Most people think that self-esteem is a fancy term for self-confidence. That’s why we repeatedly see both terms being used interchangeably. But the question is, whether self-esteem and self-confidence are really one and same thing? The precise answer is NO, they are not same.
Self confidence has two major aspects that differentiate it from self-esteem. Self-confidence itself is either a temporary spike or increase of trust in a person’s own ability to handle a situation that is in front of him; or it is a permanent feature of his personality which remains mostly confined to a specific field, area or subject matter.
For example, a basketball player who is at peak of his game, emanates confidence when he is in basketball court or when he is talking about the game. But the same person may not express that level of confidence when he is put into a football ground. His confidence is limited to the field of his expertise. Although success in one field improves overall confidence and self-trust of a person, but it majorly reflects in his area of expertise. The lack of his competence in other areas affects his confidence, but does it also diminish his self-esteem?
On the other hand, self-esteem is much broader concept than self-confidence. It is not limited to a single activity. If we describe more accurately, self-confidence is a tiny part or manifestation of self-esteem. When we see a person who expresses confidence in everything he or she does, that confidence is probably coming from high self-esteem.
Most people don’t know that they have low self-esteem because they have no idea what it is. They feel that they are not enough. They feel that something is wrong because whatever they do and achieve is not sufficient to fill the deficiency in their ‘psychological self’. The first step is always the diagnosis and understanding of the problem before we find an appropriate solution. Therefore, understanding the meaning of self-esteem is as important as making effort to develop it.
WHAT DOES SELF-ESTEEM MEAN?
Self-esteem is an overall measure of a person’s self-worth and his judgment of his abilities and strengths to deal with challenges of life. To describe it more simply, it is determined by how you think and feel about yourself. A question may arise that what kind of thoughts and feelings determine our self-esteem, because there is a huge spectrum of them we experience each and every day. These could be:
- How you see yourself from a third person’s perspective. What you say to yourself about yourself in your mind?
- Your measure of your abilities, knowledge, talents, skills, strengths and potential
- How much blame or responsibility you put on yourself based on the way people treat you or think about you?
- How you judge yourself in different situations. What is the pattern; do you mostly see yourself as a victim or feel confident and empowered?
- What is your level of self-respect and unconditional love for yourself?
- Your beliefs as to what kind of life you deserve
- Your level of optimism about your future
- How much respect you give to your own thoughts compared to others’?
- Whether you think yourself worthy of love, happiness and success?
- How you see past events especially your mistakes, blunders and failures?
- How you feel and act when you are criticized, ridiculed, insulted or discouraged?
The answer to these questions will give you an indication as to which direction your self-esteem is heading. If a person respects his own thoughts and feelings and demonstrates reasonable level of trust in his abilities to handle challenges, he is a person with healthy self-esteem.
One thing needs to be clarified; self-esteem does not come from outside. As the name implies, it comes from the self. It is not what someone else thinks or feels about you. It is based on the foundation of your belief in your ability to learn, grow, accomplish and resolve complex issues of life. But it does not mean that outside factors, such as positive or negative feedback from people have no influence on a person’s view of himself. The constant external feedback a child receives during early years when his self-image is being formed, plays a crucial role in determining his self-esteem later in the life. So self-esteem is sum total of all life experiences as well as our interpretations of those experiences.
A person with high level of self-esteem carries a picture of herself in her mind which shows a positive, affirmative, and constructive view of her. This self-image suggests that she believe in her capabilities; knows and accepts her strengths as well as limitations; sets and works toward realistic goals; makes effort to develop positive, rewarding relationships; and finds comfort in the world around her.
Low self-esteem leads to negative, pessimistic, unworthy view of a person and make her unable to see beyond her inadequacies and shortcomings. Low self-esteem is a mental health problem. It can cause a person to lose sight of her goals, weaken motivation, deprive her of meaningful relationships, and compel her to focus only on limitations, the limitations that may be real or imaginary.
However, if positive opinion of yourself is just a construct of your mind and is not congruent with how you carry yourself in the practical world OR your self-worth is primarily coming from other people’s perception of you, then your self-esteem is not genuine, it is pseudo self-esteem.
BEWARE OF PSEUDO SELF-ESTEEM
Pseudo self-esteem comes from our relation with something outside of ourselves that is worthy, important, respectable or historically significant.
Pseudo self-esteem could come in different forms and from different sources. We mostly derive it from people around us; the status of the family we are born into, relationships with people of higher social standing and even the attractiveness & likeability of romantic partner is a source of pseudo self-esteem for many people.
Moreover, belonging to a certain race, color of skin, nationality, religion, culture, achievements of ancestors and so called association with national or global movements make people feel proud of themselves even though they don’t do anything significant to earn the prestige or acclaim. They use such shortcuts to experience ‘pseudo self-esteem’ and avoid the responsibility of hard work that is required to develop authentic self-esteem.
The pseudo self-esteem may also be developed through wealth, popularity, power or social status. Our knowledge, skills, relationships, material possessions, charitable endeavors, sexual conquests or admiration of people does not create our self-esteem. All these things can give us comfort, make us feel good and look better in the eyes of others, but they are not the main source of our self-esteem.
There is nothing wrong to pursue the desire for fame, wealth, acclaim or express our achievements to others. But we need to evaluate as to whether such desires come from our need to feel worthy or just because we see ourselves deficient or insignificant. The important point to understand is that self-esteem has its roots within us instead of external successes and failures.
The success and achievement can be the result of high self-esteem, but they are not the source of it, at least not the primary factor in development of our self-esteem. However our circumstances and accomplishments could create nurturing ground for cultivating high self-esteem because they can make us thing about ourselves in positive light and can alter our identity into competent people.
However, success sometimes become more damaging to self-esteem instead of beneficial by making people insecure if they start comparing themselves with others who are more successful. They may feel bad that they are not as accomplished and wealthy as others are. One the outside, they look successful, but internally they consider themselves as failures because they are unable to catch-up with their competitors.
EGO DISGUISED AS SELF-ESTEEM
Ego is another form of pseudo self-esteem. In reality, ego is absence of authentic self-esteem. A person’s egoic behavior and actions reveal that he is deficient of something important which he tries to cover with self-praise, self-righteousness or narcissistic behavior. Such person is interested in expressing his knowledge and achievements to seek approval, attention, admiration and a sense of superiority over others.
It does not matter whether any of those qualities or achievements are true or not, he just needs them to prove his worth to the world and to himself because he is unable to derive that worth and respect from within. Sometimes it becomes difficult to differentiate between ego and self-esteem, but if you look closely you will find subtle character traits that take them miles apart from each other. One major difference is that ego gets power from the external factors such as success, praise, authority, approval, whereas self-esteem is inner-directed.
Self-esteem has nothing to do with boasting, bragging or arrogance. They come out of ego and indicate lack of self-esteem. However authentic pride that gives joy and fulfillment is the hallmark of self-esteem.
Self-esteem is not about praising yourself all the time. It is loving yourself and accepting who you truly are (with qualities as well as shortcomings). Loving yourself makes you take care of yourself (intellectually, emotionally and physically). Healthy self-esteem does not make you entitled to anything whereas ego mindset makes you think so.
In a nutshell, people with high self-esteem believe that they have the capacity to develop the necessary skills to become and achieve whatever they want.