Firm or Stubborn: What’s the Difference?

January 25, 2019
Stubbornness and firmness are two sides of the same coin. Being stubborn means being resistant and not listening to reason, whereas firmness also means being willing to listen and change direction.

Stubbornness and firmness are like coal and diamonds. The first involves rigid, inflexible opinions. The second is more about conviction. So, the main difference between them is that being stubborn means you won’t listen and being firm means you’re perfectly willing.

However, stubbornness can be a virtue in some cases. It can act as the perfect extra ingredient you need to achieve difficult goals. It’s also important when it comes to defending your principles or overcoming hardship.

The problem is when it makes you deaf and blind to facts, ideas, and realities that go against what you believe. That’s where you’ll find the real difference between being stubborn and firm.

Firmness is more the result of a reflection on your beliefs. Of course, this doesn’t mean you lose any of your passion or energy for something, but it doesn’t win out over logic. This open-mindedness is a big part of what sets being firm apart from being stubborn. Still, there are some other factors. Learn more about this below!

“Stubbornness destroys good advice.”

-Ali ibn Abi Talib-

The characteristics of stubbornness

There are multiple levels of stubbornness. The lower level, whims, are very common in children since all they care about is their own desires. It may be more common in that stage of life, but there are plenty of older people who act that way. In other words, adults throw tantrums, too.

The next level is what we might call “hard-headedness”. This is when someone has an idea or intention and nothing in this world could ever make them change it. Instead of trying to defend their position, they simply refuse to listen to anything that goes against their opinion or goal.

The highest level is when obsession comes into play. This is when someone feels extremely passionate about something. It can lead to fanaticism and in some cases even to mental disorders. Common sense goes out the window when it comes to this. They refuse to listen to anything else and let this belief take over completely.

The main difference between being firm and being stubborn is how open-minded you are.

The characteristics of firmness

Firmness, or conviction, involves being consistent with a specific opinion, goal, or feeling. It comes from an intentional process of reflection, reasoning, evaluation, and self-drawn conclusions. People are firm when, having evaluated the evidence, they feel they can be.

One of the biggest differences between stubbornness and firmness is that being firm means being open-minded. Having made a certain decision or taken a certain path doesn’t mean you can’t go back. Firmness is about being able to change direction when necessary.

That takes willpower, conviction, and perseveranceThere’s a desire involved, but it goes alongside reflection and intention. It means being in charge of your convictions, and not the other way around.

A bearded man looking down in thought.

Being stubborn and being firm: Two sides of the same coin

Firmness is a virtue, stubbornness is a problem. But the line between them isn’t always clear, and people often feel proud about being stubborn. They see it as a sign of determination or a strong character. It’s actually the other way around.

Stubborn people refuse to listen because they’re not confident in their beliefs. They don’t analyze their opinions because they’re afraid of discovering they’re illogical. Firmness involves logic and reason, but stubbornness is about opinions. Stubborn people won’t analyze their opinions because, at the end of the day, they’re baseless.

Stubbornness shuts you off and blocks all communication. It’s a characteristic of the weak, not the strong. Stubborn people hide behind their fixed opinions because they’re afraid of uncertainty and change. Ultimately, stubbornness and firmness are two sides of the same coin, and the main difference is just your outlook.

  • Bisi, R. H. (1947). Olden, Christine: The psychology of obstinacy.(La psicología de la obstinación). “The Psychoanalytic Quarterly”, vol. 12. 1943. Revista de psicoanálisis, 5(1), 271-274.