walking on custard

Self-Esteem, Self-Confidence and Anxiety

29 May 2019

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

Just something I’ve been thinking about…

I just spent five minutes doodling this graph. I don’t know if it’s universally true, but it does help me whenever I remember that self-confidence and self-esteem are separate. I think of them like this:

  • Self-esteem is, roughly, “how much we like ourselves”
  • Self-confidence is, roughly, “how much we imagine others like us”

Of course, these are certainly related. But there have been many times when I’ve felt confident about others liking me while disliking myself, or vice versa.

Self-esteem and self-confidence don’t always move perfectly in step.

I’ve been surprised to discover that somebody who appears confident struggles with negative feelings about themselves. They have self-confidence but not much self-esteem.

Meanwhile, people who are loving and forgiving towards themselves can still feel unconfident around others. They have self-esteem but not much self-confidence.

And, of course, there are those who lack both self-esteem AND self-confidence.

It’s About Time

Actually, I’m not quite saying this right. I’m saying “people lack” self-confidence or self-esteem like these are things you can have, or, worse, parts of our personality.

The phrase “I lack self-esteem” suggests that there’s something missing in me. But esteem and confidence vary over time, and they change when circumstances change. They’re not fundamental parts of me, unchanging like my height or eye colour.

Maybe it’s better to think of it more like hunger. When I don’t eat for a while, I get hungry. But I don’t make that part of my identity. I recognise that I’m hungry because I haven’t eaten for a while, not because “I am a permanently hungry person”.

(I mean, I am very often hungry but you know what you mean.)

So when I’m lacking in self-confidence or self-esteem I find it healthier to recognise that it’s not because some fundamental part of me is missing. Just like when I’m hungry and I need to eat, I need something to replenish my confidence or esteem.

And whatever I need is different depending on whether I’m missing self-esteem, which is about learning to love and forgive myself, or self-confidence, which is about learning to feel safe and be fully myself around others.

I would love to share a magic solution which always succeeds at topping up our self-esteem and/or self-confidence, but sometimes replenishing whatever I’m missing is hard work. I might have to change deeply-rooted beliefs about myself or about how other people view me. Other times it’s simpler, and I just need to take a moment to remember positives about myself, or spend quality time with friends, or alone.

Either way, taking time to figure out what I’m missing and making a list of ‘things that might help me meet this need’ is a good start. And ideally, I’ll get to live more of my life in the more secure area in the top right of that graph I doodled.

Neil Hughes

Neil Hughes is the author of Walking on Custard & the Meaning of Life, a comical and useful guide to life with anxiety, and The Shop Before Life, a tale about a magical shop which sells human personality traits.

Along with writing more books, he spends his time on standup comedy, speaking about mental health, computer programming, public speaking and everything from music to video games to languages. He struggles to answer the question "so, what do you do?" and is worried that the honest answer is probably "procrastinate."

He would like it if you said hello.

© Neil Hughes 2019 — 2024
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