Understanding/Overcoming Lack of Self-Confidence & Low Self-Esteem

"Self-confidence is not a feeling of superiority, but of independence." - Lama Yeshe 

"Self-confidence is knowing that we have the capacity to do something good and firmly decide not to give up."- His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Lack of self-confidence or low self-esteem is a delusion, it amplifies one's limitations in capacity, quality and potential for growth. Lack of self-confidence can be made up of several different aspects like: guilt , anger turned inward, unrealistic expectations of perfection, false sense of humility, fear of change or making mistakes, depression etc. Depression can actually also be a result of a lack of self-confidence.    
"No one can make you feel inferior without your permission." - Eleanor Roosevelt.
Not an easy one; take some time to dig deeper into yourself to answer why you allow others to make you feel inferior? Why don't they feel inferior?

 We need to strive hard by controlling our selfish desires and emotions in order to find a permanent solution to our problems.
"...to have greater self-awareness or understanding means to have a better grasp of reality. When you have low self-esteem, then you underestimate your actual qualities and abilities. You belittle yourself, you put yourself down. This leads to a complete loss of faith in yourself.  lt is by addressing these obstacles and by constantly examining your personal character, qualities, and abilities, that you can learn to have greater self-understanding. This is the way to become more self-aware. Human potential is the same for all. Your feeling, "I am of no value", is wrong. Absolutely wrong. You are deceiving yourself. We all have the power of thought- so what are you lacking? If you have willpower, then you can change anything. It is usually said that you are your own master. With the realization of ones own potential and self-confidence in ones ability, one can build a better world. According to my own experience, self-confidence is very important. That sort of confidence is not a blind one; it is an awareness of ones own potential. On that basis, human beings can transform themselves by increasing the good qualities and reducing the negative qualities."
"The Art of Happiness at Work " by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler, M.D
If we seriously strive to make an end to the suffering of all sentient beings, we can't expect to achieve that by fearfully 'hiding in a corner'. Instead, it requires us to take confidence and courage in our own skills, and to work diligently for ourselves and others.

- Self-shame: keeping secrets about oneself: "I am disgusting, strange, weird, stupid, ugly". This creates a negative spiral, "others never talk about it, so I must be really weird"; based on the delusion: "I should be perfect, because others are".
- Pride : if one is genuinely self-confident, there is no need for pride; only an empty balloon can be 'blown up'. It is based on the unrealistic view: "Others should be perfect and are not, but I am better". To cover up their own insecurity, a fair amount of people act out pride, as if they are better than others, but only because they lack self-confidence.
- Improper humility: not regarding oneself as equal to others, but less than others. Humility is a positive quality as it avoids pride and is other-centered, often driven by active compassion for others. Lack of self-confidence however, is often self-centred (feeling sorry for oneself and looking for excuses to not change your own situation) and paralyses you from doing positive actions. In fact, this kind of false humility is categorised under pride .
- Idolising people: overestimating others is based on - or will easily lead to - underestimating oneself, see improper humility.
- Fear , uncertainty to: make mistakes, be abnormal, not be liked, change, be hurt or of responsibility. Fear closes the heart and mind off from the outside; leaving you alone! Based on the misunderstanding: "I should be perfect", which is simply unrealistic.
- Acting to be a perfect person instead of being myself: if I am self-confident, I don't need to behave like someone else; see pride. Instead of leading to praise, others may easily pierce through the facade and uncover my acting.
- Feeling: "the world is a bad place"; note that the world is often a mirror of what we think of ourselves; a negative world image and negative self-image can be two sides of the same coin; reflects expectation of an unrealistic perfect world. The world is neither perfect nor all bad.
- Laziness: (in Buddhism defined as "being attached to temporary pleasure, not wanting to do virtue or only little".) What is Laziness ?
1. not doing something because of indolence, even though we know that it is good and ought to be done
2. The second aspect is faintheartedness. This comes about when we underestimate our qualities and abilities, thinking, "I'm so incompetent and weak. It would be good to do that, but I could never accomplish it." Not having the confidence of thinking, "I can do it," we end up doing nothing.
3. The third aspect refers to being very busy and seeming diligent, but wasting time and energy on meaningless activities that will not accomplish anything in the long run. When we do many things for no real purpose, we fail to focus on what is truly worthwhile and our path has no clear direction.
- Depression : indulging in self-pity, closed-heartedness: based on "I am not perfect and therefore pitiful".
- Lack of trust in others; when you never open your heart to others, it is hard for them to open their hearts to you. Without this openness, we are likely to start asking ourselves if we are 'normal' without getting any feedback. At the same time, when we do not open our heart to others, they will usually not open their hearts to us. In that way, we never discover that others struggle with the same problems as we ourselves do. Real communication will simply prove there is nothing to be ashamed of to begin with - we are all humans.


Question: If we have committed a serious negative act, how can we let go of the feeling of guilt that may follow?
Answer by His Holiness the Dalai Lama:
"In such situations, where there is a danger of feeling guilty and therefore depressed, the Buddhist point of view advises adopting certain ways of thinking and behaving which will enable you to recover your self-confidence. To think of the immense well of potential hidden deep within our being, to understand that the nature of the mind is fundamental purity and kindness and to meditate on its luminosity, will enable you to develop self-confidence and courage.
The Buddha says in the Sutras that fully enlightened and omniscient beings, whom we consider to be superior, did not spring from the bowels of the earth, nor did they fall from the sky; they are the result of spiritual purification. Such beings were once as troubled as we are now, with the same weaknesses and flaws of ordinary beings.

Zen Master Linji, as translated by Thomas Cleary (Note that this original statement is from the ninth century!)
"What I point out to you is only that you shouldn't allow yourselves to be confused by others. Act when you need to, without further hesitation or doubt. People today can't do this... what is the affliction? Their affliction is their lack of self-confidence. If you do not spontaneously trust yourself sufficiently, you will be in a frantic state, pursuing all sorts of objects, unable to be independent."
- We can only learn by admitting we don't know everything yet, we can only grow if we accept that we are not perfect, just like everyone else around us.
- Be light, humorous, eager to learn, courageous to change and not afraid of making mistakes.
- Emotionally beating yourself up is not helping yourself or the world; it does not change the past, nor does it change the future; it only makes the present miserable.

- Find the courage to really open your heart to someone; self-confidence is deeply related to trusting others. Our deepest secrets are often not as hidden to others as we may think, or simply so common in the experience of others, that there is actually nothing special about them. We often consider ourselves very special, and forget that all the others around us are just as human as we ourselves are.
- Practice compassion and loving-kindness to others, also if they do not immediately react positive.
- Meditate on your potential; unveiling your Buddha nature
- Meditate on emptiness ; the ultimate antidote to all delusions.
- Try taking some precepts/vows to build your self-esteem, or simply any positive commitment to yourself which you are certain you will manage to keep.
- Dare to laugh at yourself and the world!

A few thoughts as examples of what you could reflect upon during a meditation session on self-confidence:
- If I cannot accept myself as being human, how can I ever accept and trust others? If I cannot accept and trust others, how can I respect and love them? If I cannot respect and love others, how can they respect and love me?
- Self-confidence comes from being challenged to one's limits, meeting them and then setting new limits.
- If I let the fear of making mistakes control my life, I could not do anything at all but lead a completely useless life, is that not something to be very afraid of?
- Perhaps the following prayer can be a powerful motivation as well as dedication for any (meditation) practice:
"May I become at all times, both now and forever
A protector for those without protection
A guide for those who have lost their way
A ship for those with oceans to cross
A bridge for those with rivers to cross
A sanctuary for those in danger
A lamp for those without light
A place of refuge for those who lack shelter
And a servant to all in need."
His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama


For a meditation on self-confidence and other subjects, see the List of Sample Meditations .
See also this inspiring teaching from Ayya Khema on 'Accepting Oneself '
A lovely list can be found at Strategies for building self-esteem