Written by Karl Perera, MA, DipLC
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Often self esteem and self confidence are used to mean roughly the same thing. This is a mistake because they are not actually the same. On this page I will use my twenty plus years of experience working in this field to explain what the difference is and how they are sometimes confused.
Self esteem and self confidence, though quite close in meaning, are actually very different. Self esteem is based on how you feel about yourself and your self-worth, whereas self confidence is what you believe you can or cannot do, in other words, an assessment of your ability.
In this article we will look more closely at self esteem vs self confidence and discover why they are sometimes confused and why the terms sometimes overlap. It is important to understand the differences and how self esteem and self confidence are closely connected.
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A Closer Look at Self Esteem Vs Self Confidence
According to Nethaniel Branden self esteem is “…the feeling of being worthy, deserving, entitled to assert one’s needs and wants and to enjoy the fruits of one’s efforts.”
Coudevylle et al. (2011) define self-esteem as the constant self evaluation that individuals make of themselves.
From the above two definitions, we can clearly see that self esteem is how we feel about the person we are and what we feel we deserve. In my experience, it is a common problem of those who have low self esteem to feel that they do not deserve to be loved or to be happy. Feeling like this is a big handicap in life, and can cause self-sabotage, anxiety, isolation or depression.
From the above it is also the case that low self esteem can affect the development of healthy and positive relationships.
Self esteem has been shown to be an important factor in success. Many studies have looked at how self esteem can affect the academic success of students, and found a close positive connection. This study by Ferkany in 2008 found that higher levels of self esteem resulted in motivation to take part in physical education and academic study. Ferkany also believes that self esteem can be developed in children through social activity.
Self confidence falls in young women during adolescence, as detailed in Peggy Orenstein’s book “Schoolgirls: Young Women, Self-Esteem and the Confidence Gap”, published in 1994 (see this review) . Much of the data behind this came from the American Association of university Women’s Report (1991).
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There is some confusion between self esteem vs self confidence, and Brown and Marshall explain this well in their chapter titled “The Three Faces of Self-Esteem” in Kernis (2013). They define self esteem in three different ways including the following:
Self-esteem is sometimes defined as how someone evaluates their abilities or qualities. Brown and Marshall go on to point out how many people also use self confidence to describe this self assessment of ability. The fact that there seems to be this overlap in the definitions of self esteem vs self confidence has caused the two terms to generally be used to mean the same thing. But this is not entirely true as there are some differences as we shall see.
The Relationship Between Self Esteem and self Confidence
Many studies have found a direct link between self esteem and self confidence, for example, this study by Coudevylle et al. (2011). This study shows how more self esteem results in more confidence and also shows that self confidence can cause us to sabotage our efforts to succeed, or help us.
Claire Jack PhD, in her article on Psychologytoday.com says a number of things which agree with my point of view about self esteem vs self confidence, but there are some points I do disagree with. For example, Jack says that self esteem can positively improve self confidence, (agreed), but that improving self confidence does not necessarily improve self esteem. I would argue that any improvement in self confidence has at least a small positive effect and can have a large impact if, for example, that improved confidence impacts social or communication skills.
In fact, the above is rather simplified because there are different kinds of self esteem such as global, specific and so on which take into account some of the points raised in the above mentioned article. If you’d like to learn more then please click on the link in the previous sentence above.
In my experience both as a writer in this field for many years and my own personal issues with both low self esteem and a lack of confidence I know how closely these two terms are. Self esteem and confidence seem to me to be directly linked and one can feed off the other. At the opposite extreme, one can support and promote the other. I know that when I felt very negative about myself my self confidence suffered. When I did make a recovery it was equally about building my self worth and my confidence together.
We cannot dispute the importance of self esteem vs self confidence as one cannot exist without the other. From what I witnessed in my own life many years ago, I needed both to function as a healthy and positive person. Both of them helped me personally and professionally, both at work and in my close relationships. It is also for this reason that I include helpful articles about overcoming self doubt and building self-esteem. I also include courses that will help my visitors to masters these two vital areas of psychology.
I really believe that there you’ll need both self esteem and self confidence, especially when you need to move out of your comfort zone and try something new. At those challenging moments self doubt or low self worth could cripple your efforts to succeed at something you haven’t done before. One reason I think this is that both can help you to overcome our biggest enemy, fear.
Perfectionism – Is It Related to Self esteem or Confidence?
Well the short answer is yes! Those who have a very negative kind of perfectionism, one that always seems to be a burden on a person and prevents them from ever being satisfied with their own efforts or achievements, suffer from low self confidence according to this article. It is difficult to see how such a person would have anything but lowered self esteem.
Generally those who strive for perfection and have extremely high standards can sometimes focus on the smallest errors and can have a tendency to punish themselves when they do not achieve perfection. Because of this, one of the ways to build self esteem is by accepting yourself and all your imperfections. By working on self acceptance it is possible to demand less of yourself and so reduce or stop perfectionism.
- Branden, N. (1995). The six pillars of self-esteem. Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group Incorporated.
- Cini, C. F. (1997). School Girls: Young Women, Self-Esteem, and the Confidence Gap. The Oral History Review, 24(2), 106-116.
- Coudevylle, G. R., Gernigon, C., & Ginis, K. A. M. (2011). Self-esteem, self-confidence, anxiety and claimed self-handicapping: A mediational analysis. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 12(6), 670-675.
- Ferkany, M. (2008). The educational importance of self‐esteem. Journal of Philosophy of Education, 42(1), 119-132.
- Koivula, N., Hassmén, P., & Fallby, J. (2002). Self-esteem and perfectionism in elite athletes: Effects on competitive anxiety and self-confidence. Personality and individual differences, 32(5), 865-875.
- Jack, C. (2020). Are Self Confidence and Self-Esteem the Same Thing? https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/women-autism-spectrum-disorder/202004/are-self-confidence-and-self-esteem-the-same-thing
Website Author and Your Guide
Karl Perera is a fully qualified Life Coach (DipLC), Teacher (MA), and author of the book Self Esteem Secrets. He has taught at various universities including Durham, Leicester and Anglia Ruskin, Cambridge. He has run More-SelfEsteem.com since 1997 since suffering from low self esteem for more than 25 years overcoming it in his thirties.