfortunately, despite having all the requirements and qualifications needed, it goes the wrong way based on the way a person presents themselves, the individual’s confidence is not only negatively impacted further but also is most likely to result in a financial loss and left in a position where the individual may not be passionate about in their current or alternative job. Studies have demonstrated that those who don’t enjoy their jobs, they are more susceptible to depression, weight gain, and illness due to high levels of stress (E.B Faragher, M Cass, C L Cooper, Dec 4, 2017). Not to forget the toll it takes on one’s self-confidence due to the fact that one is not utilizing their strongest skills regularly in a place that they are not happy working.

Depression can be triggered by environmental factors and can have serious impacts to an individual’s life, and recent studies indicate that 10-20% of the general adult population encounters a depressive state at some point in their lives. (Peter M. Lewinsohn, 1992). Hence why self-confidence along with body language is a huge factor in making an improvement in life as it allows one to progress on a personal level, and believe in themselves.  Although, an interview is a situation where it is completely normal to feel nervous however and, it is important to realise that there are many ways an individual can learn how to adapt body language techniques to look and feel more confident, and therefore achieve desired outcomes and ultimately make an improvement in their lives. It can convey, self- confidence, intelligence, and also personality. Although body language is said to be subconscious, it is possible to make a conscious effort to nonverbally communicate.

Psychologists have discovered that humans possess the natural tendency of judging others on the way they present themselves. When it comes to first impressions, body language is crucial in the first few seconds of meeting someone. It can convey, self- confidence, intelligence, and also personality. Although body language is said to be subconscious, it is possible to make a conscious effort to nonverbally communicate.

Research suggests eye contact is a very simple but hugely powerful act of communication. The ability to hold it is said to be associated with building self-confidence. Studies have demonstrated those with higher self-confidence tend to break eye contact less frequently compared to participants with lower self-esteem who broke eye contact more often (Umoh, 17 Aug, 2007). An 80/20 rule can be implemented in regards to a good level of eye contact, whereby, 80% of the time eye contact should be made, and 20% of the time the eyes can wander. It is said that this will make an individual keener in the conversation and confident during an interaction as well as preventing one from looking nervous. Eye contact allows for one to make connections and appear trustworthy. (Steven Halls, Oct 15, 2010)

Smiling is another important form of positive body language and is a powerful way in which confidence can be perceived. A smile is universally associated with happiness, psychologists believe this is because humans have developed a tendency to smile to indicate they were genuine and trustworthy. (Gil Greengross PhD, Apr 30, 2015). Studies have demonstrated on a biochemical level, when smiling the body will release endorphins that make it feel happier and more self-confident. A Swedish study found that smiling is contagious and it is difficult to keep a straight face when around those who are smiling (Savitz, Mar 22, 2011). In addition, studies have also demonstrated that the power of smiling can have many significant health benefits, as the endorphins released reduce stress levels, and increase the immune system (Ding Li, April 2, 2014), thus improving well-being. However, research suggests that over smiling excessively, can come across forced and in genuine.

Furthermore, the feet and legs are another indicator that convey confidence. Studies have shown that possessing a closed body language, where the feet face inwards, have connotations of nervousness, defence and fear. This is suggested as a form of defence as humans close their body to protect vital organs. On the other hand, those who hold open body language, appear to look confident calm and relaxed. Hands are said to mostly by the side, this will help to avoid fidgeting and should be used for hand gestures to emphasize a point. The chest should be slightly further out in line with the rest of the body. Another thing to bear in mind with body language and appearing confident is the speed of movement. Generally, the slower the movement the more confident it can come across. Fast fidgety movement is bad as it displays nervousness, emotions can get transferred leaving those around to also feel uncomfortable. Some argue that body language has the power to determine how an individual is actually feeling despite verbal cues. This is very important for example, in the criminal justice sytem and to determine whether an individual is suspicious. Another interesting finding is that occupying more space is another trait of self-confidence. Considering the vast amount of research conducting into analysing body language and self-confidence can improve one’s life and well-being by applying these into daily routine. Individuals suffering from mental health will convey a more closed body language and therefore can be challenged more in social settings and job interviews. This could lead to difficulties in life, being able to understand the body language that comes with confidence can help an individual appear confidence (Changing Minds, Dec 27, 2017).

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However, it should be taken into consideration that in some cultures eye contact can be perceived as a rude or a dominant signal, thus individuals will look down or break eye contact to show respect, demonstrating a cultural difference (Joy Tour & Travel, Nov 29, 2017).  Cultural awareness must be understood in regards to body language, as cultural norms differentiate different societies, so awareness of the various types of body language and how it can be perceived in multiple perspectives is critical. Cultural differences in body language can show up in many ways, for example, the distance when holding a conversation, amount of physical contact, and interactions between opposite genders. For example, sitting cross-legged is common in North America and some European countries, but in Asia and the Middle East, it is viewed disrespectful to show the soul of the foot to another person. It is crucial to remember cultural differences. By being aware of cultural differences to be open-minded and accepting of others and understanding why they are different, rather than judging another individual in terms of one’s own cultural norms. This process can enhance an individual’s life to live more respectful and knowledgeable in the future (Commisceo Global, Oct 19, 2016). Global businesses heavily depend on effective communication between cultures.

Low self confidence can be caused by an individual suffering from mental illness such as depression and anxiety. There are a variety of treatment options available such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). It is a talking therapy which can manage problems by changing an individual’s cognition (thinking) and behaviour (NHS Choices, Jul 15, 2016). It focuses on the present difficulties and looks for ways to improve an individual’s current state of mind instead of what may have caused the distress in the past. By changing the way an individual perceives a situation can prevent them from triggering a cycle of negative thoughts and thus improving their level of wellbeing. CBT can be used in treatment for low-confidence but it is also used in many other mental health disorders, as it has various advantages such as its practical strategies that can be used in everyday life- even after the treatment has finished. However, because it involves confronting emotions and anxieties, this can cause an individual to experience initial anxiety and emotional discomfort, however, this helps combat the problem and so the individual can learn how to deal with it.

There are multiple of interventions used in CBT when treating low confidence. Cognitive restructuring is a method of identifying unhealthy thinking patterns and learning more positive ways of thinking about difficult situations (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy LA, Dec 7, 2018). Avoidance of situations due to fear prevents an individual from evaluating whether or not they are as bad as in their head by exposing an individual to these situations may increase the level of confidence as may not be able to understand for themselves it is not as bad, this method is usually targeted at activities such as, speaking in social settings. Another common intervention used for treating self-confidence issues is mindfulness training, it is a skill designed to help people connect to the present and not to get caught up with thoughts and worries (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Los Angeles). Being able to apprehend how to change the way of thinking will improve an individual’s confidence and well being, as they will be able to tackle the problem again as learnt in therapy, and can use this in their daily lives.

Treatment using medication is also available in conjunction with CBT to treat more serious problems related to lack of self-confidence such as depression and anxiety. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI’s) are antidepressant drugs which inhibit the uptake of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter contributing to feelings of well-being and happiness. By inhibiting the uptake of the neurotransmitter mean that it is available for a longer period of time, which can help with feelings of sadness, anxiety and increase confidence levels. Demonstrating that improvement of well-being is a continuous process and it can be done.

Social media has become a important part of people’s lives, especially the youth. It is known have long-lasting effects on people’s confidence in particular. ‘Findings suggest that approximately 88% people engage in making social comparisons on Facebook and out of the 88%, 98% of the comparisons are upward social comparisons’ (Nawaz Ahmad, Aug 31, 2017). An upward comparison may lower self-esteem by reminding the individual that they are below the one they look up to.  The power of upward social comparison to decreasing self-esteem been greatly documented. (Buunk, Gibbons, & Buunk, 1997). This way of thinking can be triggered when looking at social networking sites. Therefore, spending too much time on social media, can lower self-confidence and encourage a negative thinking pattern, damaging one’s well-being.

Conversely, social networking can encourage an individual to strive to be a part of the group of successful people that it perceives online (Collins, 2000) and therefore motivating the individual to set goals. This is a step forward in developing self-confidence and bettering themselves in a positive way. This goes to show, that the way an individual thinks is crucial to their behavioural patterns. The way an individual thinks about social media content will either damage their well being or make an improvement to their life. A book written by Nathaniel Branden portrays a unique concept of pillars to self-confidence.one of the pillars being, ‘The Practice of Self-Acceptance’. Valuable time should not be wasted on comparing to others. Instead, a better way to practice self-acceptance is to improve what you can change and learn to accept what you can’t.

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It is asked whether or not self-confidence is a skill, and if it is able to be learnt via the environment, or whether it is purely pre-determined trait that individuals are born within their genetic makeup. In other words, the nature vs nurture debate. Albert Bandura argued that self-belief and secure attachment are centred in the family, but as a child’s social world rapidly grows those around the child become increasingly important in learning about their self-knowledge and capabilities (Abigail Pike, Aug 19, 2014). Until recently an individual’s self-confidence was based on upbringing and environmental factors, meaning that it is a skill that is able to be grown and diminished. However, research published in the June 2009 issue of Psychological Science argues that ‘self-confidence is more than a state of mind, but rather is a genetic predisposition’ (Abigail Pike, Aug 19, 2014). Their study rigorously analysed the heritability of self-confidence and its relationship to IQ and performance by studying over 3700 pairs of twins, both monozygotic(MZ) twins, who are identical and share exactly the same genes, and dizygotic(DZ), fraternal twins and only share 50% of genes), from age seven to age ten. By comparing MZ and DZ twins allows scientists to sort out the relative contributions of genes and the environment, in other words, the concordance rate. ‘Findings indicated that children’s self-confidence is heavily influenced by heredity—at least as much as IQ is. Indeed, as-yet-unidentified self-confidence genes appear to influence school performance independent of IQ genes, with shared environment having only a negligible influence.’ (Ray Williams, Jul 11, 2009). This imposes self-confidence is in fact something we are born with and it is closely related to the IQ of a child.

However, there are many cases where highly influential individuals had an extreme lack of confidence and have built and worked to improve, one such example would refer to Angelina Jolie, actress, filmmaker and humanitarian, with a huge array of prestigious awards and cited as Hollywood’s highest-paid actress. Throughout her childhood Jolie had trouble connecting with others, was a drug abuser with eating disorders and has spoken about her history of self-harming and suicide attempts. These negative traits can be presented in those who suffer from a lack of confidence and thus lead to mental health issue, as mentioned previously. Admirably, Jolie got over these issues by re-establishing the belief in herself and is now a huge influencer internationally who has to represent herself in media which requires a great level of self-confidence. Therefore, it can be said that self-confidence is an ongoing process, it is a trait that can be learned, however it can be diminished or polished depending on the surrounding environment. This gives individuals with low self-confidence hope that change is possible, and once they start believing in themselves, they can improve their lives  

Up to this point, self-confidence has been viewed as a positive trait that is seen to make an improvement in wellbeing and those with plenty of self-confidence go far in life. However, those with an exaggerated sense of self-worth can actually have deteriorating impacts and may be diagnosable narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), which comes with a number of highly undesirable consequences.            

The 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) a diagnosis tool used by professionals to guide diagnosis it contains descriptions, symptoms and other criteria for diagnosing mental disorders. In the DSM-5 narcissistic personality disorder is indicated by the presence of at least five of the nine criteria (Sheenie Ambardar, MD, Mar 23, 2017). It states that those who possess this disorder: Have a grandiose sense of self-importance, for example, will exaggerate achievements and talents. They are preoccupied with fantasies, of which could be unlimited success, power, and brilliance. They require excessive admiration, and have a sense of entitlement, in essence, unrealistic expectations of especially favourable treatment with his/her expectations. They are interpersonally exploitative, in other words, takes advantage of others to achieve his/her own goals. Lack empathy is unwilling to recognise or identify with the feelings and needs of others. ‘Believe that others are envious of him/her and show arrogance, haughty behaviours or attitude’ are participants with NPD had smaller developed regions associated with self-awareness, for example, the medial prefrontal cortex in the brain (Bully Online, Nov 27, 2017).

A study co-ordinated in England by York’s social policy research unit aimed to establish the current well-being of children internationally. Children eight years of age were asked to rate how they felt about key aspects of their lives, questions for example, related to family and home life, friendships, school life, time use, bullying, personal wellbeing and overall happiness. The findings indicted that most children were happy as a whole, however 6% of children across the nation were reporting low wellbeing. England was found to rank 13th out of 16 countries and particular concerns were raised with body image and school, in this particular report. An interesting finding from this report is that although children from Norway did not do as well in academic attainment, they seemed to be generally satisfied and happier. When addressing issues on how participants saw themselves, children in England were in the bottom 5 about their appearance. Jonathan Bradshaw, a professor of social policy at the University of York, co-edited this report and said that the results were ‘shocking and there is something going on in the UK and it seems to be focus on self-esteem and confidence’ (Damien Gayle, 16 Feb, 2016). In addition, he also pointed out that ‘there seemed to be little relationship between a countries prosperity and the happiness of its children’ (Damien Gayle, 16 Feb, 2016), thus ruling out influenza as a cause of relative unhappiness, and wellbeing. The findings from this report, can be addressed and implemented in schools and at home. For example, when looking at the higher levels of well-being of the Norwegian children, in comparison to their lower academic attainment, it could be suggested to lift the pressure off children in academics in the UK, so that children are more confident in their abilities. However, the balance between academics and general well-being is crucial.

An example of an extreme case would be Elliot Rodger, who caught the attention of the media, as a narcissist spree killer who then committed suicide. Rodgers was raised in a privileged family, however, was a virgin a sexually frustrated, leading him to question why women reject him (Peter Langman, Ph. D, Oct 15, 2014). Rodgers posted a video addressing this issue, saying ‘I hate all of you, I can’t wait to give you exactly what you deserve’ within hours of uploading this video, Rodger stabbed to death his three flatmates, then drove to the campus of University of California and shot and killed two other students, he continued on a fired on a Starbucks and a grocery store. Fourteen others were injured. He not only referred to himself repeatedly as a god but wrote as if he has the power to transform life on. This thinking process and behaviour is certainly in line with NPD and demonstrates that overconfidence can lead to disastrous decisions, and in this case destroy lives.

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When an individual is overconfident they are likely to overestimate their abilities and underestimating others. In social settings in a group of people, your social status is looked down upon as well as respect, not accepting reality or not seeing reality will mean that it will be harder for you to change or improve as a person due to seeing the world from only one perspective i.e. a fantasy world. Of course, in this example acquiring such high levels of self-confidence prove not only to be deteriorating to oneself but also to others around.

Some criteria of NPD are similar to those of other personality disorders such as psychopathy, it is also possible to be diagnosed with a multiple of disorders at any given time, thus making a diagnosis and treatment of NPD difficult. The treatment for NPD is psychotherapy (Mayo Clinic, Nov 18, 2017), the aim of this type of therapy is to develop a more realistic self-image and relate to others more positively, this is essential for the individual to become aware that their behaviour is affecting others in a negative light. Medication is not prescribed for NPD though it is linked to symptoms of depression anxiety and other mental health disorders, medication such as antidepressants may be used in conjunction with therapy.

It is important that an individual finds the right balance of self-confidence. Some negative feelings, such as doubt and stress can encourage an individual and this builds confidence if an individual is able to work through these feelings. ‘You can’t be confident, you can feel confident’ – Bill Goldberg, American professional wrestler, actor, former football player and former mixed martial arts colour commentator known for his time in WWE and WCW under the ring name Goldberg. This is when an individual is self-confident. They do not need to try to impress others as they will be confident in themselves and believe in what the can do.

To conclude, self-confidence is a trait that is expressed in every moment of our life and is driven by positive thinking. Confidence ultimately can lead to greater success, by exhibition a greater self-worth, there is more feeling of satisfaction in life and greater trust in an individual’s capabilities which results in freedom from stress and anxiety. It is a vital trait needed for an individual’s well-being, too little could lead to serious mental health problems such as depression and anxiety which unfortunately have the potential to lead to much more serious issues such as self-harm and suicide. Self-confidence alone has the power to boost immunity. However, it is possible to rid of negative self-talk and become self-confident, through either imitating open body language or the many interventions available in cognitive behavioural therapy, by changing cognitive thinking and making behavioural changes can tackle the problem resulting in positive thinking. The effects of low self-confidence can weaken an individual and equally, the benefits of high self-confidence can strengthen an individual it is important to bear in mind that also excessive amounts of self-confidence can infarct deteriorating to one’s life in the case of Elliot Rodger. Self-confidence is not a constant state, it can be polished or diminished depending on the situation an individual is in, however the environment a child develops is hugely important in the level of self confidence the child will express, for example, a child who is exposed to more both in terms of education and activities, the more knowledgeable and confident it will be, though genetics have an influence and can determine the natural level of confidence an individual holds. Being able to read body language is also a vital skill that allows an individual to form opinions on others, hence a huge indicator of relationships, holding a good body language releases testosterone, which is linked to confidence. Body language is also a nonverbal act of communication and plays a huge part in the initial impression upon greeting someone new. Using the body can convey more meaning than words as it allows an individual to connect with others on a more personal level. Although it is very important to remember the cultural differences when thinking about body language, what may be acceptable in the western culture may not be applicable worldwide and is likely to be different to Asian culture. When considering those who work behind the scenes in large companies like Apple and Microsoft, who may have been very introverted and do not possess high levels of confidence in terms of body language and public presentation have still been able to make a career success despite being in the background. However, the ability to be self-confident does not necessarily mean to be outspoken it can simply be believing in what one can do, and truly thinking they will be able to achieve a goal, it is a trait that comes from within. Once mastered, it can lead to magnificent changes in life and well-being.

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