The Difference Between Self-Esteem & Self-Confidence is….

By Aaron Morton

Picture of a woman protecting another woman, maybe because of a lack of Self Esteem

Imagine, for a moment, you are sat in your house and a letter has just landed on your doormat. As soon as you see it you instantly become curious because it is bright yellow and the writing on the front is handwritten. It has your name on it.

You sit down and open the envelope to see what the letter says;

 “Congratulations, you have been nominated by someone in your community to speak to a group of local children about your expertise. This is our way of inspiring a new generation of children to doing something meaningful in the future. If this is something you would like to do, please can you confirm at your earliest convenience”.

The difference between self-confidence and self-esteem can be explained by how you react to the letter;

A bowl that has the words Big Bowl of Self-Esteem in nice handwriting around the outside

So what’s the difference Between Self-Confidence & Self-Esteem?

If you had issues with self-confidence you would start thinking about the act of speaking in front of the children. You would question whether you could handle speaking in front of them.

Irrespective of whether you had much experience with public speaking (competence), you would have doubt as to whether you could actually handle being at the front with everyone looking specifically at you, waiting for what you have to say.

If you had issues with self-esteem, you would start thinking about whether they had made a mistake and what you had of worth to the child of the local community.

Irrespective of whether you had a successful career or what contribution to the community you had made, you would have doubts as to what you could provide of value. You would probably then begin to feel bad because you have deceived people into thinking you are more talented than you actually are.

The Father of Self-Esteem

Many consider the father of self esteem to be psychotherapist Nathaniel Branden following the release of his 1969 book ‘The psychology of Self-Esteem’. In the book he describes self-esteem as:

“The integrated sum of self-confidence and self-respect”

Branden considered self-esteem to be the most important factor in human psychology and if it wasn’t present it was normally the result of ‘fake self-esteem’, which he called ‘pseudo self-esteem’, anxiety or what he called ‘social metaphysics’, which was having the mind of others rather than your own.

Later on Branden would describe ‘6 pillars’ that would help anyone raise their level of self esteem:

  1. Live consciously
  2. Self-acceptance
  3. Self-responsibility
  4. Self-assertiveness
  5. Living purposely
  6. Personal integrity

Can you have Self-Esteem without Self-Confidence?

Can you have Self-Esteem without Self-Confidence - In this picture there is a plaster that has the words 'Be Confident' on

Self-confidence and self-esteem are different but they tend to go hand in hand because rarely do you have one without the other. Self-esteem is all about how you feel about yourself, whereas self-confidence is the certainty you have about your ability to engage in the world.

If you have low self-esteem it is unlikely you are going to be in the right mindset to confidently engage in a way that creates opportunities and possibilities for you.

If you have low self-confidence it is likely that your mind will be littered with thoughts that demean your true worth that can bring a feeling of low mood and a lack of desire to pursue anything that carries any form of risk.

Because they are so closely aligned, the concepts you learn on this site are going to dramatically increase both your self-confidence and self-esteem.

My criticism of Self-Esteem

When you look at the 6 pillars set out by Nathaniel Branden it looks like a very valid blueprint for a strong and happy life. To live with purpose, to be conscious, to accept oneself and take responsibility. Living in this way can make anxiety less likely and good feelings to flow through your body.

However, the ‘self-esteem’ movement which began around the early 80’s has been seen to contribute to a number of growing problems:

  • Psychologist Carol Dweck discovered that telling a student they are special and talented (praise on traits) can make the student less likely to attempt more challenging activities than students who were praised on effort
  • A growing trend has been developing in youth sports to have no winners and award participation awards rather than winners and losers. Critics argue that , in life people experience failure, they experience loss. If they don’t experience this when they are young, when will they learn to deal with it.
  • There are some studies to suggest compared to other generations, those growing up in the 80’s and 90’s are less compassionate (29% compared to 47% of ‘baby boomers). 
  • There is also some evidence to suggest those who grew up around the ‘self-esteem movement’ have a high number of people experiencing anxiety on a regular basis

These examples might be what Branden was referring to when talking about ‘pseudo self-esteem’ where people say they have high self-esteem (because parents and teachers have been telling them all their life they have) but it is being propped up on a very shaky foundation.

Quit expecting it constantly

Self-confidence and self-esteem share another commonality; they are not a constant. There will be times when you will have low levels of self-esteem, just like there are times when you will have low levels of self-confidence. In fact the worst thing you could do is constantly expect to have high levels of both.

What is more important is to work to be confident in a consistent manner by doing the things that challenge you and make you feel alive.

When a pilot recognises he is off course, it is not his cue to freak out and go even more off course, it is to start the process of getting back on course. Part of being a highly skilled pilot is recognising at the earliest time when this has happened.

Equally part of having high levels of both self-confidence & self-esteem is recognising those times when you are not at that level, so you can do what is necessary to get back to the level where you perform best.

Takeaway: Increase your self-confidence and high self-esteem will follow. 

About the Author

Aaron Morton is about human performance. As a coach and personal trainer, Aaron works with entrepreneurs to create the environment, mentally, physically & strategically, where they can perform at their best.

  • abdull barsi says:

    i have been looking for self-confidence and self-esteem, and other subject, meaning to solve psychology interruptions and weaknesses.. i find some convevience and courage to reach articles on theses topics.. it`s my fate and destiny to look my life on these matter due to some unfavour attachments. i have to face those pitty things to clear and excavate all life odds..

  • Rebecca says:

    I feel I’m a confident lady outwardly.I walk tall and fast, I’m not afraid to air my opinion, I always take pride in my appearance, I’m smart, funny, outgoing but….I never think a decent man (working, solvent, sober, successful) will want me. I go out with “losers” who I know appreciate me. What is up with that?? Please help

    • Aaron says:

      Rebecca, A lot of your comment is around outward appearance, how the world sees you. Whilst this can help and in certain contexts can be a great tool to have (knowing how to look outwardly confident), long term requires whats going on inside, what I like to say ‘what is happening when no one is watching’. If the outward strength & confidence was as strong inside as you have displayed outside, would you even give losers the time of day?

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