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Self-Confidence Versus Self-Esteem

Self-confidence and self-esteem do not always go hand in hand.

Source: Pixabay

Many people find it easier to build their self-confidence than their self-esteem, and, conflating the one with the other, end up with a long list of talents and achievements. Rather than facing up to the real issues, they hide, often their whole life long, behind their certificates and prizes. But as anyone who has been to college knows, a long list of achievements is no substitute for a healthy self-esteem. While these people work on their list in the hope that it might one day be long enough, they try to fill the emptiness inside them with externals such as status, income, and so on.

So, then, what's the difference between self-confidence and self-esteem?

Confidence derives from the Latin fidere, ‘to trust’. To be confident is to trust and have faith in the world. To be self-confident is to trust and have faith in oneself, and, in particular, in one’s ability to engage successfully with the world. A self-confident person is able to act on opportunities, rise up to challenges, engage with constructive criticism, and shoulder responsibility if and when things go wrong.

If the foundation of successful experience is self-confidence, the foundation of self-confidence is successful experience. However, it is possible to be highly confident in one area, such as dancing or horse riding, while being highly insecure in another, such as cooking or public speaking.

In the absence of confidence, courage takes over. If confidence operates in the realm of the known, courage operates in that of the unknown, the uncertain, and the fearsome. I could not have become a confident swimmer had I not once had the courage to lose my footing in deep water. Courage is more noble than confidence, because it requires greater strength and effort, and because a courageous person is one with limitless possibilities.

Self-confidence and self-esteem often go hand in hand, but are not one and the same thing. In particular, it is possible to be highly self-confident and yet to have low self-esteem, as is the case with many performers and celebrities who are able to play to the gallery but then struggle behind the scenes.

Esteem derives from the Latin æstimare [to appraise, value, weigh], and self-esteem is our cognitive and, above all, emotional appraisal of our own worth. More than that, it is the matrix through which we think, feel, and act, and reflects and determines our relation to ourself, to others, and to the world—enabling us, for example, to feel guilt over shame, or emulation over envy.

People with healthy self-esteem need not prop themselves up with externals such as income, status, or notoriety, or lean on crutches such as alcohol, drugs, or sex (when these things are a crutch). On the contrary, they treat themselves with respect and look after their health, community, and environment. They are able to invest themselves completely in projects and people because they have no fear of failure or rejection. Of course, they suffer hurt and disappointment, but their setbacks neither damage nor diminish them. Owing to their resilience, they are open to people and possibilities, tolerant of risk, quick to joy and delight, and accepting and forgiving of others and themselves.

Read more in Heaven and Hell: The Psychology of the Emotions.

More from Neel Burton M.A., M.D.
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