The difference between self-esteem, confidence and assertiveness

Low confidence, self-esteem and being unable to assert yourself are all caused by similar circumstances. I used to suffer from these issues myself and for me, they stemmed from childhood complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD). CPTSD is caused by being trapped in an abusive situation that lasts for a prolonged duration. It’s commonly suffered by prisoners of war, members of cults and children who grow up in dysfunctional families. 


In his book 'CPTSD from surviving to thriving', Pete Walker contends that most children grow up in dysfunctional families and so develop CPTSD symptoms; one such symptom is a negative self-image and an inner critic whereby the child internalises the shame projected onto them by the parent or parents. This is usually done in the form of put-downs and causes the child to suffer low self-esteem and a lack of self-confidence. The child of such a family will also have low self-worth, trouble establishing personal boundaries and asserting themselves. 

Systems theory says that by changing one part of a system we can start to change the entire system. So, increasing confidence can have a knock-on effect when it comes to increasing self-esteem or becoming more assertive, likewise being more assertive can increase confidence and self-esteem. Whilst issues with self-esteem, confidence and assertiveness usually result from the same experiences they are not the same thing and I will explain why below. 


If someone has healthy self-esteem it means they value themselves and are capable of taking responsibility for their actions. Esteem comes from the Latin word 'aestimare' which means to appraise, value or rate. Someone with healthy self-esteem doesn’t look to the outside world for approval or love and so they can live without fear of failure or rejection. They are usually self-motivated and because they are able to bond with others in a healthy manner they find it easy to form meaningful relationships. 

People with low self-esteem often have trouble concentrating or feeling motivated, they may have addiction issues and rely on coping strategies such as alcohol, drugs or sex to make them feel worthy. They fear failure and rejection so struggle to bond with others and this can result in them forming unhealthy relationships. They will often look to others for approval and will do anything to avoid rejection - this results in them being unable to form healthy boundaries or assert themselves in a healthy manner. 


If a person has self-confidence they trust themselves and their abilities; they are capable of taking on new challenges and learning new skills. Confidence, in general, comes from experience, the more we successfully do something the more confident we become in our ability to do that thing. 

Self-confidence is more to do with belief in our values and our ability to trust our own judgement. Someone with healthy levels of self-confidence will have faith in themselves and this faith will result in less procrastination and firmer decision making abilities. 

Someone with low self-confidence will probably have experienced being put down and having their decisions ridiculed in the past. They will probably have been told they would fail by people who revelled in waiting to see them fail so they could say things like, “I told you so” when they did. People with low confidence often see the world as a hostile place where it’s difficult to get on. 


Being assertive refers to a person's ability to set and maintain healthy boundaries which usually requires healthy self-esteem, self-worth, self-confidence and an ability to communicate effectively. An assertive person is usually capable of setting and maintaining boundaries. 

Assertiveness is about knowing when to say no without imposing yourself on other people either. Being assertive usually requires emotional intelligence. Assertive people are usually able to negotiate better and they suffer less anxiety


If a person suffers from a lack of any of the above they will look to the external environment to compensate for it. A person with low self-esteem may look to substances and other addictions. Someone with low confidence may look to possessions and in some cases, they may even treat other people as possessions to try and increase their own confidence. Someone who is not capable of asserting themselves may need to resort to aggression. 

If you feel you may need help with low self-esteem or low self-confidence, why not consider hypnotherapy? To find out more, and to speak to a therapist for an initial consultation use the Hypnotherapy Directory search tool.

Hypnotherapy Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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