by Andrea M. Darcy
It’s easy to blame many of our problems in life on low self-confidence. But is your confidence as low as you think?
And if you do struggle to be confident, how worried should you be when it comes to your psychological health?
What is self-confidence?
Self-confidence is both a state of certainty and a positive feeling that you can accomplish something. You don’t have to be good at something to be confident about it. For example, you can be confident about your ability to host a party, even if your dinners tend to be simple barbecues compared to your friend’s five course meals.
Confidence is about your own scale of acceptability and being able to achieve the outcome you want. Despite the personal development movement connecting confidence to high performance, it isn’t about perfection or ‘winning’ at all.
Why low confidence can be a GOOD thing
A drop in confidence is actually a normal reaction to life change. Whether we like it or not, life will present us with things that are new and unexpected.
We also have a human impulse to learn, and this means we are driven to try things that are new and sometimes challenging. The natural response, when we try a new sport, or agree to do a speech at a wedding when we haven’t before, is to feel worried we’ll manage.
So feeling your confidence plummet can sometimes be a good thing. It can show you are approaching the limits of your comfort zone and are about to expand your life experience and skill set.
Always feeling confident, on the other hand, is not so normal. It can actually be a sign that you are either avoiding any personal growth and new experiences and hiding out from life, that you are not being honest with yourself about how you feel.
Overconfidence can also be a sign of a psychological problem or personality disorder like mania, bipolar disorder, antisocial personality disorder, and sociopathy.
Why you might have more confidence than you think
It’s common to focus on where you aren’t confident, while totally overlooking the things you are confident about. The truth is that most of us are confident in a few areas.
For example, while you might not be comfortable about giving presentations at work, but are you confident about your ability to read, drive, ride a bicycle, your timekeeping skills, that you can navigate public transit easily?
If your instant thought is ‘those things don’t count as they are easy’, take a moment to consider that for other people, these are the very things they are so lacking confidence about they can’t sleep at night for worrying.
It’s just that you are seeing things from your own limited perspective instead of looking at the whole picture.
Action tip: If you see yourself as lacking confidence in life, spend a day (or even a week) writing down everything you do confidently, no matter how small. You might find reading this list helpful the next time you have to do something that leaves you nervous.
Confidence vs self-esteem
Confidence is a conscious reaction to a present day situation. While your confidence levels might be connected to past experiences – if you did poorly at sports as a child, you are less likely to be confident trying them as an adult – you are generally aware of the connection and know what you are dealing with.
Self-esteem, on the other hand, is is related to the unconscious and often hidden beliefs you have about yourself that have built up from your life experiences, usually starting in childhood. A core belief can sound like ‘I am worthwhile’, ‘I am likeable’, or ‘I am a good person’. It can also sound like, ‘life is dangerous’, ‘I have to earn love’, and ‘I am a bad person’. The latter are the kind of beliefs that would drive low self-esteem.
If you have low self- confidence, you don’t necessarily have low self-esteem, and vice versa. You can have great confidence at work, but when it comes to relationships suffer because you have low self-esteem and don’t think your worthy of another’s affections. Or you can have really good self-esteem but have zero confidence about your ability to cook a nice meal.
But it’s true that many people with low self-esteem have low self-confidence in some areas of their life. A lack of self worth from beliefs along the lines of ‘I’m no good’ and ‘nobody likes me’ make it hard to feel sure of yourself.
Low self-confidence is a problem. But it’s often easier to deal with than low self-esteem. This is because we tend to be aware of why we lack confidence (I speak too fast when I give presentations, I feel too overweight to try dancing) and this means we can plan action steps to make a difference. Low self-esteem however, can require some deep diving into the self and past to understand and change.
Confidence is also easier to change as it is more about how you feel about and rate yourself and your own abilities. Esteem, on the other hand, can too often be connected to our worries of what we think others think of us. While we can choose what we think of ourselves, we have no control over what others think.
If your lack of confidence is stopping your from having a functioning life, where you can enjoy your job and have a social group you feel connected to, working with a coach or counsellor could definitely help.
If your lack of confidence is leaving you depressed, it’s possible it has indeed turned into low self-esteem. Low self-esteem is a leading symptom of depression. Look for signs like feeling anxious, a drop in your self-care regimes, and withdrawing from your social life. In such a case, working with a psychotherapist or counsellor is recommended.
It is also a good idea to seek help if you experience a sudden drop in confidence and aren’t sure why, or do know why but simply can’t move on (such as a relationship ending badly and being unable to feel yourself again despite time passing).
Don’t feel you have to wait until your confidence in yourself is so low your life is falling apart to seek help, though. The idea that therapy is only for when we are in pieces in a misconception – it’s actually a great tool to make sure that doesn’t happen. A counsellor or psychotherapist can helping you get to the root of why you have lost faith in yourself and your abilities, then help you find strategies to create change, manage better, and move forward.
Andrea M. Darcy is a mental health and wellbeing expert and personal development teacher with training in person-centred counselling and coaching, as well a popular psychology writer. Follow her on Instagram for useful life tips @am_darcy