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Self-esteem vs. self-confidence: What’s the difference, and can you have one without the other?

Self-esteem vs. self-confidence: What’s the difference, and can you have one without the other?

Self-esteem and self-confidence can be hard to develop, but both are key to loving yourself and living a fulfilled and happy life. Even so, that can be easier said than done. Low self-esteem can result from a variety of factors, including past relationships, negative coping strategies, and overthinking to name a few. Self-confidence can also be hard to muster, but it’s an excellent quality to cultivate. Being confident in yourself allows you to move through your life with more freedom, especially from people’s opinions, and live how you want.

When it comes to self-esteem vs. self-confidence, they are two different things, but they can certainly contribute to the success of the other.

What Is Self-Esteem? What Is Self-Confidence?

Self-esteem refers to your sense of self, self-love, and how you feel overall. It can be looked at as your belief in your own worth, value, or abilities. 

According to the American Psychological Association, “The more positive the cumulative perception of these qualities and characteristics, the higher one’s self-esteem. A reasonably high degree of self-esteem is considered an important ingredient of mental health, whereas low self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness are common depressive symptoms.”  

On the other hand, self-confidence is having the courage to believe in yourself, then act on these beliefs. It generally means that you accept and trust yourself. Self-confidence is not necessarily a constant state, though, and can be based on situations, causing you to be confident in certain areas but not others. For example, you may feel confident about your math skills but not your dance skills.

Which Comes First, Self-Esteem or Self-Confidence?

While self-esteem and self-confidence overlap, one does not necessarily come first. It can depend on your natural tendencies as a person as well as your environment whether one starts developing before the other or which one becomes more secure early on.

Can You Have Confidence but Low Self-Esteem?

You can definitely have high self-confidence and extremely low self-esteem. An individual can believe in themselves and act on their beliefs—such people may be exceedingly good at what they do but still have low amounts of self-esteem or self-love.

However, it is difficult to have high self-esteem without a measure of self-confidence. Self-confidence can contribute greatly to one’s self-esteem, and lacking it means that someone may not believe in themselves, which can often be a result of low self-esteem.

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What Are the 4 Types of Self-Esteem?

There are four main components to self-esteem:

  • Self-confidence: This is at the core of self-esteem, as it means being secure in yourself. From that sense of security in who you are and your capabilities, self-esteem can flourish.
  • Identity: This is who you believe yourself to be—the knowledge you have of yourself. This includes likes, dislikes, interests, characteristics, abilities, feelings, needs, and everything else that makes up who you are as a person. There are multiple parts to your identity, including physical and social spheres.
  • Feeling of belonging: Belonging allows us to feel understood, seen, accepted, and supported. Belonging comes from any group you belong to or interact with, whether they be family, friends, teams, etc. 
  • Feeling of competence: This comes from all of your experiences, every success, failure, and learning experience you’ve been through. They allow you to grow and gain belief in yourself, who you are and what you’re capable of.

All of these factors come together to form your self-esteem. Not all of them have to feel completely fulfilled and secure in order for you to have good self-esteem, but each of them contribute to how you feel about yourself.

What Is False Self-Esteem?

False self-esteem is a false sense of worth. This means that an individual bases their self-worth on surface-level things such as physical appearance, owning certain items, or even personal conquests. 

False self-esteem is considered unhealthy because it relies on external factors rather than internal ones. By taking away these surface-level belongings and achievements, it effectively takes away that person’s confidence, whereas no one can “take” someone’s internal belief in themself. 

False self-esteem can also lead a person to struggles to maintain relationships and have meaningful connections with others.

What Triggers Low Self-Esteem?

Low self-esteem can be triggered by a variety of factors, including:

  • Negative self-talk or self-criticisms. That inner voice can be a terrible influence sometimes, and can seriously decrease self-esteem. Sometimes you have to quiet that inner chatter in order to build self-esteem. Comparing yourself to others, like through social media, can also add to your negative thoughts and low self-esteem.
  • Overthinking, ruminating, or obsessively thinking about one topic, such as what other people think of you.
  • Lack of positive coping skills or relying on negative coping skills.
  • Mental health disorders and/or negative emotions such as feeling depressed, anxious, feeling angry, or feeling guilty.
  • Negative past memories including childhood memories or memories of past relationships.

Any of these factors can negatively influence your self-esteem and overall mental health. If you struggle with any of the above, consider talking to a mental health professional about your issues. They can offer support and guidance, as well as create a treatment plan that works for you.

Is Lack of Self-Confidence an Insecurity?

Insecurities make you feel anxious or bad about yourself and stem from feelings of self-doubt and a lack of confidence. So, by that definition, lacking self-confidence can be the cause of insecurities rather than an insecurity in and of itself.

Both self-esteem and insecurity are characterized by a lack of confidence and can lead to mental health difficulties if nothing is done to counteract it and boost confidence. If you struggle with low self-esteem or low self-confidence, it’s important to talk to a mental health professional to work through these struggles. By working with a therapist to get to the root of what’s causing your low self-esteem, you can then address the issue head on and treat it effectively. 

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Theresa Lupcho, LPCLicensed Professional Counselor
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Theresa Lupcho is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) with a passion for providing the utmost quality of services to individuals and couples struggling with relationship issues, depression, anxiety, abuse, ADHD, stress, family conflict, life transitions, grief, and more.

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Laura Harris, LCMHCLicensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor
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Laura Harris is a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor (LCMHC). She specializes in anger, anxiety, depression, stress management, coping strategies development, and problem-solving skills.

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Hannah DeWittMental Health Writer

Hannah is a Junior Copywriter at Thriveworks. She received her bachelor’s degree in English: Creative Writing with a minor in Spanish from Seattle Pacific University. Previously, Hannah has worked in copywriting positions in the car insurance and trucking sectors doing blog-style and journalistic writing and editing.

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    1. APA Dictionary of Psychology. (n.d.).
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