Many of selfhelp-books I've been exposed to promote the idea of self esteem and confidence as the two separate things, and that your self esteem can be improved by saying nice things to yourself. Is this supported by evidence?

Here is a notable example, though Swedish: Självkänsla nu! : din personliga coach visar hur.

And one in English, in HuffPo by Jenny Florence, a "BACP Acc Counsellor, UKRC reg Therapist, Writer, Mother, Creator and Author of the A-Z of Emotional Health online Audio Library, the Home of Emotional Meditation, Author of Emotional Health, The Voice of Our Soul":

People often talk about confidence and self-esteem together, but they’re actually very different. This doesn’t mean that people who have good self-esteem won’t be confident, or that people who are confident won’t also have good self-esteem, but it’s not always the case. Some people have very good self-esteem and yet lack in confidence whilst others are incredibly confident but have very low self-esteem, in fact if someone is extremely confident then low self-esteem can be very well hidden.

A good way to think about the difference is that self-esteem is an internal experience and confidence is an external experience. Let me explain what I mean. Self-esteem relates to the way that we feel about ourselves, it’s a reflection of our inner sense of self value and entitlement, whereas confidence is a reflection of the way that we experience ourselves in our external world, in our relationships with other people and with situations and circumstances.

Confidence can be very specific. We can feel confident in some situations, yet not in others. We might feel confident in our working relationships and yet not in our closer, more intimate encounters; confident within certain social settings and yet not at all in others. Confidence is also something we can learn, like a skill, and the more we do, the more our confidence will grow. So for example, if I lack the confidence to cook, I could do a cookery course and overcome my difficulties but if my self-esteem is low, even if I became a confident cook and incredibly good at it, I might never acknowledge my achievement or place any value on it. Despite being confident the feel good factor is missing and my poor self-esteem will remain. [...]

If you recognize that you have low self-esteem here’s a really useful exercise that you might find helpful. [...] Most people with low self-esteem have a notoriously active inner critic. [...] Learn to press a pause button. If your inner critic is a default position that you slide into easily then this may take a few practice runs. The key here is that if you do slip into a default position, it’s really important not to then criticize yourself for doing this, be supportive of your learning process, and because people with low self-esteem very rarely reward themselves when you notice your inner critic and when you press the pause button, please validate and acknowledge yourself. This is an achievement and validation is crucial to the growth of our self-esteem.

So here are the seven golden rules of self-esteem: Learn to listen to yourself... Turn off your inner critic... Become reflective rather than reactive... Be kind to yourself... Have a go and reward yourself for doing so, regardless of the outcome... Be supportive of your learning process... Validate your achievements, however small you may think they are...

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    I'm not among the downvoters, but you should probably ask this on psychology.SE. There you don't need to quote a notable claim, etc. Let me try to salvage the question for here... Jul 15, 2018 at 7:23
  • I think the problem with your question might be that there are two claims in it: (1) that there is a difference between confidence and self-esteem, and (2) that self-esteem can be raised by "saying nice things to yourself". Jul 15, 2018 at 7:36

1 Answer 1


As I noted in my comments, there are two substantive questions in your question body, so I'll mainly address the one you repeated in the title of your question... whether there's a difference between confidence (defined as domain-specific) and self-esteem.

Let me start by emphasising that (as one may guess from my previous paragraph) the terminology is not settled. Other authors speak global self-esteem and self-esteem in specific domains (instead of calling the latter "confidence"). And one such study discusses the degree(s) of correlation observed (which actually vary with age):

This study examines the development of global self-esteem and self-esteem in 6 specific domains across adolescence and young adulthood. Using a cohort-sequential design, we analyzed longitudinal data on 3,116 Norwegian men and women from 13 to 31 years of age by means of growth curve modeling. Questionnaire data provided information on global self-esteem and self-esteem in social, academic, athletic, and appearance domains. [...] Self-esteem in the appearance domain showed high and stable correlations with global self-esteem, whereas in social domains, correlations with global self-esteem increased over age, with a particularly steep increase for romantic appeal self-esteem. [...] Low global self-esteem predicted later prescription of antidepressants, even after controlling for covariates.

Note that the study is relatively recent (2016) and also claims to be fairly novel, at least with respect to the longitudinal aspect:

This study is the first to provide a comprehensive picture of the development of global and domain-specific self-esteem throughout adolescence and young adulthood using long-term longitudinal data.

They also note in their introduction that domain-specific self-esteem (unlike the global one) has been much less studied... but the concept[s] of domain-specific esteems are not that novel, dating back at least to 1985:

However, global self-esteem is also commonly conceptualized as the sum of domain-specific self-concepts (e.g., physical selfesteem, academic self-esteem; Marsh & Shavelson, 1985). Considerably less attention has been directed toward the development of domain-specific self-concepts and their importance for global self-esteem. We concur with several researchers who contend that global self-esteem cannot be adequately understood if only its global component is considered and domain-specific facets of self-esteem are not taken into account (Harter, 2012; Marsh, Parada, & Ayotte, 2004; Marsh & Shavelson, 1985; Rosenberg et al., 1995). Finally, although some advances have been made (Trzesniewski et al., 2006), the long-term psychosocial consequences of having low versus high domain-specific self-esteem has received little attention.

  • Harter, S. (2012). The construction of the self: Developmental and sociocultural foundations. New York, NY: Guilford Press

  • Marsh, H. W., Parada, R. H., & Ayotte, V. (2004). A multidimensional perspective of relations between self-concept (Self-Description Questionnaire II) and adolescent mental health (Youth Self-Report). Psychological Assessment, 16, 27–41. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/1040-3590.16.1.27

  • Marsh, H. W., & Shavelson, R. (1985). Self-concept: Its multifaceted, hierarchical structure. Educational Psychologist, 20, 107–123. http://dx.doi.org/10.1207/s15326985ep2003_1

  • Rosenberg, M., Schooler, C., Schoenbach, C., & Rosenberg, F. (1995). Global self-esteem and specific self-esteem: Different concepts, different outcomes. American Sociological Review, 60, 141–156. http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/2096350

The other substantive question you've raised is whether (global) self-esteem can be improved by "saying nice things to yourself". This is probably too vague and broad to properly address here. But I will note that since global self-esteem is predictive of depression (or at least of antidepressant use, as found in the above study), and since psychological therapies work to some extent for depression, "saying nice things to yourself" could potentially improve self-esteen, but the devil is in the details with psychotharpy (and that caution extends to publications in the field as well).

I did find one TED page detailing what presumably works and what doesn't with respect to self-talk improving self-esteem... As examples, according to that page, simple positive affirmations may backfire whereas self-compassion works. But I would keep in mind that the general reservations about research in this field almost certainly apply to the lesser studied area of self-psychotherapy. The last link/paper notes for instance that:

Recent reviews of the research literature suggest that self-esteem may not be the panacea it’s made out to be (Baumeister, Campbell, Krueger, & Vohs, 2003; Crocker & Park, 2004). First, it should be noted that self-esteem is often highly resistant to change, and that most programs designed to raise self-esteem fail (Swann, 1996). It also appears that self-esteem is largely the outcome of doing well, not the cause of doing well. For instance, self-esteem appears to be the result rather than the cause of improved academic performance (Baumeister et al., 2003).

  • Swann, W. B. (1996). Self-Traps: The Elusive Quest for Higher Self-Esteem. New York: W. H. Freeman.
  • Baumeister, R. F., Campbell, J. D., Krueger, J. I., & Vohs, K. D. (2003). Does high self-esteem cause better performance, interpersonal success, happiness, or healthier lifestyles? Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 4, 1–44.
  • Crocker, J., & Park, L. E. (2004). The costly pursuit of self-esteem. Psychological Bulletin, 130, 392–414.

I should also note that the last two papers in that list are very highly cited (>3000 citations in Google Scholar for Baumeister et al, and over 1000 for Crocker and Park. That doesn't mean they are necessarily correct, but at least that their results/viewpoint are at least well-known and worthy of further discussion.)

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