The Differences Between Self-Esteem and Self-Confidence


By Justin Ho

New York University’s Graduate School was interviewing me for the upcoming academic cycle. This was my first ever graduate school interview, and I spent weeks preparing for it. I felt that the flow of the interview was going well, and I was giving solid answers until they asked…

“Rate your self-confidence from 1-to-10, and explain why you gave it that number.”

Without hesitation I responded along the lines of, “I’d say about 7 or 8. I have confidence in myself and know that I have the capability to take on any challenge. I say 7 or 8 only because I know I can always improve.”

“Okay, so now rate your self-esteem from 1-to-10, and explain why you gave it that number.”

I sat there analyzing the situation. Aren’t they the same thing?  Was I asked a trick question? I admitted that I didn’t know that there was a difference.


Self-confidence: This is our view on our own abilities to do something. The level of self-confidence is usually a result of overcoming certain obstacles or working to improve a skill. Triumph in establishing these traits and skills builds on our confidence.

For example: Melissa has been studying for her GRE for the past 4 months. She knows she’s ready to take on the test. She is highly confident in her GRE test taking ability.

Self-esteem: This is our perception of ourselves. The level of self-esteem is a result of social norms and what we believe ourselves to be. People who have high levels of self-esteem are comfortable in their own skin and are happy with what they see in the mirror.

For example: The acne on Mel’s chin has finally subsided. The medication and extra steps he took to clean his face has really paid off. Mel feels happier with his self-image. Seeing clearer skin in the mirror, Mel’s self-esteem increased.

Is one more important than the other?

An individual can have high self-esteem, but low self-confidence and vice versa.

It is common for one to affect the other. An individual with high self-confidence may realize his abilities and, as a result, see himself as a stronger individual, increasing his self-esteem.

What isn’t highlighted enough is that many confident individuals may have unexpectedly low self-esteems. This is most tangible when looking into the lives of celebrities.

Pop culture pressures individuals to have the perfect body image and makes it tough for people to be completely comfortable in their own skin.

Some celebrities have attained their fame with hard work and outstanding talent. Although they seem to be producing the most cutting edge product of their field and are confident in their abilities, the pop culture pressure pushes their self-esteems are at dangerous lows.

To answer the question, I feel that self-esteem is more important. Self-esteem defines the roots of self-confidence. It is difficult to see a friend who is extremely skilled and confident in his ability, but does not like his self image.

High Self-Confidence vs Arrogance

High self-confidence is important for sustaining optimal performance in any skill or task. Most people admire confident individuals for their trust and belief in themselves to accomplish something, but more often than not, we see those individuals cross into the realm of arrogance.

There is a fine line between confidence and arrogance. Being confident has nothing to do with understanding what is right or wrong. It is about being open to new perspectives with regards to what we do and always looking to improve our craft. Confidence stems from understanding that challenges are meant to test the individual. A confident individual welcomes these challenges.

A person’s behavior demonstrates whether they are arrogant or confident. Confident people don’t feel the need to verbally broadcast their talents and achievements. They show their faith in themselves through actions more so than with words. Individuals who are arrogant tend to flaunt their successes and pander for adoration.

Our ego is an integral tool for managing our self-confidence. As written in an earlier post, ego isn’t necessarily a negative asset. If used correctly, we’re able to grow more than we believe. Ego is our perception of ourselves, it is our self-esteem. It is incredibly important to have our egos in line to prevent our self-confidence from pouring into the arrogance category.

Low Self-Esteem vs. Humility

There are many misconceptions when defining both low self-esteem and humility. Humility is a characteristic that is often praised and well-respected. Google defines humility as “a modest or low view of one’s own importance.” This definition is misleading.

Having a ‘low’ view of self-importance does not necessarily mean that the individual does not like his self image. Humble individuals understand that there are more important things than their own accomplishments.

It can be tough to discern between the low self-esteem and humility in many situations. You tell your friend that she put on an amazing performance, but she replies, “nah, it wasn’t that great.” Psychologically speaking, it’s difficult to see where this answer is rooted.

Is she being humble about her above-average performance or does she have underlying  insecurities that contribute to low self-esteem?

Even though it is not clear, the best we can do is clarify that her performance was great.

Why it is not okay to have low self-esteem and/or self-confidence.

It is healthy to have a considerable amount of both self-confidence and self-esteem. Individuals often make excuses to be content with low levels of both. We cannot let ourselves believe it is okay to have low self-esteem and self-confidence.

It’s okay to acknowledge that we can improve our confidence or esteem. We all have aspects of ourselves we can improve.  In the pursuit of true happiness, both self-confidence and self-esteem should be traits we strive to build upon throughout our lives. Our mentality dictates whether we can strengthen these traits.


After discerning between these two terms, I realized that I’ve focused on building my self-confidence and actively avoided working on my self-esteem. Masking my personal image, I wanted to paint my self-image with my accomplishments. After realizing that I did not enjoy this self-portrait, I changed my approach. Rooting my self-confidence construction in personal image building, I was able to have my self-confidence aid the reconstruction of my self-esteem.

It is helpful to know the difference between self-esteem and self-confidence. Find out what you want to improve and begin taking steps to develop that trait.




Healthy Place: America’s Mental Health Channel

Popular Culture: America’s Self-Esteem Problem by Dr. Jim Taylor

Difference Between Confidence and Arrogance by Dr. Leisa Baily

Photo Source: Justin Ho

10 thoughts on “The Differences Between Self-Esteem and Self-Confidence

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  3. I appreciate your analysis of self-confidence v. self-esteem, which has given me insight into my own struggle with high self-confidence but low self-esteem. If I have a task to perform, I generally feel confident that I can accomplish what needs to be done. That creates tension with my history of an overall low self-esteem and the discomfort I have had within my own skin. My lower self-esteem generally does not make sense to people (or myself) when I project confidence.


    • I honestly understand where you’re coming from with this. It’s definitely a strange concept to explain to people when you admit that your self-esteem and self-confidence are not necessary at the same level.

      Thank you for sharing your background with us!


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