People often use the terms self-esteem and self-confidence interchangeably.
This is acceptable in general conversation because the meaning behind the phrase being used tends to be understood.
But if you want to be more specific, it is important to understand the difference between self-esteem and self-confidence.
This article will explain how they differ and how to use each term appropriately.
It will also look at three further terms: self-worth, self-respect, and self-efficacy. These, too, are subtly different to each other and to personal esteem and confidence.
Let’s take one at a time.
What Is Self-Esteem?
Self-esteem is the attitude we have toward ourselves. It is the amount we like the person we are.
A person with high self-esteem has a favorable attitude toward themselves. They like who they are.
A person with low self-esteem has an unfavorable attitude toward themselves. They dislike who they are.
Morris Rosenberg, a pioneer in the field, described it as a “favorable or unfavorable attitude toward the self.”
He developed a set of 10 statements to which a person can score themselves on a 4-point scale from strongly agree to strongly disagree.
These statements and scoring instructions can be found here:
Using the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale – University of Maryland, Department of Sociology.
Is Self-Esteem Fixed?
No, self-esteem is not unchangeable, but it is a fairly stable personality trait.
This means that while it can change to higher or lower levels, it will typically do so slowly over a period of time.
There is evidence to suggest that self-esteem goes through a natural cycle, “increasing during young and middle adulthood, reaching a peak at about age 60 years, and then declining in old age.”
We can also increase our self-esteem through sustained personal effort, and it can be positively or negatively influenced by events in our lives.
What Is Self-Confidence?
Self-confidence is the belief we hold about our abilities to achieve or complete a task successfully.
This definition already points to one core difference between self-confidence and self-esteem: self-confidence is related to a particular activity.
A person with high self-confidence about an activity believes in their competency and ability to achieve a positive outcome in that activity.
A person with low self-confidence about an activity does not believe in their competency or abilities to achieve a positive outcome in that activity.
A person can have both high and low self-confidence at the same time, just about different activities.
They might, for example, be confident in their abilities to pass an academic test, while simultaneously not being confident in their abilities to compete in a sporting contest.
Is Self-Confidence Fixed?
No, self-confidence can change quite dramatically and in a short space of time.
Knowledge and experience are often key factors in how much confidence a person feels in a given situation.
Take learning to drive a car. At first, a person will likely not feel confident operating all of the controls and maneuvering the vehicle safely.
But as they have more lessons and get more practice, their confidence can quickly increase.
This confidence continues to grow even after a person has passed their driving test as they tackle more frequent journeys of varying length and in even the most challenging of conditions.
Similarly, a person’s confidence can fall sharply if events take place to cast doubt in their mind as to their competency.
A driver who previously had confidence in their driving abilities may feel less confident after an accident, particularly if they were at fault.
Self-Esteem vs. Self-Confidence: Which Should I Use?
Which phrase you should use when referring to a particular aspect of a person depends on what you are describing.
Generally, it is okay to say that a person has low, average, or high self-esteem as it is a trait that transcends the external situation they may be in.
However, it makes less sense to say that a person has low, average, or high self-confidence because their position on such a scale is partly determined by the situation they are in.
Sure, some people can be typically more confident in their abilities than others, but no one is confident all of the time.
Though a person can be confident in their ability to gain a new skill or master a new task which is perhaps what is meant when a person is described broadly as confident.
A simple rule to follow when deciding which phrase to use is to ask whether you are describing a person’s view inward toward their core self, or a person’s view outward toward a task or activity.
Self-esteem looks inward, while self-confidence looks outward.
And it’s quite possible for a person to have high self-esteem in general, but low self-confidence in relation to a particular situation.
Then again, even if a person has low self-esteem, they can still display great confidence in certain situations.
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Do Self-Esteem And Self-Confidence Interact?
Yes, a person’s self-esteem can influence their self-confidence, and vice versa.
Take, for example, the task of giving an inspirational speech to your fellow classmates at college.
If you have high self-confidence in writing and making speeches, you might look forward to it regardless of your level of self-esteem.
In this instance, a person’s self-confidence trumps their self-esteem.
If you have high self-esteem, but low confidence in giving speeches, you might well be nervous and have doubts about your speech, but you will be able to manage those nerves.
In this instance, a person’s high self-esteem allows them to cope with the negative effects of low self-confidence.
If you have low self-esteem and low confidence in giving speeches, you will experience more severe nerves and have many self-defeating thoughts about how the speech will go.
In this instance, a person’s low self-esteem feeds directly into their low self-confidence and exacerbates the negative feelings they experience.
This example shows how a person’s self-esteem can lead to either an increase or decrease in self-confidence in relation to a particular activity.
The person with high self-esteem is likely to be less concerned about what their audience thinks of them than the person with low self-esteem.
This eases the pressure on their performance somewhat and allows their self-confidence to rise.
The person with low self-esteem is likely to worry a great deal about what their audience thinks of them.
This piles the pressure on their performance and this can cause their self-confidence to fall.
So, a person’s self-confidence about a situation typically rises with high self-esteem and falls with low self-esteem.
High self-confidence in a broad range of activities can sometimes be used as a mask to hide low self-esteem.
This may allow a person to avoid tackling their low self-esteem because they receive temporary relief from it when successfully achieving something.
This can be seen in those who chase and revel in positive outcomes in their work, their physical attributes, or their social interactions.
These positive outcomes also present a happy and successful view to the outside world and this allows a person to avoid addressing the issues they have with self-esteem.
Now that we’ve explored the difference the between self-esteem and self-confidence, let’s turn our attention to the other three terms: self-worth, self-respect, and self-efficacy.
What Is Self-Worth?
Self-worth is the value a person places upon who they are and the things they do.
It relates to how a person thinks their actions should be rewarded and how they deserve to be treated by others.
It also relates to what they think they are contributing to the world in terms of their input and their relationships.
A person with high self-worth will believe that they deserve to be treated well and be rewarded for their hard work.
They will think that they are contributing something of value to the world.
A person with low self-worth will believe that they don’t deserve to be treated well or be rewarded for their hard work.
They will think that they don’t really contribute anything of great value to the world.
Self-worth and self-esteem and closely linked.
If a person has high self-esteem and likes who they are, they are likely to value their input to the world and believe they deserve fair treatment.
The opposite is true for a person with low self-esteem. They might readily accept poor treatment from others or low rewards for their efforts.
What Is Self-Respect?
Self-respect relates to the way in which a person treats themselves. It concerns a person’s actions, but also their attitude.
It encompasses aspects of life such as health, boundary-setting, and risk-taking.
A person who respects themselves will try to maintain good physical and mental well-being. They will not allow others to treat them poorly. And they will act in ways that promote positive outcomes.
Self-respect is also closely linked to self-esteem and to self-worth.
A person with high self-esteem is very likely to show themselves self-respect in what they do.
A person with low self-esteem is unlikely to display self-respect in what they do.
Self-respect can be thought of as the acting part of self-esteem. It is not merely how a person thinks about themselves, but how they act toward themselves.
What Is Self-Efficacy?
Self-efficacy is the belief we have in our capacity to execute behaviors necessary to produce specific performance attainments (Bandura, 1977, 1986, 1997).
It relates to a person’s level of motivation and their belief in what they are capable of.
It has similarities with self-control in that a person must be willing to show self-control in certain situations if they are to achieve their aims.
A person with high self-efficacy will be able to adjust their behavior in line with the requirements of the task at hand.
They will feel able to set and achieve challenging goals.
A person with low self-efficacy will struggle to adapt their behavior to successfully complete the task at hand.
They will not believe in their ability to follow through on challenging goals.
Self-efficacy share similarities with self-confidence, but they differ in one important respect.
Self-efficacy is more rooted in the effort required to produce positive outcomes in the future.
It is about a person’s drive and determination.
Self-confidence focuses more upon the abilities needed to produce a positive outcome in the present.
It is about a person’s comfort level in what they are about to do.