Confidence & Self Esteem—What's the Difference?
Definitions of Self Esteem and Self Confidence
Definitions of the words self esteem and self confidence are frequently seen as interchangeable, but in reality they describe two related, but quite different human characteristics. They can run neatly alongside each other as in someone who has high self esteem can also have high confidence, though this is definitely not always the case.
I have been delivering training programs in self confidence and self esteem building for many years and I always make sure that, as a part of each course, I help people discover the differences between self esteem and confidence and the definitions of each. Why? Well, it's useful to know where we're starting from and also to gain a real sense of what elements may need improvement.
First off, we really need to define what self esteem and confidence both mean. While I have a sound knowledge of this topic I thought I would look in a few dictionaries to see what their definitions of self esteem and confidence were. After 15 minutes of reading various definitions in a variety of dictionaries, I am somewhat confused! No wonder we confuse these terms - there doesn't seem to be a general consensus of what self esteem and confidence actually mean.
The Dictionary Definition of Self Esteem
- "belief in oneself; self-respect"
- "confidence in one’s own worth or abilities"
- "self-respect: confidence in your own merit as an individual person"
- "a confidence and satisfaction in oneself"
- "Personal feelings or opinions of oneself"
- "Pride in oneself; self-respect"
- "a realistic respect for or favorable impression of oneself; self-respect."
- "The holding a good opinion of one's self; self-complacency"
- "self-esteem, self-pride -- (a feeling of pride in yourself)"
The word esteem originally comes from the Latin aestimare which means to: value, rate, weigh, appraise or estimate.
I think this definition is the closest to how I would define self esteem.
In essence, self esteem is about how we rate or appraise ourselves. Often we measure ourselves in comparison to others. Do we believe we are equally successful, attractive, lovable or intelligent as the next person? Or do we rate ourselves lower in these areas than most other people we meet? How we rate ourselves in our minds affects how we feel about ourselves.
If we believe we are somehow less than others, we may feel the need to please, be submissive to others wishes, try to be perfect, have low mood or feel depressed, feel guilty often or we may even feel we have to try to prove that we are better than other people. All of these are signs of low self esteem.
Characteristics of Healthy Self Esteem
- Good self care skills - emotional, physical, intellectual, financial. This means that we look after our bodies - e.g. eat the right foods and get enough sleep. We can comfort ourselves in healthy ways when we feel sad. We look after our money and don't get into silly amounts of debt.
- Valuing and managing one's own time
- Being clear about we will and will not do for others
- Being able to say Yes & No when we want to
- The ability to define and direct oneself
- Clear boundaries between self and others
- Ability to experience joy
- Acceptance of our shortcomings - realistic appraisal of oneself*
- Acceptance of our skills and competencies*
- Wilingness to accept responsibility for our feelings
- How we feel about ourselves is not dependant on appearance, wealth, status or relationships.
- No reliance or crutches (e.g. drink, drugs, food, sex)
*If you find it hard to identify your positive qualities, read my hub on "How to Describe Yourself" which explains why it's so important that we are able to know what's good about each one of us.*
The Dictionary Definition of Self Confidence
- "the belief that one can have faith in or rely on someone or something"
- "self-assurance arising from an appreciation of one’s abilities"
- "belief in own abilities:self assurance or a belief in your ability to succeed"
- "a feeling or consciousness of one's powers or of reliance on one's circumstances, faith or belief that one will act in a right, proper, or effective way"
- "the quality or state of being certain"
- "firm belief; trust; reliance, the fact of being or feeling certain; assurance, belief in one's own abilities; self-confidence"
- "Self confidence "behaving calmly because you have no doubts about your ability or knowledge:"
The word confidence originally comes from the Latin confidentia and means to trust, to have faith. Therefore, true self confidence means to trust and have faith in oneself.
Another Type of Self Confidence?
While I'm working hard here to clarify and define confidence, to complicate matters somewhat, I believe that there are two types of confidence! One is genuine "feeling" within oneself of confidence which is characterised by a strong sense of trust and faith in one's own abilities and resourcefulness. This aligns with the Latin definition above.
But there is another type of confidence which I have come across frequently in my experience. This type of confidence is much more about how we want others to perceive us. It's about what we project outwards into the world - a type of bravado. Someone may be loud and opinionated and come across as confident, but does that mean that they are actually confident as in having a deep trust in themselves?
Not always! Many of the loudest and most opinionated people I have known, when questioned a little more deeply, have been found to possess a very low opinion of themselves. They use the projection of confidence as a mask or cover up in order to protect themselves.
This is an example of someone who has low self esteem yet comes across as very confident. Other people I have known have high self esteem yet come across as shy and not very confident at all.
Characteristics of Healthy Self Confidence
- A willingness to try new things, take opportunities and take risks
- An ability to seem competent & controlled in challenging situations.
- A deep trust in ones own abilities and skills.
- Ability to accept criticism
- Ability to say what one thinks, feels or believes without fear
- Ability to be self directed in life
- Ability to make decisions and fully accept responsibility for the consequences
- Ability to bounce back from failures
- Adaptability and flexibility
- A willingness to feel the fear and do it anyway
So what did we learn about the definitions of, and differences between, self esteem and confidence? Self esteem is about how we rate ourselves internally. Confidence is about how much we trust ourselves and how much faith we have in ourselves. But it can also be about how we project ourselves into the world and how we want others to perceive us.
Sometimes they're linked and people with high self esteem also have high confidence levels. It makes sense that if we have a reaslistic internal rating of ourselves and see ourselves as equally competent, intelligent and attractive as others, we will feel confident in what we can do as well. Other times self esteem and confidence have less obvious links, especially when one is trying to cover up a shortfall in the other.
Wherever we are on the self esteem and confidence continuums, we always have the power to take steps to improve either as we so choose.
Why not do something nice for yourself today?