Why Self-Confidence Alone Isn’t Enough


People tend to confuse self-confidence and self-esteem - using them interchangeably or presuming that if you possess one, then you also possess the other. But the two traits are actually quite different.

Self-confidence has to do with your belief in your ability to do something successfully. And since it relates to how you feel about your abilities, it can vary depending on the context. For instance, you might feel confident and capable on the soccer field, but lack self-confidence when it comes to standardized testing.

In contrast, self-esteem relates to how you feel about yourself on a more generalized level. It speaks to your overall opinion of yourself, and your level of self-acceptance and self-compassion.

Self-esteem gets at our sense of how worthy and capable we are, how much we value ourselves, and how competent we feel in life. At its core, our level of self-esteem can be determined by the extent to which we like, accept, and approve of ourselves.

I have also fallen into the trap of conflating self-confidence with self-esteem. The thing is, I possess a decent amount of self-confidence, or belief in my abilities. I’ve generally found that if I’m willing and able to put in the requisite effort and work, I can accomplish almost anything I set out to achieve (and I do not feel that I’m in any way special in that regard; I believe this to be the case for most people).

So when a breakup left me in a very dark emotional place, feeling little-to-no self-worth, I lacked the self-awareness to realize that the reason I had fallen into that state was due to my low self-esteem. I was fortunate that a good friend of mine was willing to gently, but bravely, point it out to me and correctly identify it as the deeply-rooted underlying source of my depression.

When we have high self-esteem, we look internally for the validation and acceptance that we need. However, when we have low self-esteem, we tend to look to external factors (often the people around us, but also our achievements, appearance, careers, etc.) for that same validation and acceptance, and then use it to judge our self-worth.

And if you have low self-esteem and primarily look to your partner for validation, approval, and acceptance, then if or when the relationship falls apart, so do you.

Taking a real, unfiltered, objective look at yourself, how do you rate in the self-esteem department? Do you look outward, to external criteria, to judge your self-worth, like I did?

Do you allow ever-changing external factors like your accomplishments, physical appearance, your job, or your partner to dictate how you feel about yourself at any given time?

If you find that your self-esteem isn’t exactly where you’d like it be, the good news is that it’s possible to strengthen and improve upon it. So if you’re game, here’s what you can do to enhance your self-esteem:

I. Gain awareness of where you are right now and where you’d like to make changes.

(a) What’s your current narrative or opinion of yourself? (i.e., what’s the current story you’re telling yourself?)

Question the validity of your internal monologue. Keep in mind that your perspective may not be reality/fact. Your inner narrative and view of yourself largely develops while you’re growing up, based on your experiences and how you were treated by others - particularly your parents (or whomever raised you) and your peers.

Then, that story gets perpetuated by your self-talk (what you tell yourself). How you speak to yourself largely dictates how you feel about yourself. Thoughts that are self-critical or self-defeating have the power to tear you down and damage your self-esteem.

(b) Where are your opportunities for growth?

(It’s not constructive to beat yourself up over your shortcomings, so try to reframe them as opportunities). Is there a specific area in which you’d like to focus on improving your self-esteem? For instance, with respect to:

- your relationship(s)

- your body image / physical appearance

- work / career

- health & fitness

- education

- dating / sex / romance

- habits / discipline / behavior

- something else?

In which area(s) would you benefit the most from increasing your self-esteem?

II. Once you’ve honed-in on an area of focus for improvement, examine any self-critical beliefs you have in that area.

What are some criticisms or self-defeating beliefs you have with respect to that topic? Our negative self-talk usually happens on a subconscious level and becomes habitual over time, so you may need to pause and take a moment to write down some of the negative recurring thoughts or critical self-talk that you have in that space to gain better awareness of it.  

Now, what if those beliefs aren’t true? What if they are only partially true? -or are assumptions? -or misinterpretations? -or exaggerations? And what if they’re hurting you?

Are you ready and willing to let go of that criticism and be free of that belief?

III. Learn to challenge and reframe/transform your core beliefs.

By starting to question and challenge your negative thoughts, you can weaken them and their hold over you.

Consider what it would feel like to be free of those negative thoughts and criticisms in that area of your life. Imagine how it would feel if you believed the opposite to be true, or even just a kinder, less critical version of the thought.

Reflect on one of those disparaging ideas you have about yourself. Then try replacing that negative, self-critical viewpoint with a more balanced one.

Instead of seeing things as static, inevitable, and unchangeable, try reframing each incident as a learning experience, a stepping stone.

IV. Practice cultivating self-acceptance & self-compassion.

Here are some tips:

  • Allow yourself to be human. Stop with the self-judgment and start being accepting of your missteps.

  • Quit comparing yourself to others. When we allow ourselves to fall victim to competition and comparison, our focus is drawn outward, toward others, instead of inward, toward ourselves. And our self-worth and self-esteem then become contingent on our successes or failures.

  • Alter your self-talk. Speak to yourself in a way that’s encouraging, supportive, and uplifting.

  • Let yourself be less than perfect. Grant yourself the chance to learn and grow.

  • Strive to be kind, patient, and forgiving of yourself - just as you would be with someone else you care about, such as your best friend.

  • Unconditionally love yourself. Your strengths, your weaknesses, all of you.

  • Stop making your self-worth contingent on certain circumstances or achievements. You’re already enough just as you are, right here and right now.

By learning to be more self-accepting, you’ll find that you’re able to feel good about yourself despite your flaws, mistakes, and failures, and independent of others and their views.

V. Cease your pursuit of perfection.

We tend to put relentless pressure on ourselves to achieve perfection (or to get as close to it as possible) across many areas of our lives. We set an insanely high bar for ourselves, and whenever we fall short of it, we subject ourselves to criticism and negative judgments - which prevents us from getting to experience any happiness or satisfaction and chips away at our confidence and feelings of self-worth in the process.

Our quest for perfection damages our self-esteem by not allowing us to accept ourselves as we are.

We have to let go of our need to be perfect and begin shedding our self-critical views. Instead of focusing on all that we aren’t, we need to start embracing all that we are.  

We have to appreciate and embrace the process as opposed to the outcome - celebrate not only our achievements, but our efforts. And we have to believe that we’re already enough.

The process of boosting your level of self-esteem will take time, patience, and deliberate practice. But remember that every moment is an opportunity for you to attain greater self-acceptance, so try to stick with it. You’ll find the resulting feelings of completeness, wholeheartedness, and fulfillment you experience will be well worth it.