Confidence and Self-Esteem Are Equal Partners in a Successful Life

Caroline de Braganza

(Image by Mohamed Hassan from Pixabay)

Can one flourish without the other?

I once believed that self-confidence and self-esteem were the same thing. Maybe you did too.

Self-confidence is how you engage with the outer world, while self-esteem is how you engage with your inner world.

For a successful life, for a smoother ride where the potholes don’t send you flying off the highway, you need a healthy dose of both.

Turns out, you can exude loads of self-confidence despite low self-esteem.

How can that be?

Dr Neel Burton, psychiatrist, philosopher and writer explains:

“Self-confidence and self-esteem do not always go hand in hand. In particular, it is possible to be highly self-confident and yet to have profoundly low self-esteem, as is the case, for example, with many performers and celebrities, who can perform before an audience of thousands but then damage and even kill themselves with drugs.”

What’s the difference between them?


The word “confidence” (sic) comes from the Latin verb “fidere”, meaning “to trust”.

You can define self-confidence as trusting in your abilities, powers, qualities and judgement—a belief that you can do things well.

But when the applause fades, the silver cups tarnish, and the framed diplomas and degrees fade in the afternoon sun—you are left with yourself.

For example, I changed careers at 35 and within four years had climbed the corporate ladder to Branch Manager. The next seven years sucked because I needed external validation that I was a success. And I wasn’t getting it. I began to doubt my abilities.

Yes, I believed I was doing a good job but wondered, why the eddying emptiness inside?

Though I didn’t know it then, I suffered from low self-esteem.

“Low self-esteem is like driving through life with your hand-brake on.”—Maxwell Maltz

Not understanding there was a missing partner, I blamed my emptiness on a lack of willpower.

I kept pushing harder.


The word “esteem” comes from the Latin verb “aestimare”, meaning “to appraise, value, rate, weight, estimate”.

If I’d appraised my cognitive and emotional sense of self-worth and love half a lifetime ago in that job I loathed; if I’d known then as I now know how readily we don that persona mask and sail onto life’s stage pretending everything is well: if I’d understood that fear of failure and rejection is an acquired habit—I’d have had the question I’d never asked answered:

“How is your self-esteem these days?”

Mine was way low. I bet there’ve been times when your self-esteem wavers too.

Marisa Peer explains how this happens:

“All babies and young children have high self-esteem. They accept compliments and don’t have a fear of being judged. It’s only as we get older that we acquire the fear of people rejecting us.”

High self-esteem is healthy.

Loving and valuing yourself isn’t arrogant, provided it’s not because you believe you are perfect. You love yourself because you aren’t perfect.

You are a work of art that continues creating, never reaching perfection. You’re not supposed to be perfect.

It takes two to tango if you want to dance through life

Confidence is cool and easy to maintain if you value yourself. You may have to put on a brave face once in a while and, yes, it takes courage to build. Well done you!

But when the applause fades, the silver cups tarnish, and the framed diplomas and degrees fade in the afternoon sun—you are left with yourself.

Do you appreciate what you see? Are you brimming with genuine joy? Are you so anchored in your sense of self-worth that when a passing storm knocks you down, “you dust yourself off and start all over again.”?

Do you rise regardless?

If you answered yes, then your sense of self-worth and love are in a healthy partnership with confidence.

It’s a formidable life contract!

The invisible saboteur

When you lack healthy self-esteem, your confidence can crumble and crash when the accolades cease.

Imagine building a house on sandy soil without a concrete foundation; self-confidence being the visible building and self-esteem the hidden foundation. If you add more bricks to a shaky foundation, those walls will tumble and crumble.

If every victory leaves you running to find the next brick to add, it’s time to pause and reflect, to stop and pay attention to your thoughts.

These are typical indicators of low self-esteem.

  • I did a good job but I could have done better.
  • How could I make such a stupid mistake?
  • I deserved that criticism.
  • If I say “No”, people won’t like me.
  • What’s wrong with me?

I first discovered the meaning and importance of healthy self-esteem—or its lack—in therapy. It takes time, patience, commitment (and ongoing maintenance) to keep it in synch with your confidence.

“When you get used to feeling, thinking and talking about yourself in a particular way, it becomes a habit. If you have often felt that you’re worthless or inferior, if you constantly think negative thoughts and say negative things about yourself, then you’re likely to go on feeling and thinking the same way unless you break the cycle by challenging your negative thoughts and feelings about yourself.”—Amée LaTour,

It’s a state of mind you can change. Write a new script and keep repeating it.

This 50/50 partnership opens the door to a successful life. (The five aspects—work, health, learning, social and spiritual.)

As with any relationship, sometimes the door closes and separates your inner and outer worlds.

All you need do is open that door and embrace them..

Time to seal the deal - equal partners for Life!

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Published essayist. Follow me for local news that impacts our lives, plus stories on public and mental health. Through writing, I also share my passion for music, politics, our environment and social justice, and hope you find value in my words.


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