In this article, I will explore a theory about the difference between self-confidence and self-esteem. I will talk about how I have worked with many clients who are confident for example in both their work and social lives. I will share how I noticed that although my clients were confident, their self-esteem was still fractured. I will look at how having fractured or low self-esteem hinders us in our lives and how much more pleasant life is with less damaged self-esteem.
Confidence is a healthy and important part of a person’s life and helps them in many areas of their lives. Confidence helps people communicate with others. I believe you can have a good life with just confidence, however, for some people having fractured self-esteem can cause problems at certain points in life.
Self-esteem runs right to the soul core of a person, it’s the truth about how we really feel about ourselves. It can play a big part in the quality of the relationship that we have with ourselves. It can be a bit of ourselves we try and hide from; our life history can very much influence our view of ourselves. For example, a person who was raised with a shamming parent might spend their time unconsciously trying to prove otherwise. No matter what that person accomplishes they will struggle to remove those shamming messages from their past; this is what I mean as an example of damaged self-esteem.
Even though a person has become successful in their job there still seems to be an underlying theme of a need to do more, never really been pleased with what they have accomplished. This underlying feeling might push the person to work even harder when there might not be a need to, but they just cannot be happy with the amount of work they have produced. I have noticed that people with low self-esteem are more prone to having a harsh inner critic. The critic tells them that what they have done is not good enough. Living with low self-esteem can be exhausting because a person may never feel like they deserve rest, leaving people open to feelings of not coping and burnouts.
I have noticed that once a client surrenders to the fact that their self-esteem might be damaged the counselling work can begin. What sometimes happens is we try and hide any uncomfortable feelings hoping that they might go away; a paradox can work by admitting there is a problem which can then start us on a road of healing. I believe that it is helpful to look back with the client to see examine their relationships with parents and peers. We can do a little detective work together to explore where the negative messages might have first started. Unhealthy self-esteem could be a buildup of unresolved issues, anger or unsaid frustrations over years and years and this can cause a person to blame themselves for things that have happened. By talking through some of the hurts with someone of safety, we can have a chance of seeing the truth of our past hurts. Being able to share past experiences that bring us shame, with a counsellor they trust, can help reduce the negative feelings we have towards ourselves. This is why the therapeutic relationship with a counsellor is so important since it brings an opportunity to be understood and heard sometimes for the first time.
While working with clients with low self-esteem and a negative inner dialogue I sometimes ask them to write down what the negative messages are saying. I invite clients to bring it into a session if they feel safe enough to do so, reassuring them that even if they don’t, just starting the list will still be very beneficial.
Shame can be an unconscious toxic cloud that helps to keep a person’s self-esteem reduced. Looking at the psychodynamic theory which talks about the ‘id’, the ‘ego’, and the ‘superego’. The theory states that the ‘ego’ is the part of our personality that is fun, childlike and a bit excitable. The ‘superego’ is the parent part of us, the authoritarian. Then there is the ‘id’ part this is the part that tries to balance out the two. If a person has been brought up with a lot of rigid rules, then there is a high chance that the person will be hard on themselves in their adult life, maybe not allowing themselves to have fun. This can breed all kinds of dysfunctions, like over-work and perfectionism. If people are given too many opposing signals for example, that everything they do is fine and receive no discipline at all, it could lead to issues such as narcissism or strong feelings that everything they do is great without having the internal regulator to keep them in check. With either extreme the internal regulator is unable to cope and form a balance, problems then begin to occur and a person’s self-esteem can be greatly affected especially with the harsher types of personality. With counselling, I reassure my clients that we do not need to have a perfect balance but let’s explore how we can balance it out enough to help them build true healthy self-esteem.
It can be a challenge living life with secretly fractured self-esteem. However, I believe that once we find a way to talk about this and learn a little about how we work within our thoughts with a trusted person the healing can begin.