I think most of us experience low levels of both from time to time - some people more than others.
As someone who grew up with extremely low confidence and self-esteem, I know how painful that can be. I also know that you can transform, increasing your confidence and developing healthy self-esteem.
I didn’t used to think it was possible, but, having done it, I now know that it is and it’s something that anyone can accomplish - if they want to! That’s the key - you have to want to.
In this article I’ll share what I have found to be most helpful, what has worked for me and what improves in your life when you are able to change in this way.
What is the Difference and Why Does it Matter?
Having low self-esteem can definitely have an effect on how confident you feel about something.
Even when you know you can do something, low self-esteem can mean that you don’t feel confident in your ability to carry it out, or that you worry about what people will think when you do.
For example, you can have low self-esteem, but be confident in certain areas of your life. Just like one client I worked with years ago who is a CPA. She is extremely confident in her work, but her low self-esteem allows her family to take advantage of her, causing her to feel extreme anxiety and stress.
Or you can have healthy self-esteem, but not feel confident about your abilities when it comes to certain things. This is often known as imposter syndrome - a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their skills, talents or accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a "fraud".
There are many well-known people and celebrities whom we know to be very successful, who have also admitted to having the experience of imposter syndrome.
Many people also become very good at hiding low self-esteem, and can appear to be very confident.
When I was younger this is exactly what I did. I remember receiving a promotion to work as personal assistant to the assistant director of a company. I was constantly terrified that I was going to mess up and they would find out I didn’t really know what I was doing.
Over time I became friendly with the Director’s personal assistant and one day, several months after I’d been in the job, she shared with me that when I first started she felt intimidated by me because I was so efficient!
I couldn’t believe it. I felt anything but efficient. My low self-esteem caused me to lack confidence in my abilities - but I obviously hid it very well!
Strategies to Improve Confidence and Self-Esteem
Obviously, if you have low confidence and self-esteem, it’s not something that’s going to change overnight.
It’s a gradual process, and it’s something you work on every single day. It takes self-awareness, and a desire to improve. These are the steps that I’ve found to be helpful for me:
Notice - you have to become really good at noticing things like:
- When you’re holding yourself back
- When you doubt yourself
- When you lack confidence
- When you feel you’re not good enough
- When you have trouble saying no
- When people disrespect you and your boundaries
- When you need to set boundaries but you don’t
- When your inner critic is active
Becoming aware of a problem is always the first step to being able to change it.
Part of the problem is that we can become really good at hiding these things or denying them. When you make the decision that you want to change, then you will start to notice more.
Sometimes you won’t become aware of something until after it’s happened. It’s important not to be frustrated with that, because if this is new for you, it will take time for you to become really good at noticing.
Each time you do it, it will become easier and you’ll start to notice more.
For example, it took me quite a while to understand and admit to myself that my tendency towards perfectionism and unrealistic expectations was contributing to my feelings of not being good enough.
If I tried something new and it didn’t work right away, then I would feel like a failure. I would feel like there was something wrong with me, and would move on to look for answers elsewhere, instead of giving myself a chance to really learn from what I’d done and tweak it until I saw results. I would just dismiss it as a failure.
Acknowledging this was not comfortable for me at first. But doing so has enabled me to learn and move on. I now recognize whenever this is happening and can stop myself repeating the same unhealthy patterns.
- What’s really true?
- What am I really afraid of?
- What would be the most loving thing I can do for myself right now?
- How can I best support myself through this?
- If I really believed in myself, what would I do differently?
- What do I need to learn from this situation so that I can move on?
- What do I really want?
It doesn’t matter if you don’t have answers to the questions right away. Simply asking them is empowering. Turn a question over in your mind. Write about it. The answers you need will come, as long as you ask the questions.
Often, just the simple act of reaching out to someone in this way can bring clarity and answers.
This happened for me recently. I was feeling particularly overwhelmed with some things that were going on for me, and could not see a way forward. At first, I tried to sort through it all by myself, but ultimately had to admit that I needed help.
I reached out to a trusted friend and talked things through with her. She asked me a few helpful questions and at the end of the call I had a new sense of clarity that I hadn’t been able to find by myself.
Before, I had no idea how to move forward. After the call, I knew exactly what to do - not because she told me what to do, but because the act of talking it through with someone brought me to the clarity I needed.
It’s important to recognize that not everybody is capable of fulfilling this role for you. So, if you talk to your partner, or friend, or family member, and don’t receive the kind of help and support you need, don’t be upset with them. Perhaps they are not able to give you what you need.
You’re not looking for someone to ‘fix’ things for you (tempting as that might be). You’re simply looking for someone who can listen, perhaps ask questions, and simply be there to support and encourage you. That may be a friend, or a colleague, or a coach or mentor. Know who that person is for you and don’t be afraid to ask them whenever you need help.
The more you do this, the more your confidence will grow, as you see that you do have what it takes to move through any challenge. Each time you will feel better about yourself as you gain the clarity you need.
- Your thoughts can be very helpful when you notice and acknowledge them. For example, if your thoughts are along the lines of:
- Why is this always happening to me?
- What’s wrong with me?
- What will people think of me?
- What if I don’t really know what I’m doing?
- What if I get it wrong?
These are important clues that tell you the belief of “I’m not good enough” is active.
Instead of trying to force yourself to change these thoughts into positive ones, instead, try asking yourself some of the questions mentioned above.
- What if this is happening for me, not to me?
- What if there’s something important I can learn from this?
- What if there’s nothing wrong with me and I’m good enough as I am?
- What if people really like what I’m doing?
- What if I really do know what I’m doing?
- What if I can’t get it wrong?
I have found that using ‘what if’ in this way can help to calm the mind down and focus it on more helpful thoughts. It’s not about denying any negative or unhelpful thoughts - it’s about using them as stepping stones to your success, which will help you increase your sense of worth and confidence.
This often happens with clients and it’s not until we take a look back to see where they were, how they felt, and what was going on when we first started working together that they realize they’ve made significant progress.
You can support yourself through this process by celebrating every single win. For example, you can give yourself a pat on the back:
- Every time you’re able to turn an unhelpful thought around.
- Every time you reach out to talk things through with someone.
- Whenever you notice that the belief of not being good enough is showing up.
- Each time you notice that you’re experiencing imposter syndrome.
- Whenever you say ‘no’ to something and feel good about it.
- Whenever someone says something negative or hurtful and you don’t let it bother you.
These are all causes for celebration and will help you feel better about yourself.
We often put pressure on ourselves because we see what other people are doing and wonder why things don’t happen in the same way for us. Or we think we want to be like someone else, or we’re told we should be more like someone else or do things in the same way.
The truth is that you are unique. So am I. Instead of trying to be like someone else, or do things in the same way - find YOUR way. Be the best YOU that you can be.
When you can fully, completely and unapologetically be yourself, this is where you can experience true happiness, success and fulfillment by increasing confidence and self-esteem.
My low levels of confidence and self-esteem caused me to put my trust in others, instead of trusting myself.
Have you ever done something that someone else wanted you to do, even though it didn’t feel right to you at all? But you did it because you thought they must be right?
Has this ever worked out for you?
I’ve done this many times in the past, and each time I paid a high price for it. I remember clearly the last time I did this. I had been working with a group of people on a particular project with the understanding that I was only helping to get things started. Once it was ready, I would leave, because I had other things I wanted to do.
However, when the time came, even though I knew it was not right for me, I let the others persuade me to stay. I told myself it wouldn’t be for long - but it ended up being about 4 years, and I was miserable.
I finally learned my lesson from that experience. I trust myself and if something doesn’t feel right for me, then I don’t do it. I don’t ever want to put myself in that position again. It was soul destroying.
Learn to trust yourself - talk things through with others, listen to advice from others, but ultimately, check in with yourself to see what feels right to you and trust it.
Your inner guidance is priceless, and it can take time to learn to trust it, but you can start right now.
3 Things to Keep in Mind
Be gentle with yourself - major transformation like this takes time. The best way is to love yourself through it. Practice self-care and be kind to yourself, always.
- Allow others to support you - increasing self-esteem requires that you surround yourself with positive, supportive and encouraging people. The more you take care of yourself, the more of these people you will attract. Don’t be afraid to allow them to help you.
Find other ways to increase confidence and self-esteem - every little thing you do will help. Consistency is important. This article in Psychology Today shares some tools and activities that will help you increase self-esteem.
I think that’s a really good description. It stands to reason also that when you have healthy self-esteem, your confidence increases too.
If your self-esteem is low right now, it may seem like an overwhelming task to change that. It doesn’t have to be overwhelming. All you have to do is make a start and each little thing you do will bring added momentum.
There are many reasons why you’ll want to - here are just a few:
- You’ll feel better, have more clarity and feel more at peace
- You’ll let go of feelings of anxiety, overwhelm and struggle
- You’ll feel happier and enjoy life more
- You’ll attract more enjoyable people and situations into your life
- You’ll never want to go back to the way you were before
- Everyone around you will get to experience the best of you
- Your transformation will help and inspire others
There’s no time like the present to get started!
For more information on how to be who you really are, request a free guide: 10 Steps to Be Who YOU Are.