Self-confidence is about trusting your own judgement and feeling comfortable with your abilities and powers. It is the means to realise your full potential and be the person you want to be. Self-confidence allows you to feel secure in the world and allows others to feel safe that they know what to expect of you. It is made up of a variety of factors, including how you present yourself physically to the world and how you relate to other people.
Sound self-confidence can bring benefits to all areas of your life, including relationships, career, social life and state of mind. Some people are self-confident in their work-life but not in their social life, we all differ. People feel comfortable with confident people as they are usually predictable and their behaviour is reliable.
On this page
- How is self-confidence different from self-esteem?
- Signs you have low self-confidence
- Causes of low self-confidence
- What can you do about low self-confidence?
How is self-confidence different from self-esteem?
Self-confidence differs from self-esteem, but a chance to look at the two traits is helpful to understand its potential. Although the two terms are used interchangeably there are differences which can have an impact on finding a way forward. The word ‘confidence’ comes from the Latin word to trust or have faith. Confident people set realistic goals, learn useful skills and undertake tasks to get to where they want to be. Confidence is linked with the external world and how others see us; how we present ourselves and what we achieve. Self-esteem, however, is more about our own relationship with ourselves and how we feel deep down about who we are.
The two traits are linked but not always connected. A person might work hard and acquire skills and polish to compensate for a deep feeling of low-esteem, and be considered highly competent and successful in the eyes of others. Many high achievers are driven by this compensatory need, but often the hoped-for sense of satisfaction evades them causing them to overwork or seek refuge in some other area. The lives of the rich and famous may hold particular fascination for us because of this trait which emerges in all sections of society; rich, poor, talented, privileged and famous. So, self-confidence may be developed alongside self-esteem or independently.
Self-confidence is a skill that can be developed through realistic goal setting and planning. It is important to note, however, that the pressure you, or others, put on yourself to live up to expectations can lead to anxiety and bruised confidence, so developing self-confidence at the right pace for you is important. A solid foundation of self-esteem may be desirable, especially if previous attempts to improve your confidence have failed.
Signs you have low self-confidence
Your level of self-confidence can be seen by others in many ways; in your body language, your behaviour, how you speak and how you react to different situations. Self-confident people are generally more positive and believe in themselves and their abilities, whereas those with low self-confidence often have negative thoughts about themselves and their ability, which then leads to a downward spiral of under-achievement and disappointment.
If you have low self-confidence you may feel:
- you fail at everything and are unsuccessful
- you have no drive or direction
- shy and uneasy
- a sense of uselessness and worthlessness
- inferior to others
- bitter about work, social and family relationships.
There may be some areas of your life where you feel confident and others where you do not. It is important to assess this to understand that learning and skills can be a bridge to confidence. Maybe you are confident with one or two close friends but not with strangers. It may be that you are confident with animals or children but not with adults. You may be able to cook but unable to sing. Confident people build on what they can do and confront honestly what they are lacking in, accepting constructive criticism and support.
Causes of low self-confidence
Your early environment and influences often have a major effect on how your confidence has developed throughout your early life – along with your own disposition and resilience. Many siblings brought up have very different levels of confidence. Children who are encouraged to speak their mind openly usually retain the habit. Children who have been unable to make their needs understood or have not overcome a learning difficulty might feel there is no way forward or opportunities for them
What can you do about low self-confidence?
Understanding set-backs and problems can be a first step to overcoming them and finding another route as an adult. So although the past may seem to have determined your current confidence level it remains a very flexible trait. For many people a crisis, divorce, illness or bereavement can be the surprising springboard to find an alternative route to build confidence. It is always possible to improve your skills in this area at any time you choose.
Help for low self-confidence
Everyone has their own strengths, abilities and skills to enhance their self-confidence and become who they want to eventually be. Joining an evening class, support or interest group or undertaking training is often the first step to building confidence. Be realistic about your choices and don’t aim too high at the beginning. It can help to set short-term (six week) goals and long-term (five-year) goals so that you can map out the small steps towards where you would ideally like to be.
Counselling, hypnotherapy and life coaching are common therapies used to help improve self-confidence. A counsellor can offer a safe space to consider what is realistic and achievable and offer a safe place to explore disappointments and set-backs. Techniques and strategies can be developed to build your self-confidence and change current negative thinking. There are also many books with strategies and techniques for those who wish to develop this part of themselves. If set-backs have been insurmountable it may be worth exploring why with a trained helper.
What should I be looking for in a counsellor or psychotherapist?
There are no regulations regarding the level of training a counsellor treating someone with low self-confidence needs. There are however several accredited courses, qualifications and workshops available to counsellors to improve their knowledge of a particular area, so for peace of mind you may wish to check to see if they have had further training in this area.
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Content written/edited by Denise Pickup BACP (Accred) in 2011. All content displayed on Counselling Directory is provided for general information purposes only, and should not be treated as a substitute for advice given by your GP or any other healthcare professional.
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