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What is self-esteem and self-confidence and how do you get it?

Some of the most common questions I’m asked are:

  • What is self-esteem and self-confidence?

  • What is low self-esteem?

  • How can I build self-esteem and build self-confidence?

In this article I’ll explore the answers to each of these questions. Self-esteem and self-confidence are words we use regularly in our day-to-day discussions with friends, family, colleagues, peers and with our children. Many people use the words interchangeably, assume they have the same meaning and even define one using the other but what most people don’t know is that they are NOT the same and that it’s important to know the difference as it can have a huge impact on the quality of your life. People generally aspire to have good/healthy/high self-esteem and self-confidence and want to avoid low self-esteem. Here are some of the reasons why.

Benefits of good self-esteem and self-confidence

Adults and children who have healthy self-esteem and self-confidence feel good about who they are, believe in themselves and are more likely to have a positive attitude to life. People with healthy self-esteem and self-confidence are more likely to try new things and therefore they have a wider variety of life experiences and a richer life. This makes perfect sense right?

Importantly, from a strong sense of self, adults and children alike are more resilient. Being resilient means that no matter what hardships life throws your way, you are more able to manage what is happening, pick yourself up and bounce back after the difficult experience.

Finally, people with good self-esteem and self-confidence are less likely to be bullied and less likely to succumb to negative peer pressure. This is especially important for our children so they don’t get mixed up in the wrong crowd and take actions they know are harmful to themselves and others. So, having good self-esteem and self-confidence provides many benefits and is a highly valuable personal attribute for everyone.

Do you and your children have good self-esteem and self-confidence?

Evaluating self-esteem and self-confidence?

Many people evaluate themselves as having low self-esteem and want to know how to build self-esteem. And, like many parents you may feel you have a child with low self-esteem and so you probably want to know to build self-esteem in children or build self-confidence in your kids. However, when you understand what self-esteem and self-confidence are then you will see that asking how to build self-esteem and self-confidence just aren’t the right questions.

There is a fundamental difference between self-esteem and self-confidence yet, most of us don’t understand the difference. I first learned of the distinction when I was interviewing and working with child development and parenting experts for the book  Inspired Children: how the leading minds of today raise their children. Michael Hall PhD, contributed a chapter on Raising Psychologically Healthy Children and he talks about the difference between self-esteem, self-confidence and self-efficacy.

While good self-esteem is a valuable personal quality to have, on the other hand, we want people (adults and children) to have realistic levels of self-confidence based on their experience and ability in relation to a particular task. So while it is beneficial to always strive for good self-esteem, our self-confidence may range from low to high depending on the activity or the task we are working on.

Before you evaluate your self-esteem and self-confidence and the self-esteem in children, it’s good to understand what they are.

You need a definition of self-esteem and self-confidence so that it’s clear what we’re talking about. Most people think they are similar or the same. What about you? Before reading on, take a moment to reflect and to ask yourself the following questions about self-esteem and self-confidence. Why not jot down a few notes and then compare it to the definitions provided below.

  • What is self-esteem and what is self-confidence?

  • Have you described them as being the same thing, similar or different?

What is self-esteem and self-confidence?

At the simplest level - self-esteem is about ‘being’ and self-confidence is about ‘doing’. It is easier to start by explaining self- confidence as many people confuse self-esteem and self-confidence and believe they are the same or similar.

What is self-confidence?

Self-confidence is about doing. It is about the activities we undertake and the things we do in life and how we judge ourselves in relation to those activities. Our self-confidence is based on our experience and ability with a particular task or activity. For example, if you’ve been driving a car for a long time and you haven’t caused road accidents then you probably have good self-confidence in relation to your driving skills and abilities as a driver.

However, think back to when you were learning to drive. Can you recall having lower self-confidence about your driving skills when you didn’t have much experience on the road? Recall at the time how much there was to think about and to do: watch the road and other vehicles, focus on how hard you step on the accelerator and the brakes, turn the wheel just right to go around the corner etc… As your skills and experience grew, your self-confidence grew.

Let’s look at a different example one that relates to children. If your child has been riding a bicycle for a number of years and is relatively accident free, then it makes sense that they will have good self-confidence about riding a bike. This is an accurate judgement and self-evaluation about their experience and ability to ride a bike.

On the other hand, if your child has never ridden bikes or is just learning to ride, then it would be completely inappropriate for them to have good self-confidence about riding a bike and tackling a big hill or a dangerous road. In this case, good self-confidence is in fact a poor judgement call, which could lead your child to danger because they are overconfident about their ability.

So, self-confidence is about doing a task and making a sound judgement about your level of experience and ability, or your child’s level of ability. So can you see that it doesn’t make sense to ask how to build self-confidence or about building confidence? It is actually good to have low self-confidence in areas in which we have limited experience and abilities, and it’s good to have high self-confidence when we have lots of experience and capabilities for a particular task. The more relevant questions are:

  • How can we make self-assessments of our abilities on activities and tasks so that we have accurate assessments of our self-confidence?

  • How can we help our children learn to make self-assessments of their abilities on activities and tasks so that they can make accurate assessments of their self-confidence?

  • How can we accept that it is a good thing to have low self-confidence on tasks and activities we are not good at and use that to inspire us to practice, learn and have more experiences so we can increase our self-confidence as our skills and knowledge increase?

  • How can we stop attributing low self-confidence to low self-esteem?

Low self-confidence is not the same as low self-esteem. Remember low self-confidence is about not feeling confident about an activity you don’t have much experience with or a topic you don’t have much knowledge about. Self-esteem on the other hand has nothing to do with doing! So low self-confidence should NOT result in, or be equated with low-self esteem … here’s why!

What is self-esteem?

Self-esteem is about being and has nothing to do with doing. Self-esteem is a judgment we make about ourselves. Self-esteem is about being a human being - so it is all about our human ‘beingness’. We are not called human doings, we are called human beings, and self-esteem is at the heart of being a human. I want to explain this fully, so you really understand this idea at a practical level and then share it with your children.

Think of it this way: every person is a miracle. If you are a parent, do you remember the day you held your child in your arms for the very first time and you thought - wow - this is a miracle? Your baby couldn’t really do anything, but that never took away from the marvel and wonder you felt about this child’s being and the potential of this new life. Remember, you were once a baby being adored by your parent too!

Every person is a miracle in their own right - just for their very existence. Every person is a unique being in the world that no one else can be. It is every person’s birth right to have good self-esteem just because they exist. Self-esteem has nothing to do with what a person can or can’t do. It has nothing to do with what they look like: brown hair, blue eyes, tall, short, fiery tempered or calm - these attributes are all part of the wonder and perfection in life - and all people have the right to good self-esteem.

Unlike self-confidence, where it is important for you or your children to be more confident performing tasks that you’re good at and less confident with tasks you have limited experience in, good self-esteem is the right of every person - adult and child.

From a place of healthy self-esteem, every person can feel good about who they are and live a life filled with new experiences, learning; activities and love. From a place of low self-esteem people are less likely to try new things, more likely to feel bad about themselves and less likely to lead a happy and fulfilled life.

The great thing about self-esteem is that it is SELF-esteem, so you have the power within to believe in yourself and to have good self-esteem. It’s your judgement - it’s your choice - it’s in your power to choose to believe you have:

  • Good self-esteem or

  • Low self-esteem

Your self-esteem is in your mind and heart. It’s your call to decide which way you will judge (esteem) yourself. So which choice are you going to make?

Food for thought.

Reflect on your learning and your new understanding about the difference between self-esteem and self-confidence. Here are some questions for you to ponder:

  • What is self-esteem and self-confidence? How are they different?

  • Are you now able to simply accept that it’s your right to have good self-esteem and drop any beliefs you might have about low self-esteem? 

  • Can you simply accept yourself and feel loved just for who you are being - and not tie your self-esteem or your self-worth to what you look like or what you can or cannot do?

  • How different would your life be if you felt good about yourself and about self-esteem?

  • Who is the only person that can stop you from having good self-esteem?

  • How can you support your children to know they are unique and valuable human beings so they can live from a heart-feeling of healthy self-esteem and soar through life?

I hope this article helped you understand more about self-esteem and self-confidence. 


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