Self-Confidence vs. Self-Esteem: the Differences, Similarities, and Ideas for Improvement

4 min read
Evidence based
Dainius Jakucionis, MD
By Dainius Jakucionis, MD Updated on 2024 Jan 23
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Could you say you’re a confident person? Many wouldn’t – it is estimated that roughly 85% of the world’s population has low self-esteem! 

If the feelings of not being good enough, shyness, talking negatively about yourself, and blaming yourself for everything that went wrong are too familiar, you might have low self-esteem. 

Your self-esteem also influences your confidence – your poor self-image can discourage you from trying things even if you feel confident. Studies have shown that low self-esteem can increase stress and amplify feelings of anxiety and depression. 

So why are we so keen on disregarding our own worth?

The Causes of Low Self-Esteem

In essence, self-esteem refers to how we perceive ourselves and our value. 

To understand why your self-esteem is frail, we need to look for the root problem – what made you feel like you have no value in the first place?

Experiencing bullying, neglect, criticism, or judgment can cause your self-esteem to plunge – if others don’t appreciate and value you or your work, why would you? 

There are various reasons why your self-esteem might be low, for example:

  • Disapproval or criticism from authority figures (parents, teachers, supervisors, etc.)
  • Emotionally distant parents or caregivers
  • Physical, emotional, or sexual abuse
  • A quarrelsome divorce between parents
  • Bullying
  • Difficulties at school or work
  • The guilt associated with religion
  • Unrealistic beauty standards presented in media
  • Unrealistic goals

We tend to internalize negative messages sent our way, which over time form negative core beliefs: “I am worthless,” “I am unlikeable,” or “I don’t belong.” No wonder you have low self-esteem if you suffered one or a few deprecations in the past or right now!

What About Confidence?

Although overlapping with self-esteem, self-confidence implies that you have faith in yourself to achieve something. 

Low self-confidence can result in shyness, communication problems, social anxiety, and lack of assertiveness. On the contrary, being self-confident shows that you know you’re capable of something. Therefore, you pursue that goal or task.

Usually, we’re more confident in some areas than others, which is perfectly fine – we have different skill sets where some skills are more developed than others.

Self-confidence allows us to meet and overcome the challenges in life. Healthy self-esteem helps us be more confident – we trust our abilities because we know we’re capable.

However, if a person struggles with low self-esteem, it’s common that they don’t have much self-confidence, too. But that’s not always the case.

What Does It Mean to Be Self-Confident and Have a Healthy Self-Esteem?

Imagine a situation: you’ve been assigned a task at work. However, you received negative feedback after completing it – you didn’t ace the assignment.

Even before starting the task, your low-self esteem might bring thoughts, such as, “I won’t be able to do it, or if I do, it won’t be great.” 

If you lack self-confidence after receiving criticism, you might start to think, “Of course, I failed. I’m not good enough, and this proves it.” Low self-confidence discourages you from trying if the outcome is disappointing. This also negatively impacts your self-esteem.

In another scenario where you have decent self-esteem, this failure would bring thoughts such as, “I wonder what went wrong? I should investigate and do better next time.” In this case, you might feel disappointed, but it doesn’t diminish your worth – you still feel confident in trying again.

Ways to Improve Self-Esteem and Self-Confidence

Like any other skill, self-esteem and self-confidence can be improved or even built from zero! There are several ways to do it, most of which consist of getting to know yourself.

The first step you have to take is to discover the reasons for your plummeting self-esteem and self-confidence. Was it bullying, neglect, abuse? You can use the list mentioned before to reflect on and understand the key factors that have a tremendous impact.

Practice self-acceptance

We’re all human, and that means that we all make mistakes – it’s inevitable. But that doesn’t mean you have to beat yourself up for making them sometimes.

Acknowledge your mistakes, identify how to solve them, and be critical of your behavior not to repeat the same mistakes again. However, refrain from criticizing yourself – failing or making mistakes doesn’t diminish your worth!

Get to know who you are as a person

Usually, we are well aware of our flaws and weaknesses. But what about your strengths? 

Take time to discover your abilities, skills, achievements, and things you’re proud of. Be honest and reasonable – there are definitely some areas in which you excel.

You can also reflect on your weaknesses and things you’d like to improve. Again, be sensible and don’t criticize yourself for lacking skills or having bad habits. Instead, focus on how you’d like to change the things that bother you.

Be assertive

When we lack confidence or have low self-esteem, we tend to please others to receive praise or positive feedback. While being appreciated feels good, neither endorsements or disapproving comments should affect how you feel about yourself.

Don’t be afraid to set boundaries and say no to the things you don’t feel comfortable doing. You shouldn’t feel guilty for expressing what you want and don’t want to do. 

Breaking the Self-Deprecating Pattern

By acknowledging and wanting to improve, you can build robust and healthy self-esteem – negative self-image can be overridden through practice.

Reflect on your past experiences and employ the tips for improvement to increase your confidence. You’ll definitely notice a decrease in anxiety and stress.

Now, celebrate your achievements – there are plenty!

Dainius Jakucionis, MD

Dainius is a renowned psychotherapist, holding a Master’s Degree in Medicine and additional training in Cognitive and Behavioural Therapy.