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“Self-confidence” is an attitude we hold about our own ability to achieve and to make good judgments. When we have healthy self-confidence, we set realistic yet positive expectations for ourselves. We know our limitations, but still have faith in our abilities even when our expectations are not met. We trust that we are able to make good decisions for ourselves and do not often feel the need to question our judgement or seek approval from others before going ahead with our plans.
At some point in our lives everyone will have moments where we do not feel confident in ourselves or our abilities. When these attitudes persist they can have a debilitating effect on our motivation, performance and sense of self.
As children move into adolescence and then adulthood, their sense of self is constantly changing. Unsure of who they are and what they want from life, young people often feel lost and question what they may be capable of.
The most common causes of low self-confidence are:
Sometimes however, despite all the positive encouragement they are given, children and young people still struggle with self-confidence.
When people set expectations for themselves, or attempt to meet others expectations, that are unrealistic, they may feel as though they have failed or their efforts were not good enough. From an outsider’s perspective, these people are consistently achieving, often above what is necessary. Despite this, the inner perfectionist tells them that they have failed to meet expectations, and therefore what they have achieved is not good enough.
If they believe that they are not capable of succeeding, often a child will lack the motivation to push themselves. They will tell themselves that they wouldn’t be able to do it anyway, so why should they bother. These limiting self-beliefs can often cause a child to be quiet and withdrawn. They may shy away from any opportunity which they perceive may cause them to be judged, such as speaking in front of the class or getting involved with extra-curricular activities.
Not all children with low self-confidence will behave in this manner however. Sometimes the least confident children are the loud ones, the troublemakers in the classroom. They will act as though academic performance is not important to them, as a way of protecting themselves from potential failings. Their foolish behaviour is their way of avoiding judgement from their peers and teachers when they do not meet expectations. This ensures that their performance is not taken as a reflection of their ability, but rather that they didn’t care enough to put the effort in.
This can be very frustrating for parents and teachers as they can see that the child has so much untapped potential, if only he or she would try harder. It is important to set realistic expectations for their achievement, but also to remember that the child may not share your beliefs about their ability. A lack of confidence in themselves could be holding them back from reaching their potential.
“Self-esteem” is how we feel about ourselves. It is a judgement we make and the beliefs we hold about our personal worth. When we have healthy self-esteem, we perceive ourselves to be worthy of happiness, love and affection. We feel as though we are valued by others, and are deserving of their time and acceptance. When a mistake is made or we experience failure, we are still able to view ourselves positively.
Low self-esteem often stems from insecurity, a feeling that in some crucial way we are inferior to others. Physical appearance is a source of insecurity for many people, in particular weight, height, skin and hair colour. Peer pressure and bullying often contribute to the development of low self-esteem. Such negative personal attacks often leave a young person feeling rejected by their peers. This rejection is then internalised, leading them to believe that they are unworthy of others attentions.
People with low self-esteem are often:
Low self-esteem can make it difficult for young people to interact socially with others. Because they view themselves in a negative light, it is often hard for them to believe that they will be liked and accepted by others. If they have had experiences with bullying or rejection in the past, they may also struggle to form close relationships because they feel unable to trust other people.
People with low self-esteem often over conform in an attempt to be accepted by others. They find it challenging to stand up for themselves and their opinions because they fear that in doing so they will be rejected. Consequently they may go along with things that they do not agree with or find uncomfortable to gain acceptance.
Some mental illnesses, such as depression and mood disorders, can contribute to the development of low self-esteem.