What is self-confidence?

I've been thinking about this question for a long time. Since the theme of this blog, Bright Outlook, is a synonym of confidence, it's only right that I should explore this topic carefully. After thoroughly examining what science has to say, I am confident to share this answer with you.

I'm certainly not the first person to wonder what "confidence" means. Albert Bandura, a Canadian-American psychologist and a professor at Stanford University, described the word as "a nondescript term that refers to strength of belief but does not necessarily specify what the certainty is about." In 1977, he coined the phrase self-efficacy to describe, more precisely, "belief in one's agentive capabilities, that one can produce given levels of attainment."Efficacy, a synonym of competence, is the power to produce an effect. Self-efficacy is the belief in one's efficacy, one's ability to succeed in a particular situation. He explained his reasoning as follows:

Confidence is a catchword rather than a construct embedded in a theoretical system. Advances in a field are best achieved by constructs that fully reflect the phenomena of interest and are rooted in a theory that specifies their determinants, mediating processes, and multiple effects. Theory-based constructs pay dividends in understanding and operational guidance. The terms used to characterize personal agency, therefore, represent more than merely lexical preferences.

By understanding 'constructs embedded in theoretical systems', we can more precisely grasp abstract concepts such as confidence.  Research based on such systems will help answer the following questions:

  • What's the difference between self-confidence and self-esteem?
  • What, exactly, is self-esteem?
  • What is the difference between self-esteem and self-compassion?

Why does it matter? Understanding these concepts will help us experience less distress and higher satisfaction in life. What could be more desirable than that?

What is self-esteem?

I've already considered this subject in a detailed blog post that carefully analyzed the subject based on the writings of "the father of the self-esteem movement," Nathaniel Branden. It is true that he has been among the foremost voices on this subject, but his word is not the end of the matter.

Modern science has given us the ability to break the concept of self-esteem into components. But first, we'll need to introduce another idea: self-concept.

According to William W. PurkeyProfessor of Counselor Education at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, self-concept refers to “the totality of a complex, organized, and dynamic system of learned beliefs, attitudes and opinions that each person holds to be true about his or her personal existence.”

Simply put, self-concept is an individual's answer to the question, "Who am I?"

One thing that makes understanding psychology so difficult is the number of synonyms and near-synonyms in use. Self-concept is also referred to as self-image, self-construal, self-construction, self-identity, self-perspective, or self-structure.

Self-concept is what a person thinks about themselves, and self-esteem is what a person feels about themselves.I can't help but compare this to the concept of perspective-taking. Cognitive PT is called ToM, and emotional PT is called empathy. I wish we had terms that made it easier to see these connections. While self-concept is descriptive, self-esteem is evaluative, which means it represents a value judgment.

Self-esteem is the most fundamental core evaluation of the self, because it is the overall value that one places on oneself as a person.Judge, T. A., Locke, E. A., Durham, C. C., & Kluger, A. N. (1998). Dispositional effects on job and life satisfaction: The role of core evaluations. Journal of Applied Psychology, 83(1), 17–34. doi:10.1037/0021-9010.83.1.17

According to Robert Jackson Ruddell, "There is still no consensus regarding a single definition of self-esteem in the literature."Ruddell, R. J. (2020). Validity and reliability evidence for the Rosenberg self-esteem scale with adults in Canada and the United States. University of British Columbia. https://doi.org/10.14288/1.0394068  However, as with critical thinking, we can identify patterns in the theories of experts.

Carl Rogers, among others, regarded self-esteem as a component of self-concept.Carl Rogers is widely regarded as one of the founders of psychotherapy. In his view, self-concept consists of three components: self-image, self-esteem, and ideal self.

Many believe that self-efficacy is a component of self-esteem.  In other words, they define self-esteem as the judgment of how worthy and competent one is. Indeed, self-esteem and self-efficacy are so closely linked that it's difficult to distinguish between the two. Still, it seems worthwhile to do so.

Researchers connect self-esteem with comparing one's self-concept to one's ideal self. The greater the difference, the lower the self-esteem and the greater the level of distress.

When we look at the relationship between an activity and a person's identity, we can see how self-efficacy and self-esteem are related. A person who considers themselves a baseball player has a high ego involvement in the sport. They will likely have high self-efficacy at playing baseball. However, if they play poorly, their self-esteem will suffer.

However, a person who does not consider themselves to be a baseball player might perform poorly but not experience a drop in self-esteem.  Their identity isn't closely linked to baseball.

Self-esteem and self-compassion

The effects of self-compassion have often been conflated with self-esteem.Leary, M., Tate, E.B., Adams, C.E., Allen, A., & Hancock, J. (2007). Self-compassion and reactions to unpleasant self-relevant events: the implications of treating oneself kindly. Journal of personality and social psychology, 92 5, 887-904. Indeed, self-compassion does have beneficial effects on self-esteem. As I explored the literature on self-compassion, I discovered that Branden's view of self-esteem includes self-compassion, along with self-efficacy.

Here are some differences between the two:

  • In contrast to self-esteem, self-compassion does not involve judgment or evaluation.
  • Self-compassion promotes emotional regulation, while self-esteem does not.
  • A threat to self-esteem can lead to defensiveness, but self-compassion has the opposite effect.

A person who engages in self-compassion is able to take responsibility for their own actions while being kind to themselves. They are less afraid of failure, and will often try again if they fail. Typically, they are more emotionally resilient, have more accurate self-perceptions, care more about others, and exhibit less narcissism and reactive anger. In addition, they show a greater desire to improve, participate more in learning, repair past harms, and avoid repeating past mistakes.

How does confidence fit in?

It's clear now that confidence is a broad concept that's difficult to analyze theoretically. It overlaps with self-esteem and self-efficacy. Still, there are some obvious things we know about confidence.

To be confident means to have a strong belief in something.In fact, if you look carefully, you'll notice that all of the elements discussed in this article have to do with beliefs about oneself. Self-confidence means trusting in your own judgment, capacities, and abilities.The fact that confidence involves trust is no coincidence. The word confidence comes from the Latin con fidere "with trust."

Typically, self-confidence is associated with a positive public image. It is an important part of assertiveness. Often, a person's public image involves a grandiose view of themselves without a lot of substance. It is easy to get sucked into the trap of overconfidence. It can lead people to become rigid and even dogmatic.

I hope that the information in this article will help you increase your own self-confidence more effectively.