What is healthy self-confidence?

Self-confidence is the belief in oneself and abilities, it describes an internal state made up of what we think and feel about ourselves. This state is changeable according to the situation we are currently in and our responses to events going on around us. It is not unusual to feel quite confident in some circumstances and less confident in others. It is also influenced by past events and how we remember them; recalling a former success has a very different outcome in terms of our confidence levels than thinking about an occasion when we failed.

Confidence and self-esteem are terms which are often used interchangeably, but although there is over-lap perhaps there are also subtle differences. Self-confidence can refer to how we feel about ourselves and our abilities whereas self-esteem refers directly to whether or not we appreciate and value ourselves. We may have been discouraged from being boastful but a healthy amount of self-liking and self-approval is necessary if we are to have the confidence to meet life's challenges and participate as fully as we wish to in whatever makes life enjoyable and rewarding for us. In a sense, we could say that having healthy self-esteem leads to being self-confident.

Where does self-confidence come from?

Early experiences are influential in achieving a healthy level of self-esteem.

If we are fortunate and had relatively favourable conditions and experiences whilst we are growing up, we are likely to develop a healthy self-esteem and become confident people. However, if conditions and experiences are mainly negative we are more likely to experience difficulties developing our confidence. Some of the negative messages we have received will have been internalized and become part of what we think and feel about ourselves.

Here and now

A person lacking in self-confidence who receives a low mark for an assignment may think, "What else could I expect? I'm stupid, this proves it, and I might as well leave." A person with healthy self-esteem who receives a low mark may think, "I wonder where I went wrong? I'll find out so that I can do better next time." Although this person may feel disappointed, s/he does not feel diminished as a person, by the low mark.

If we have little self-confidence then the ‘low mark' scenario may trigger memories of similar events in the past and then lead to a cycle of negative thinking in the form of self-critical put-downs. This is how we intensify and perpetuate a lack confidence. When we feel low like this our expectations about the future tend to be negative and this discourages us from really trying. Then we experience another disappointing result and feel negative about ourselves again.

Why are confidence and self-esteem important?

The impact of having low confidence and self-esteem varies greatly and can range from only impacting in one specific setting to being very restricting and debilitating. Low self-confidence can result in:

  • shyness
  • communication difficulties
  • social anxiety
  • lack of assertiveness

What would improve my confidence and self-esteem?

  • Learn to be more assertive and not feel guilty about saying no
  • Give yourself at least equal priority as those you love
  • Examine why you feel bad about yourself and what you can do to change this
  • Monitor your self talk and question your negative statements about yourself
  • Stop focusing on yourself too much and try to help others
  • Make time for yourself and treat yourself often
  • Don't be afraid to ask others for what you want

What strategies could I use to improve my self-confidence?

1. Practicing self-acceptance

We can improve our self-confidence in a number of ways. One of the most important ways is to become more accepting of ourselves. Look at your strengths and achievements and put a plan in place to address areas of weakness.

We can start by noticing situations which increase our self-confidence, and those which diminish it. By consistently taking notice of our fluctuating levels of self-confidence we may discover important information about ourselves.

We need to practice self-acceptance, feeling OK about ourselves and others regardless of the existing conditions. If we make mistakes, hurt or offend other people, it may be appropriate to make amends but it need not lead to low self-confidence. In this way, we may sometimes think it is reasonable to be critical of our behaviour and try to change it but without being critical of ourselves. This attitude helps maintain a healthy level of self-confidence.

2. Focus on your achievements

If you take time to think you will realise that you have achieved so many things in your life. It doesn't matter what these achievements are only that they are important to you. List them and remember what they meant to you. It doesn't matter what you think about your life at present if you are honest with yourself you will make a long list and that will make you feel good. Every small thing you are proud of should be added to your list. The fact that you are focusing on positives will also help you to increase your level of self esteem.

3. Making personal changes

If, as a result of monitoring your self-esteem and confidence, you decide that you want to change, it is best to identify some specific goals. What can you change that will make you feel better about yourself? There are two kinds of changes you may wish to focus on. The first are changes in your life and how you live it. Ask yourself are you happy in your job? Is it satisfying? Is there something else you'd rather do? What about your relationships or your social life? If you would like to be more assertive for example then start working on that immediately.

Having done that, it is necessary to make sure that they are manageable; break it down into smaller steps or identify a less ambitious change to attempt first. For example, in order to be able to speak up in seminars, it may be easier to begin by expressing opinions more often with friends. Becoming comfortable with this can make the next step, contributing in a seminar, easier.

4. Seeking out positive experiences and people

We can give ourselves positive experiences as a way of increasing our self-confidence. Also, spending time with people who like us for who we are is helpful. Surround yourself with positive influences and avoid those who are constantly being negative. Being around critical people most of the time or withdrawing from genuine social contact can have a detrimental effect on how we feel about ourselves and our self-confidence.

5. Positive affirmations

Use positive self-talk and affirmations to reprogram your thinking. "I am a good and worthwhile person". Way too often we are uncaring and unsupportive of ourselves. We can be very generous and loving towards others, but sometimes we forget to be loving and kind to ourselves. Monitor your self-talk and eliminate negative

6. Rewards and support

Give yourself rewards as you practice building your self-esteem. It doesn't really matter what the reward is as long as it is something you value. It may be a night out, a bar of chocolate, or watching your favourite TV programme.

If you can, tell a good friend what you are doing; their encouragement and feedback on the changes you are making could be invaluable support.

Further Resources

Workbook for developing Assertiveness Skills

Develop greater Self-confidence and Quiz

Online Self-confidence Workbook

Student Services - Growing Your Assertiveness Workshops

Should you feel you need further help with your confidence and self-esteem building contact Student Services for individual counselling.