Low self-confidence is something that many of us experience but, over time, it can have a negative impact on our mental health.
Here, we'll explore self-confidence in more detail, discussing what can impact it, how it links to our mental health, and how counselling can help.
What is self-confidence?
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.
Person-centred counsellor Jade Stuart (MBACP, BSc) explains more about self-confidence and how it links with self-esteem, the benefits of therapy, and how to find the right counsellor for you.
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. We all differ, but possessing self-confidence can bring benefits to all areas of your life, enhancing your relationships, career, social life and state of mind.
It's also worth noting that levels of confidence can vary depending on your environment or situation. For instance, you may be particularly confident at work but lack social confidence. Or you might have a thriving romantic relationship but lack confidence in your friendships.
How is self-confidence different from self-esteem?
Although the two terms are often used interchangeably, there are key differences between self-confidence and self-esteem. Confidence is linked with the external world, such as how others see us, how we present ourselves, and what we achieve. Self-esteem, however, is more internal. It's 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. As a result, self-confidence can evolve alongside self-esteem or independently.
Confidence is your belief in yourself, your capabilities and your way of relating to the external world. Self-esteem is your internal world; how you feel about yourself, your inner strengths and how much you value yourself.
- Samantha Flanagan (BA Hons, PGDIP, MBACP) explains how to raise your confidence and self-esteem
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.
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
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. Confident people build on what they can do and confront honestly what they’re lacking, accepting constructive criticism and support.
Your confidence won't necessarily be the same 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, or you’re confident with animals or children, but not with adults.
Causes of low self-confidence
In order to tackle low self-confidence or low self-belief, it's important to look at where those beliefs originate from. There are many different factors that can interfere with our self-concept, and how we feel about ourselves.
Your early environment and childhood influences often have a major effect on how your confidence has developed throughout your early life, such as if you were bullied at school. Other factors include your own disposition and resilience.
Children who are encouraged to speak their minds 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.
As an adult, 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.
How to improve self-confidence
Even if you have lacked confidence your whole life, it's important to remember that confidence is a flexible trait. Although the past may seem to have determined your current confidence level, it is never too late to start being confident.
For many people, a crisis, divorce, illness or bereavement can be a surprising springboard to finding an alternative route to building confidence. It’s always possible to improve your skills in this area at any time you choose.
Everyone has their own strengths, abilities and skills to enhance their self-confidence and become who they want to eventually be. Doing something outside of your comfort zone - such as joining an evening class, support or interest group or undertaking training - can often be the first step to building confidence.
Self-confidence is also a skill that can be developed through realistic goal setting and planning. Be realistic about your goals and what you want to achieve: it can help to set both short-term goals and long-term goals so that you can map out small steps to achieve big things.
One common suggestion is to write a list of your strengths and what you are good at.
As counsellor Ian Stockbridge explains, this is a challenging exercise if you think everyone is better than you or you do everything poorly. But, being able to change involves identifying your negative beliefs, and challenging them. "It can help to write negative thoughts down, recognise when you started thinking that way, and write down evidence to challenge it.
"It can also be helpful to make notes of any positive comments people say about you, even if you don’t currently believe they are true."
How can therapy help?
A counsellor can offer you a safe, inclusive and non-judgemental environment in which you can explore your feelings and experiences and how they have impacted you. They can help you to consider what is realistic and achievable for you, and to explore how you'll navigate disappointments and setbacks.
Counselling can help you understand where any negative thoughts about yourself came from, making you better able to challenge them. Techniques and strategies can then be developed to help you build your self-confidence and change current negative thought patterns.
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