What’s the difference? Confidence v self-esteem

As a teenager, you probably heard the term ‘self esteem’ an awful lot (usually in relation to you or someone you know lacking in it).

As an adult, you’re more likely perhaps to hear the word ‘confidence’.

These words might appear to mean the same thing. But not only are they quite different in meaning, you’ll be surprised to discover how important it is for YOU to know the difference.

Today I’m asked a definition question from fellow coach Angie McQuillin:

What is the difference between ‘confidence’ and ‘self-esteem’?

At first, I thought there kind of isn’t really a difference, it’s just a language technicality thing. Those two words could mean the same thing, they could mean different things, it’s all down to each individual’s interpretation.

But I also thought these two words could be quite helpful when it comes to building confidence, to understand the difference of focus between these two words.

So let’s give them two separate definitions, just for the purpose of helping you build confidence


Confidence or self-confidence; let’s give that the definition of: trusting your capability to handle situations.

So self-confidence is what comes from knowing that whatever comes your way, you’re gonna take care of business, even if it’s something unfamiliar, even if it’s something that you’re unskilled at, you’ll get through it, you’ll survive, you’ll thrive in the long term.

That’s confidence; knowing that you will take care of business.


We can actually define this as a sense of , a sense that you deserve your place here on this planet, in this life.

Esteem is belief that the space you take up and the resources you consume contribute towards a valuable cause, which is YOU.

So confidence is trusting yourself in the future, and self-esteem is a sense of worth, a sense of belonging to this universe.

Now the reason I think it’s good to separate those two definitions is because it can help you figure out which you should be working on – one or both of these things.

Which should you focus on?

If you trust in your abilities, if you’re like “Hey, no matter what happens I’ll take care of shit, I know how to handle stuff, even if it’s new and unfamiliar I’ll get through it because I’ve got a good track record“ then you’re already confident (by this definition).

And if you’re like “You know what? I deserve to be here. I am a worthwhile person. I’m good enough as I am. I accept who I am” then your self-esteem is high.

If one or both of these things is low, then you know you need to work on them, and you can work on them in different ways.

Building confidence

If confidence is what you’re lacking, if you do not trust yourself, if you’re often anxious, you’re constantly worried about the future because you think you’re gonna fuck it up, if you avoid unfamiliar situations, if you stay in your comfort zone because it’s the only thing you can trust yourself to stay in – then confidence is your issue.

How do you work on confidence?

You expose yourself to difficult situations frequently, on purpose. You constantly put yourself in unfamiliar situations so that you can get through them, so that you can adapt and grow and learn and overall build up a sense of “Hey I can handle shit! I’m getting through things every day”

People with low confidence often wait for things to happen to them. They’re avoidant.

So when things do happen to them they’re often very fragile and they haven’t been tested, they haven’t been conditioned. If something bad happens to someone who’s lacking in confidence they fall apart.

But somebody who’s been regularly putting themselves in difficult situations willingly – by their own choice – when something bad happens they‘re just like “Meh it‘s just one more thing. I’m used to this”


Confidence building is really about challenging yourself, building skills, putting yourself in fearful situations, finding something new every day that you find uncomfortable and doing it just so that it’s one less thing that you’re uncomfortable with, and so that overall you get used to being uncomfortable.

Once you’re used to being uncomfortable your confidence level goes through the roof because you know you can handle anything.

Anybody can become this way. You just need to expose yourself to difficult situations.

You got social anxiety? Go out and socialize!

Lack physical strength? Go out and do obstacle courses, go to the gym, go do sports.

Find competition difficult? Go and get involved in a competition, go lose some shit and build up that endurance, that stamina for difficult situations.

Increasing Self-esteem

Now if self-esteem is your problem (or also your problem) this is more about philosophy. The only reason you can believe that you’re not worthy of a life is if you have an inaccurate view of reality, because everything that’s worthy of living is alive, okay?

If you are one of those things, you are by definition worthy of living. You must be. If you weren’t the universe would take you out! And you’re still here.

So it’s your view of the world that’s skewed. It’s not that you lack worthiness, it’s that you lack perspective. It‘s that your version of reality is distant from objective reality.

This where you study Stoicism.

This is where you study acceptance and commitment therapy.

This is where you figure out what your core values are and you learn to live by them.

This is where you earn your place in the world by having integrity, by learning what ‘being yourself’ means and putting that to use, making sure that you contribute to the greater world that we live in.

So if self-esteem is your problem, I reckon check out the BROJO University course on core values and learn how to live in a way where you’re proud of yourself. Then this idea that you’re not worthy just goes away, and the ‘not good enough’ voice in your head becomes just a noise that you can ignore and carry on with your business.

So those are my different definitions: confidence is about building skill and endurance and resilience; self-esteem is about building philosophy, integrity and core values.

For more support, check out for online counseling and therapy.

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