We all want to be confident. Most of us would like to be proud. Few of us want to be seen as egotistical, and everyone needs to have good self-esteem. But how are these experiences different, and how much control do we have over them? The answer to the second question is—quite a bit. But let’s begin by discussing how they are different.
Confidence comes from the wonderful feeling of being capable. Some people are naturally confident regardless of how capable they may actually be. Others lack confidence even though they are highly capable. But most people feel confident in those areas where capability exists, and confidence is absent where capability is lacking. Confidence can be experienced with or without pride and with or without a big ego because these are neither the same nor mutually exclusive.
Pride is different from confidence. Wherein confidence is feeling good about what you can do, pride is feeling good about what you have already done well. Although most people feel pride based on their accomplishments, it is also possible to feel pride about certain personal characteristics, like good looks, intelligence, a caring nature, or a winning personality. Either way, pride is something that is already in hand rather than based on something we expect to happen in the future.
Ego (not the Freudian type) is a certain type of pride associated with feeling superior to others. That’s because the ego’s purpose is to maximize social status on various measures, such as power, education, wealth, or popularity. People with big egos are often regarded as more arrogant than those who experience pride without emphasizing their superiority.
And now we come to self-esteem. Self-esteem is a measure of how much you like and accept yourself for who you are, regardless of how confident,
proud, or superior you may be. It’s possible for a person to have great confidence, pride, and ego, yet still have horrible self-esteem. Oftentimes, people with low self-esteem will compensate by developing big egos.
Before addressing how confidence, pride, ego, and self-esteem can be influenced, it’s important to understand where within yourself they are each experienced. Confidence mostly resides in the mind, where there is a belief that you are capable of doing something. Pride can be experienced in either the ego or the heart. Ego superiority is felt in the ego itself, and self-esteem is experienced in the heart. These distinctions will help explain how each experience can be influenced differently.
Because every person has his own combination of strengths and weaknesses, it’s not helpful to expect confidence to be a global feeling. Instead, confidence can be cultivated by success in those areas where you are most capable. An important thing to understand about confidence is that even though it is largely a result of successful experiences, success on its own is not enough. The best way to maximize your confidence is to have your accomplishments admired and praised by others. That’s why we hold elaborate graduation ceremonies and award banquets. Replaying these successes in your mind also strengthens confidence, just as valuable memories stay with us longer if we re-tell their stories and/or look back on photographs that captured the moment.
As with confidence, pride is cultivated through the admiration of others. When people important to you say how proud they are of you for what you’ve accomplished or for who you are, it strengthens your pride. However, expressions of pride from others will not help unless you embrace and internalize them. All too often people will deflect praise out of the fear that it will make them egotistical—in effect throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Although pride can fuel egotism, it doesn’t have to. In order to minimize unwanted ego inflation, you’ll need to learn how to channel praise into your heart first, before your ego has a chance to gobble it all up.
One effective way to make sure praise is channeled into your heart is by
feeling grateful for it and expressing that gratitude to your praisers.
Ego pride is something that people must be careful to limit because too much ego pride is often a turnoff to friends, coworkers, and loved ones. People concerned with maintaining their humility will sometimes try to suppress their egos or be self-denigrating, but this is not the best way to manage a hungry ego. A healthier way is to accept the importance of your ego and manage it with an attitude of respect. The ego is a natural function of the psyche that motivates competition, ambition, and the desire to win the admiration of others. By recognizing the benefits of your ego, you’ll be in a better position to feed it a restricted diet. The ego can be a ravenous beast that will gorge and become obese if allowed. Feed pride to your heart first, but save some leftovers for your ego.
And now we come to self-esteem. Of the four experiences discussed here, self-esteem is the most important. As mentioned, it’s possible for people to have an abundance of confidence, pride, and ego, and yet still hate themselves. These people often suffer from the imposter syndrome, a form of guilt and anxiety associated with not being as great a person as they pretend to be. The great and powerful Oz did everything he could to avoid having his true identity exposed behind the curtain because he didn’t feel adequate without his fearsome ego mask.
Self-esteem is best developed by placing greater emphasis on the value of the heart over and above the importance of confidence, pride, and ego status. If you have children, first and foremost you’ll want them to feel lovable for who they are, regardless of their grades, athletic prowess, looks, or popularity. When children are cherished for being loving, kind, considerate, honest, and trustworthy, it provides a foundation for them to feel good about themselves based on their character. All it takes to feel lovable is to be loving oneself.
There is one more key to maximizing self-esteem, and that is to protect your heart from the excessive judgements by yourself and others. That is not to say that you shouldn’t evaluate yourself for the sake of improvement, but rather that these evaluations should not be hostile or excessive. Some of the most lovable people in the world hold judgements about themselves that destroy their sense of self-worth. Unless you have the necessary skills to protect yourself from unreasonable judgements, it won’t matter how much love and praise you receive from others because it will all be cancelled out by the voices of disapproval.
So, if you want to have a healthier self-esteem, make the attributes of your character a higher priority than your confidence, pride, and ego. Channel praise and admiration more to your heart than to your ego and learn to curtail patterns of self-loathing. This takes some time and practice, and sometimes the help of a good therapist. Use these insights as a roadmap to your destination.