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Alcohol and Mental Health

Self-Esteem vs. Self-Confidence: Understanding the Key Differences

July 14, 2023
10 min read
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Written by
Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
July 14, 2023
10 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
July 14, 2023
10 min read
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
July 14, 2023
10 min read
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Reframe Content Team
July 14, 2023
10 min read

Meet Sam, a 35-year-old executive, wallflowering it at a bustling party. He's a wizard with spreadsheets but finds social situations a whirlpool of anxiety. To calm his nerves, he drinks — a coping strategy that’s starting to become problematic.

Sam’s situation allows us to see where self-esteem and self-confidence collide. While these terms — self-esteem and self-confidence — are often used interchangeably in conversation, they are different.

At their root, confidence comes from the Latin fidere — to trust. Esteem, on the other hand, stems from the Latin aestimare, which means to value or appraise.

Self-esteem refers to trusting our own abilities or knowledge; self-esteem alludes to our own self-worth.

In this article, we’ll explore Sam’s story and continue to tease out the differences between self-esteem and self-confidence.

The Fine Line: Distinguishing Self-Esteem from Self-Confidence

While self-esteem is defined as our overall self-worth and value, self-confidence relates to our trust in our own abilities, qualities, skills, or judgment.

Here are other key, albeit nuanced, differences:


  • Consists of your personal feelings or opinions of yourself — whether you appreciate and value yourself.
  • Develops and changes as a result of your life experiences and interactions with other people.
  • Centers on how you see yourself on the inside, and is invisible to the outside world.
  • Involves your sense of self and how you interact with the world.


  • Consists of how well you can control certain aspects of your life.
  • Refers to a trust in yourself, abilities, and skills.
  • Involves how we perceive our ability to engage with the world.
  • Can change depending on the situation.
  • Shows up as skills — developed and demonstrated to the world.

It is possible to have both self-confidence as a worker and low self-esteem as a person. We don’t need a healthy self-esteem to have the self-confidence to meet life's challenges and participate in enjoyable, rewarding activities.

Self-Perception and the Brain

While they don’t correspond to different brain areas, self-esteem and self-confidence do involve different regions of the brain.


If we think back to Sam, professionally, he brims with self-confidence — he’s got a firm belief in his abilities derived from his success as an executive. This aspect of his persona, likely rooted in his posterior parietal cortex, allows him to navigate his job with assurance and poise.

Although the research is ongoing, the posterior parietal cortex is believed to be one of the regions and linked to self-confidence. It’s involved in perceptual decision-making, including self-related decisions (like whether to trust ourselves to accomplish something).


When Sam’s thrown into a social situation, a setting he’s less familiar with, his self-confidence wavers. Perhaps he flashes back to the embarrassing thing he said at the company party, which reinforced his negative self-image in social settings. Maybe he works too-long hours, leading to loneliness and isolation — and making him feel especially inept at parties. This lack of belief in his social skills triggers his anxiety, leading him to seek comfort in alcohol.

Self-esteem is linked to the medial prefrontal cortex and the insula. What’s fascinating is that the insula shows increased prediction error responses in those of us with low self-esteem, suggesting its role in self-esteem fluctuations.

A Dartmouth study found that individuals exhibiting a robust white matter connection between the medial prefrontal cortex (an area of the brain involved in self-awareness) and the ventral striatum (a region associated with feelings of reward) tend to demonstrate higher levels of enduring self-esteem.

Both self-esteem and self-confidence involve our perception of ourselves. Recognizing their distinct but interconnected relationship can help Sam — and all of us — find healthier strategies to handle uncomfortable situations.

After all, our brain is malleable, thanks to neuroplasticity — the brain's remarkable ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections.

Your Brain, Your Ally: The Neuroscience of Self-Confidence

Understanding the science of self-confidence can be a game-changer in our quest to be our best selves.

Each time we successfully accomplish a task, our brain responds by releasing dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward. This dopamine surge reinforces our belief in our abilities, bolstering our self-confidence.

Studies show that visualizing our success can stimulate the same brain regions, promoting self-confidence. This implies that mental rehearsal — envisioning ourselves mastering tasks — can stimulate the same dopamine pathways and, in turn, enhance our self-confidence. It's a fascinating instance of mind over matter: we can consciously utilize our brain's inherent mechanisms to foster self-confidence.

Understanding the ways our brain works helps us help ourselves where we most need it. For instance, if Sam starts wants to can navigate social gatherings without resorting to excessive drinking, he can visualize himself telling an excellent joke to a group at a party, or he can attend networking workshops (both of which bolster his self-confidence). He can also work on accepting himself regardless of his social prowess (boosting his self-esteem).

Empowering Your Best Self

With these insights, let's outline a few practical steps to build healthier habits:

  • Visualize. Regularly picture yourself succeeding at challenging tasks. Each visualization strengthens your neural pathways and boosts your self-confidence.
  • Boost your self-esteem. Practice daily affirmations and self-compassion. Over time, and with consistency, these mental exercises can rewire your brain, fostering a healthier self-esteem.
  • Strike a victory pose. It might feel silly at first, but try holding your arms out in a big V — the  way runners do when they win a race. Do it before a big interview, meeting, or (if you’re like Sam) a party. Hold it for two minutes and breathe.
  • Reach out. Sometimes this work is hard. It’s okay to want a professional at your side, guiding you through it. Help is out there. And you deserve it.

So there you have it! Understanding the science behind self-confidence and self-esteem can be seriously beneficial. By consistently practicing positive self-perception and self-compassion, we can shape our brain's neural pathways to naturally encourage healthier self-esteem.

We're all capable of transforming our brains and, by extension, our lives. Let's embrace this empowering journey, one neural pathway at a time.

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At Reframe, we do science, not stigma. We base our articles on the latest peer-reviewed research in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science. We follow the Reframe Content Creation Guidelines, to ensure that we share accurate and actionable information with our readers. This aids them in making informed decisions on their wellness journey.
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