The Difference between Self-Esteem and Confidence
The question is sometimes asked, “Is it possible to have too much self-esteem?” The answer is both simple and concrete- NO. There is no such thing as too much self-esteem, just as there is no such thing as too much physical health or too strong of an immune system.
Self-esteem is the disposition to go through life feeling competent and worthy of happiness. There is nothing bad about valuing your life. Sometimes self-esteem is confused with excessive confidence or arrogance, but such traits demonstrate a lack of self-esteem, not an overabundance. People with high self-esteem are not determined to present themselves as superior to others; they do not seek to prove their value by measuring themselves against a competitive standard. Their joy is in being who they are, not in being better than someone else. Being happy and content with their life is enough; they do not need to be happier or more content than their neighbor.
Perhaps the best way to elucidate this point is to provide you with an anecdote from my own life. I remember reflecting on the issue of self-esteem versus confidence one day while watching my dog play in the backyard. She was running about, sniffing flowers, chasing squirrels, leaping into the air and showing great joy (from my human perspective) in being alive. She was not thinking (I am sure) that she was more glad to be alive at that moment than the dog next door. She was simply delighting in her own existence. That moment captured something essential about my understanding of self-esteem.
If self-esteem pertains to the experience of our fundamental competence and value, pride relates to the more explicitly conscious pleasure we derive from our actions and achievements. Self-esteem contemplates what needs to be done and says “I can.” Pride contemplates what has been accomplished and says “I did.”
Genuine pride has nothing in common with bragging, boasting or arrogance; it comes from an opposite root. Satisfaction, not emptiness, is its wellspring. Pride is not the delusion that we are without flaws or shortcomings. We can take pride in what we have done or what we have made of ourselves while acknowledging our errors and imperfections.
Sometimes I hear people say, “I have accomplished so much. Why don’t I feel more proud of myself?” Oftentimes in these cases it is useful to ask whether the person set their own goals. Neither pride nor self-esteem can be realized by the pursuit of values that do not reflect our personal desires or who we really are.