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Confidence and 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.

Love yourself.

Love yourself.

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*
  • Willingness to accept responsibility for our feelings
  • How we feel about ourselves is not dependent on appearance, wealth, status or relationships.
  • No reliance or crutches (e.g., drink, drugs, food, sex)

Incredible self confidence.

Incredible self confidence.

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.

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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?

© 2009 Susana Smith


Robert Morgan from Hutchinson Island, FL - Myrtle Beach, SC - Gilbert AZ on July 29, 2015:

I love this article. It hits home when it comes to teaching self-confidence in a healthy way. Thank you so much. Blessing's.

Anna on October 11, 2012:

Thanks that was very helpful. I have been strugling with this issue lately. My confidence is high an my self esteem need constant reinforcing . Trying to find a balance is key.

Mel on July 01, 2012:

Thank you for this information. I am a mother of 4 girls and I was trying to teach my older daughter about this just the other day. Self esteem and self confidence are two different things and you have helped me put this into words. Thank you.

jellygator from USA on April 11, 2012:

Voted up and including a link to your page on my latest hub.

Tasha on March 28, 2012:

These two phrases have been troubling me but after reading your article, i am clear as to what differences they both have. Thank you so much.

Christina on February 18, 2012:

Self-Esteem is a hard thing to master. Not until I found true love, a good job and learned about me, did my self-esteem start to take off. It normally happens in your late 30's for women. Christina, Tweet @ bellajournals

conradofontanilla from Philippines on November 16, 2011:

Susana S,

When I wrote my college thesis I came across two kinds of definitions. One is deductive, another is functional. Russell gave another kind: definite description. Then Norman Mailer gave still another kind: factoid. A film (movie) is a factoid. The stuff of psychology is volatile. Attitude must be given a certain limit of exactitude by means of semantic differential. At least I think I know when I am using a deductive definition which is tricky. "A rhinoceros is a quadriped that flies" is a deductive definition. The trick consists in its being grammatically correct. And some people believe in a definition that is grammatically correct. Somebody who had not seen a rhinoceros is likely to believe in the above definition. By turning a deductive definition into a definite description, the rabbit is out of the hat.

Denise W Anderson from Bismarck, North Dakota on April 09, 2011:

Thanks for the vote of confidence!

Self Esteem Generator on November 09, 2010:

Thanks - I have read many descriptions that explain the different between confidence and self-esteem, and this is my absolute favorite!

kristiene from philippines on October 29, 2010:

Great post – I’ve been struggling with this for some time and it’s great to see this information.thanks for sharing how to show confidence...since i dont have an ability on it... this is really great post..keep posting !!!

Self Esteem Affirmations

aprendeingles on August 18, 2010:

Interesting hub - I have forwarded the link to my son who has just been diagnosed (at 20) with Crohn´s Disease which has been brought on I suspect by a crushing failure at his first year at University. Wrong course, wrong time, wrong university for him and for the first time in his life, he had to face failure. His self-confidence and self-esteem are at an all time low. With your comments and helpful additions by others maybe he will find something in himself to motivate him.... Family are not always best at encouraging either of these two! Well done!

funsho on May 27, 2010:

really nice

DustinsMom from USA on April 22, 2010:

Excellent hub. You described each one very well. I know of many who have problems in both areas. I was one growing up, but am learning as I get older that it all comes from within. Great job!

dnr.anuj on April 16, 2010:

really nice...

Nauman Nazir from Pakistan on April 08, 2010:

hahha, liked the last pic..Really was Auesome!

Aya Katz from The Ozarks on December 21, 2009:

Susanna, I liked the way you distinguished confidence that is based on self-esteem from confidence that is merely a projection for others.

In your section on self-esteem, though, you mentioned that self-esteem is sometimes relative. "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."

I think true self-esteem is not our rating of ourselves relative to others, but rather to an unchanging, absolute standard that we have adopted as our point of comparison.

Cassandra Mantis from UK and Nerujenia on November 22, 2009:

I have a good friend who has problems with self esteem, yet can be quite brilliant, when the need arises. I am going to recommend that she reads this hub! Great Hub here yet again, Susana! It is amazing how some people are affected by the presence of others, when their confidence just saps away. They can stutter and hesitate. There's a guy in my workplace and we all dread when he is giving a presentation as he just seems to crumple up under scrutiny of others. It can really affect others. Sometimes being nice and encouraging just makes it all the worse! There's a lot to be said about being self-directed in life alright. A sobering Hub that we can all learn from. Well done!

zionsphere from Oregon on November 22, 2009:

Wonderful hub! I will definitely be spending more time reading the others you have written. You have a new fan!

terrowhite on November 15, 2009:

Now I think I know myself better. self esteem is very important for anyone. Without this a person is nothing.. thanks for sharing the info..

Niteriter from Canada on November 06, 2009:

An excellent topic very well presented. I guess we all need a reminder of these character builders now and then.

Thulasi on October 22, 2009:

Excellent one Susana

Thanks for bringing up this.

stephanieflood on October 02, 2009:

Awesome advice for the online audience. I think people need to hear this everyday. Thank you for this.

Jewels from Australia on October 02, 2009:

That was helpful to have those two terms separated and explained. This together with your hub on describing positive traits is a nice package of information.

melbrown1 on October 01, 2009:

Fantastic information. I think the goal of everyone should be to seek ways to align self esteem and confidence.

Susana Smith (author) from UK on September 30, 2009:

Catherine - yes they often get lumped together as one thing - that's why i felt i needed to make the distinction. Personally I have more confidence than self esteem. I used to be the loud one trying to cover up my poor feelings about myself. I'm not like that now, but my confidence is still higher.

Hi Gameboy - thanks for stopping by and commenting. I guess more people can relate to the word confidence than self efficiacy :)

Ellen - great that you would like to share this! Thank you :)

FrozenGhost - thanks for your honesty. That's one thing you could feel good about - your courage!

FrozenGhost on September 30, 2009:

Wow I am someone with very low self-esteem and just reading this is really helping me define who I am. I am the person who is loud and opinionated but has such a low self esteem and actual faith in ones ability's. I am constantly looking for feedback to prove myself. Very good job I am gonna continue to read in to this to find more out.

Ellen Graeger on September 28, 2009:

Thank you, Susana. You summed it all up in one article. I will share it with my readers. And I love the photo of the lion and the cat.

Gameboy70 from Santa Monica, California on September 26, 2009:

You've made an astute distinction. What you're labeling confidence is what cognitive psychologists call "self-efficacy" -- self-assurance in one's learned skills and natural abilities. But "confidence" is a much more natural and flexible way to put it.

Catherine R from Melbourne, Australia on September 25, 2009:

Excellent hub. I found that I had high self esteem but I know that my confidence is less. It is the first time I have really considered these two things as separate.

Susana Smith (author) from UK on September 25, 2009:

Sarovai - hi and thanks for having a read and commenting too:)

Wesley - I'm uplifted from your comment - thank you!

Brenda - the joy of the internet is that we don't have to live nearer ;) Glad you enjoyed it :)

\Brenda Scully on September 25, 2009:

you should live nearer i could take lessons from you.... great hub

wesleycox from Back in Texas, at least until August 2012 on September 25, 2009:

This is a wonderful uplifting hub. I believe it is very important to have self-esteem (respect) and confidence in oneself. Thank you for sharing this.

sarovai on September 25, 2009:

Psycological explanation of self esteem and confidence , differentiation of the same really worth to read. Thank u Susana.

Susana Smith (author) from UK on September 25, 2009:

No probs Pete - Two comments are better than 1, lol! I find it hard speaking in front of audiences I don't know too - but each time I do it I shake a little bit less!

Martial arts is a fantastic method of self improvement in all areas - physically, mentally and psychologically.

You have a good point there too about people that lead others into wrongdoing. Do they have high or low self esteem though? I remember reading somewhere that oftentimes criminals have exceptionally inflated self esteem which is why they believe they can just take whatever they want. I wonder if the kind of leaders you are talking about might fall into that category too?

Pete Maida on September 25, 2009:

We need to able to edit comments or I have to learn to read what I write. Excellent information and I can see the difference, leads people in wrong doing, finally got strong enough. Boy what a mess sorry about that.

Pete Maida on September 25, 2009:

Ecellent information. I can see that you did your research and you know what you're talking about. I can the difference between the two. A person can have the confidence to lead people but he or she leads people i wrong doing deep inside their self esteem may be low. I lifted my confidence and my self esteem by joining martial arts. I finally got string enough to speak comfortably in front of people and now I do readings of my works in public.

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