Low self-confidence

Last updated on 21st August, 2018

Self-confidence is about trusting your own judgement and feeling comfortable with your abilities and powers: it’s the means to realise your full potential and be the person you want to be. This trait allows you to feel secure in the world and encourages others to feel comfortable around you, as your behaviour is reliable and they know what to expect. Self-confidence 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, but can vary from situation. You may be particularly confident at work, but lack social confidence; you might have a thriving romantic relationship, but lack confidence in your friendships. We all differ, but possessing self-confidence can particularly enhance relationships, career, social life and state of mind.


How is self-confidence different from self-esteem?

Self-confidence differs from self-esteem; and although the two terms are used interchangeably, there are differences which can have an impact on finding a way forward. 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.

Confident people set realistic goals, learn useful skills and undertake tasks to achieve aspirations. People with low self-esteem are often unable to set realistic goals: they’re conscious of ‘never being good enough’ and compare themselves unfavourably towards others.

The two traits are linked but not always connected. A person struggling with self-confidence and self-esteem might be particularly successful and confident at work, but is acquiring these skills to compensate for a deep feeling of low self-esteem. Many high achievers are driven by this compensatory need, but often the hoped-for sense of satisfaction for their low self-esteem evades them. This then causes them to overwork or seek refuge in some other area. So, self-confidence can evolve alongside self-esteem or independently.

Self-confidence is a skill that can be developed through realistic goal setting and planning. It’s 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: developing self-confidence at the right pace for you is key.

We hold ourselves to impossible standards. Wherever we may have got it from, the media, our parents or our peers [...] “It’s our job to break the cycle.”

- Read more on Happiful.

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 their abilities, whereas those with low self-confidence often have negative thoughts about themselves and their abilities. This leads to a downward spiral of under-achievement and disappointment.

If you have low self-confidence you may feel:

  • you 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

Confidence doesn’t have to be solid across all areas of your life. It’s important to assess this to understand that learning and skills can be developed to bridge confidence. Maybe you’re confident with one or two close friends but not with big groups. It may be that you’re 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’re lacking in, accepting constructive criticism and support.

Causes of low self-confidence

Your early environment and childhood influences often have a major effect on how your confidence has developed throughout your early life – along with your own disposition and resilience. Children who are encouraged to speak their mind openly usually retain that habit. Children who have been unable to make their needs understood or experience learning difficulties may feel there is no way forward or opportunities for them. A knock-back at work or a recent redundancy are common causes of low self-confidence, as your trust in your ability to perform a certain task has been rocked.

What can you do about low self-confidence?

Understanding setbacks and problems is the first step to overcoming low self-confidence. Although the past may seem to have determined your current confidence level, confidence 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’s always possible to improve your skills in this area at any time you choose.

girl looking at camera

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 goals and what you want to achieve: it can help to set short-term (six week) goals and long-term (five-year) goals so that you can map out small steps to achieve big things.

Counselling, hypnotherapy and life coaching are common therapies used to help improve self-confidence. A therapist can offer a safe space to consider what is realistic and achievable, and to explore disappointments and setbacks. Techniques and strategies can be developed to build your self-confidence and change current negative thought patterns. If setbacks have been insurmountable, it may be worth exploring why with a trained professional.

What should I be looking for in a counsellor or psychotherapist?

There aren’t any regulations regarding the level of training a counsellor treating someone with low self-confidence needs, however there are several accredited courses, qualifications and workshops available to counsellors to improve their knowledge of a particular area. When searching for a therapist, take your time in researching how they work and their experience. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. It’s important you find a therapist you resonate with - a good relationship in the therapy room is key for success.

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