Why Women Are So Hard On Themselves And Men Don’t Think Twice

Show me a woman who doesn’t doubt herself and I’ll show you a liar (and the woman who feels bad about lying).

Whether it be our looks, our thoughts or our performance at work, there’s always something we wish we could change. There’s always something we think we could do better, something we wish we were more of and something we wish we didn’t have.

My big arms. That bump in my nose. The protruding gut I can no longer hide under bulky sweaters and won't budge no matter how many sit-ups I perform.

Show me a gorgeous woman with the perfect family and a great position at work and I can bet you her high salary that there’s something about herself she wishes she could change.

It’s a phenomenon--but not in a good way.

In 2014, The Atlantic ran an article about the confidence gap between men and women. The article was based on the findings of Claire Shipman, a reporter for ABC News, and Katty Kay, the anchor of BBC World News America. The two had co-authored a book in 2009 called "Womenomics", which explores the many positive changes unfolding for women. What they found after interviewing countless successful women in positions of power, however, is that all of them suffered from an invisible symptom—lack of confidence.

They discovered there was no difference in confidence between a woman running a Fortune 500 company and a 24-year-old just starting out in the work place. We don’t think we deserve the promotions, salaries and life we’ve created for ourselves. We don’t know how to ask for what we want, and we don’t know how to stop thinking we’re undeserving of everything we do have.

Before you can change the problem, you have to get to the root of it. Why exactly are women less confident than men? Where did this lack of confidence come from? The answers are based on findings from Katty and Claire’s extensive research and analysis of hundreds of women.

Girls got praise, boys got thick skin

If you can recall, grade school was when we were brimming with confidence. It was before those teenage years set in, when we knew nothing but to take our looks and ourselves at face value. We were happy, unassuming and completely and utterly confident.

We were praised for our good behavior while we watched the boys of our class scolded and berated for their wild ones. As Carol Dweck, a Stanford psychology professor and the author of "Mindset: The New Psychology of Success," put it, we were praised for being perfect.

That’s where the long-term psychological issues set in. Instead of learning how to be yelled at, we learned to seek approval. Instead of practicing the art of risk taking, we practiced how to be perfect. Dweck notes, “When we observed in grade school classrooms, we saw that boys got eight times more criticism than girls for their conduct.”

Psychologists now attest that failure and perseverance are the building blocks of confidence. As we can see, boys became pros at taking punches and women became pros at avoiding them.

Estrogen equals caution, testosterone equals more money

Throughout their investigation, Katty and Claire wanted to find out if a woman’s lack of confidence was due to nature or nurture. They found that both played a key role.

Estrogen is the main hormonal drive in women. It’s estrogen that supports the part of the brain involved in social skills and observation, promoting the intense bonds and connections women make. What it doesn’t promote, however, is risk-taking and conflict—two main ingredients in confidence building.

Men, with all their testosterone, are programmed to compete and to win. They don’t think about consequences and don’t think things through rationally. While it doesn’t always lead to the best choices, at least it leads to making choices at all.

Women need to be perfect, men need to be anything but

Think about most of the women you know. Think about how they go through their day to day lives and how they come to decisions. Usually their indecisiveness come from the necessity to be perfect. Nothing can be done unless we’re 100 percent sure we won’t fail at it. If we do something, we like to do it right. Men on the other hand, do things imperfectly all the time.

We fixate on the smallest details of every part of our lives instead of fixating on new opportunities. We worry about our friendships, our families and our relationships. If one part isn’t perfect we have to obsess over it until it’s either perfect or no longer part of our lives.

Women blame themselves, men blame everyone else

If a woman feels guilty and no one is around to take the blame, did she do it?

Every day a woman feels guilty for something she doesn’t have to feel guilty for. But that’s just what we've come to understand. We assume the guilt while men transpose it.

While it seems like a winning attribute, it’s actually our downfall. David Dunning, a Cornell psychologist, observed a Cornell math Ph.D. program that’s known to get tougher throughout the semester. What he found was men typically recognize the situation for what it was, and respond to their lower grades by saying, “Wow, this is a tough class.” Women, on the other hand, reacted to the class with self depreciation as in, “You see, I knew I wasn’t good enough.”

This is a classic example of how women can be in the same situation as men and find a way to see the negative as a reflection on them--except when the situation is positive. We are deflectors for compliments and absorbers for negativity. Until we learn to stop assessing every bad situation as our own fault and deflecting every good situation as our own doing, we will never be happy.