Can self-confidence be learned? Is it possible to transform ourselves from shrinking violets to blossoming roses? Ask anyone which of their personality traits they would most like to improve upon and one of the more common answers you'll probably hear is self-esteem or confidence.
Unfortunately, there is no miracle drug to give us instant, lasting self-confidence - no user's manual to consult when needing to boost our self-esteem and banish our inhibitions. Some would argue that our level of self-esteem and confidence (like much of our personality) is, to some varying degree, pre-defined at birth as a result of our genetic makeup. While this is a valid assumption with supporting evidence, until some form of genetic reconstructive personality surgery is made available, people wishing to improve their self-confidence must rely on more conventional methods. At the extreme, lack of confidence can be a serious and debilitating condition resulting in an inability to cope in social situations and problems with depression or anxiety. In such cases, consulting with a mental health professional is essential. For the majority of people, poor self-confidence is manageable, though still a hindrance; it can affect the choices we make and our chances for success in both our relationships and careers.
In order to truly understand how self-esteem and confidence levels impact our daily lives, a brief description of each is probably in order. For many the terms are interchangeable and in casual conversation, we certainly often use them as such. However, it is important to recognize that while they are certainly closely related aspects of our personalities, they are two separate and distinct characteristics. While there is no single, simple definition of self-esteem, most experts would agree that self-esteem is characterized by deeply rooted feelings regarding our self-worth; whether we believe that we are of value and worthy of happiness and success. Confidence, on the other hand is generally viewed as a belief in one's skills and abilities and the capacity to use them to our advantage without experiencing unwarranted fear or apprehension.
It is easy to see that there is a close relationship between the two and indeed, it often logically follows that if someone has high self-esteem they also exhibit high levels of self-confidence. Conversely, low self-esteem would result in low levels of self-confidence. However, due to the different nature of the two traits, this simple mathematical conclusion does not always apply. For example, imagine a young lady having obviously highly developed musical ability. While she believes in her superior talents as a musician, a low self-esteem can undercut her capacity to utilize this ability. Because of an ingrained belief that she is not worthy of reaping the rewards of her creative talents, the use of those talents is inhibited. Or perhaps the talent itself is undervalued, downplayed, undermined and eventually crippled. Similarly, let's suppose that same person has a healthy self-esteem yet somehow is still hesitant or unable use her musical talent to her advantage. Although the individual firmly believes in her right to derive pleasure and success from her skills and strongly desires to do so, she is overcome with fear when presented with the opportunity and ultimately avoids using her talent altogether.
While the results of the above two examples for the unfortunate musical prodigy are the same (an inability to utilize her talent fully), the underlying cause is quite different, with the first example clearly resulting from low self-esteem, while the second is a consequence of a lack of confidence. And just as the causes are different, so too would be the approach to finding a solution. As mentioned, the underlying causes of poor self-esteem are commonly deep-rooted, frequently occurring at a sub-conscious level or otherwise ingrained in a person's psyche. Often the condition results from some form of abuse during the formative years, either psychological, physical, sexual or a combination of any of the above. In such cases, the afflicted person should certainly consult a mental health professional. At the very least, they should seek out help and guidance from a sympathetic friend(s) or other qualified person(s) and not attempt to deal with the issue without support. Serious self-esteem issues generally require hard work, vigilance, and time to resolve, yet improving one's self-esteem is certainly an achievable and realistic goal for those who are committed to doing so.
Improving your confidence, on the other hand, can often be a less complicated and daunting undertaking, especially if you possess a reasonably healthy self-esteem to begin with. In essence, confidence is an attitude, and as such is easier to change. While a certain amount of perseverance and determination are required, you can improve your confidence levels gradually over time, simply by introducing a few common sense practices to your routine and adjusting the way you approach challenges.