Self-Esteem and Confidence

Posted by Frank Gillespie MA

What is self-esteem?

The definition of self-esteem refers to a person's overall subjective emotional evaluation of his or her own worth. It is a judgment of oneself as well as an attitude toward the self. Self-esteem can apply specifically to a particular dimension of the self (e.g. “I have good sense of humor) or a global extent (e.g. “I am a bad person”). Synonyms of self-esteem include: self-worth, self-regard, self-respect, and self-integrity. And why is self-esteem important? As researches found it is an influential predictor of certain outcomes, such as academic achievement, happiness, satisfaction in marriage and relationships, physical and mental health and criminal behavior. Self-confidence and healthy self-image allow people to face life with more confidence, benevolence and optimism, and thus easily reach their goals and self-actualize.

How to measure self-esteem?

Self-esteem is typically assessed using self-report inventories. One of the most widely used self-esteem test is Rosenberg self-esteem scale (RSES) which is a 10-item scale that requires participants to indicate their level of agreement with a series of statements about themselves.

Characteristics of people with a healthy level or high self-esteem:

    • Understand how they are an interesting and valuable person for others


    • Are able to act according to what they think to be the best choice


    • Trust their own judgment, do not feel guilty when others do not like their choice


    • Firmly believe in certain values and principles, and are ready to defend them


    • Do not excessively worry about the past, nor about the future. They learn from the past and plan for the future, but live in the present intensely


    • Fully trust in their capacity to solve problems, but are able to ask others for help when they need it


    • They do not hesitate after failures and difficulties


    • Consider themselves equal in dignity to others, rather than inferior or superior, while accepting differences


    • Resist manipulation, collaborate with others only if it seems appropriate and convenient


    • Can work toward finding solutions and voice discontent without belittling themselves or others when challenges arise


    • Are able to enjoy a great variety of activities


People with high- self esteem are often regarded as narcissists however there is only a moderate correlation between narcissism and self-esteem. That is to say that an individual can have high self-esteem without showing signs of narcissistic behavior. Narcissism is a disposition people may have that represents an excessive love for one's self. It is characterized by an inflated view of self-worth. Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a personality disorder in which a person is excessively preoccupied with personal adequacy, power, prestige and vanity, mentally unable to see the destructive damage they are causing to themselves and to others in the process. An important difference between a narcissistic person and one with high self-confidence is that in the case of narcissists the sole source of self-esteem and self-worth comes from the admiration of others. While people with healthy self-confidence are sensitive to feelings and needs of others, respect generally accepted social rules, and claim no right or desire to prosper at others' expense. Narcissists also have an unhealthy relationship with self. They put themselves above all else. They use others toward their own ends and exploit relationships without feelings.

Characteristics of people with low self-esteem:

    • Heavy self-criticism and dissatisfaction.


    • Hypersensitivity to criticism with resentment against critics and feelings of being attacked


    • Chronic indecision and an exaggerated fear of mistakes


    • Excessive will to please and unwillingness to displease anybody


    • Perfectionism, which can lead to frustration when perfection is not achieved


    • Neurotic guilt, dwelling on or exaggerating the magnitude of past mistakes


    • Floating hostility and general defensiveness and irritability without any proximate cause


    • Pessimism and a general negative outlook


    • Envy, invidiousness, or general resentment


    • Sees temporary setbacks as permanent, intolerable conditions


People with low self-esteem tend to be critical of themselves. Some depend on the approval and praise of others when evaluating self-worth. Others may measure their likability in terms of successes: others will accept them if they succeed but will not if they fail.

What are the causes of low self-esteem?

Why do I have low self-esteem? People with this issue and want to understand the reasons often ask themselves this question. Low self-esteem can result from various factors, including genetic factors, physical or mental health issues, socioeconomic status, peer pressure or bullying etc.

The beliefs we have about ourselves are based on the experiences we've had in life, and the messages that these experiences have given us about the kind of person we are. Negative experiences are more likely to cause negative beliefs about ourselves too. Crucial, self-confidence shaping experience often occur in childhood in the family or in the wider community (kindergarten, school etc.). Therefore building self-esteem in children early is crucial for the healthy mental development.

Examples of early experiences that could lead to low self-esteem in children and later in adults include:

    • Systematic punishment, neglect or abuse


    • Failing to meet parental standards


    • Failing to meet peer-group standards


    • Being on the receiving end of other people's stress or distress


    • Belonging to a family or social group that other people are prejudiced towards


    • An absence of praise, warmth, affection or interest


    • Being the odd one out, at home or at school


Low self-esteem can be a result of negative experiences later in life as well such as workplace bullying or intimidation, abusive relationships, persistent stress, or traumatic events.

How to be confident: building self-esteem

Lack of confidence can be paralyzing affecting every aspects of your life from your performance in work or school to your relationships and personal health. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy can be an effective way to help you in overcoming low self-esteem. CBT is a talking therapy led by a trained therapist. It is a way of learning about how you think about yourself, the world and the people around you and how your thoughts and feelings are affected by what you do. Once you understand this, you can learn to make changes in the ways you think about situations and how you respond to them.

The basic assumption behind Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is that one’s thoughts influence one’s emotions and behaviors, and that if negative thoughts are altered, negative emotions and behaviors can be altered as well. We are what we think, so to say. So CBT is about changing the ways you think and how you act. After a while, these changes add up to make you feel better. CBT isn’t a therapy that delves into your past trying to find causes for your emotional distress and symptoms. It concentrates on how you feel now, and the difficulties and problems you face now, and the changes you can make that will help you to feel better now.

Frank Gillespie MA

Frank Gillespie has a Master's Degree in Counseling from LaSalle University in Philadelphia. He is a nationally Certified Counselor (NCC). He has provided therapy for over 23 years. During his career, he has helped more than 10,000 people move past their obstacles towards reaching their potential and fulfillment in their lives. He practices Cognitive Behavioral Therapy with a warm and nurturing approach. In addition to being a therapist, Frank has been an adjunct college professor teaching social work, a clinical consultant, a clinical director, and a seminar speaker. Frank has recently retired from his full time practice to focus on a part time online practice. He is married. He enjoys listening to music, watching sports, power walking, swimming, reading and writing.


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