Self-confidence and self-esteem are two things that many think are one and the same. But actually, the two are very different, even though you’ll often hear the two terms used interchangeably.
Let’s talk first about self-confidence. This is related to action – in other words, it’s the way you feel about your ability to do something. It can also vary from situation to situation. For instance, you might be very confident about your ability to dance, but have low self-confidence in your ability to ride a horse.
Self-esteem, on the other hand, is how your feel about yourself – about the value you see yourself having in the world. Unlike self-confidence, your self-esteem does not vary much according to the situation, it has developed over time according to the situations and experiences you’ve undergone.
Do you suffer from low self-confidence?
The term, self-confidence, is derived from the Latin word, fidere, which means to trust. If you have self-confidence, then you trust yourself to have the ability to carry out a certain action. However, it is ‘domain specific’, as we’ve already mentioned – meaning you can be confident in certain areas of your life but lacking in others.
Once you understand that self-confidence is related to actions and your ability to do something, it becomes easier to determine the areas of your life where your confidence levels are lower. Perhaps you’re the life and soul of the party, able to strike up conversations with total strangers (much to the envy of others). But when you have to stand up and deliver a big presentation at work, then this feels far more of a challenge.
Although you might not suffer from ‘low’ self-confidence in general, the above situation would determine that your levels of confidence in public speaking are lower than that of communicating one on one.
It’s also possible to have your self-confidence destroyed in a single moment. Let’s say you consider yourself good at something (or at least adequate). If something should happen to make you think differently (say, forgetting lines in a play, causing the audience to laugh at you), then it would be a very human reaction to lose a little bit of faith in your ability to remember lines in the future. Your self-confidence has been damaged by a single occurrence.
Or do you suffer from low self-esteem?
Low self-esteem, on the other hand, looks (and feels) very much different. Esteem comes from the Latin word aestimare, which means to appraise, value, rate, weigh, and estimate. Self-esteem is based on our emotional appraisal of our own self-worth.
The feeling of simply ‘not being good enough’, or of not valuing yourself as a human being, is one that’s been built up over time – usually many years. It can have many causes. Unhealthy relationships, being bullied, abuse of any kind… All of these can have an effect on your self-esteem, gradually eroding away how your feel about your own worth.
Because self-esteem is built up (or down) over a long period of time, it doesn’t tend to be something that changes very much in general.
Can you have high self-confidence but low self-esteem?
They certainly don’t go hand in hand, although there is a correlation between the two. Those with high self-esteem are more likely to have self-confidence, although it’s not always the case. On the flip side, a person can have a huge amount of self-confidence, but low self-esteem.
One of the ways that low self-esteem shows itself is the need to ‘prop oneself up’. This could be in one (or more) of a number of ways. The need to earn a super high salary, caring very much about status (or even notoriety). Or perhaps the use of substances such as alcohol or drugs as a crutch.
People with a healthy self-esteem don’t feel the need for such behavior (although just because someone earns a high salary certainly doesn’t mean they suffer from low self-esteem). Instead, having a feeling of worth allows you to take care of yourself, your health, care about the community you live in and take responsibility for your impact on the environment.
Can I improve either, or both?
Absolutely! In many ways, it’s easier to build your self-confidence because this is about taking positive action to improve your abilities. However, there are ways to work on your self-esteem – your self-worth – and because there is a correlation between the two, many find that improving self-confidence does eventually have an effect on their self-esteem.
Ways to work on improving self-esteem:
- Instead of concentrating on your negative points, try to think about the positive. If you can’t come up with any, then think about what about what others say you’re good at? All it takes to begin to improve is the slightest (tiny, bitty, really small) belief that they might be right.
- Stop putting yourself down – you need to stop the negative chatter that you feed yourself. The first step is recognizing it. Thoughts such as “I’m useless’ or ‘I’ll never be any good’, are classic examples. Would you say such a thing to a friend? If not, then why on earth are you saying it to yourself?
- Make a list of your strengths – there’s always something, no matter how small. Even if you can only think of one thing, that’s fine. Keep at it, and see if you can add another small thing per day (or even per week). Look at the list often, and see it growing over time.
Working on improving self-confidence is, in some ways, much easier – because it’s all about action, not emotion: Practice, practice, practice at whatever it is you find hard. Take yourself out of your comfort zone, face your obstacles, and eventually, although you may never be super confident at whatever it is your working at, you’ll definitely improve and become more confident in your ability.