Suffering From Lack of Self-Confidence? Learn Why
Why do some people suffer from a lack of self-confidence while others are self-assured, confident in who they are and what they do? Someone with low self-confidence might very likely respond that she doesn’t deserve to be confident because there is nothing worthwhile about her. That, though, is a false belief caused by a lack of self-confidence. Someone doesn’t lack self-confidence because she’s unworthy; someone lacks self-confidence for very specific reasons that have nothing to do with her inherent value as a human being.
Having low self-confidence isn’t someone’s fault. It’s a result of external circumstances and/or faulty thought patterns that feel real. Even when it’s someone’s own thoughts that contribute to a lack of self-confidence, the lack of confidence is because of how someone thinks about things. Low self-confidence is never caused by who someone is at his core. What, then, causes a lack of self-confidence?
Low Self-Confidence Happens When Other Needs Go Unmet
Human beings have basic needs that must be met for both survival and thriving. Psychologist Abraham Maslow developed a theory asserting that people are motivated by certain basic needs, needs that build upon each other. Envision a tub of blocks that you plan to use to build a model house. You can’t put on the roof until there are walls under it. Maslow’s needs are that way. You must fulfill the bottom layers of needs before working on higher ones.
Maslow uses the term “esteem” to encompass everything that is included in self-esteem, self-efficacy, and self-confidence—all related but slightly different concepts. Esteem, self-confidence, is rather far up the pyramid. If the underlying needs aren’t met, it’s very difficult for someone to have self-confidence.
According to Maslow, the following needs must be met, in order, before the need for esteem is met:
- Physiological needs such as food and sleep
- Safety needs such as a secure shelter, order, and stability
- Love and belonging needs such as human connection, intimacy, and friendship
If any of these basic needs are unmet, someone’s self-confidence is likely to be lacking.
External Influences Can Cause Lack of Self-Confidence
Often, low self-confidence is learned through experiences and interactions with others, sometimes from a young age. When someone of any age encounters these situations, self-confidence can drop:
- Frequent verbal put-downs
- Being bullied by peers, workplace supervisors, etc.
- Involvement in toxic or abusive relationships
- Living through difficult circumstances (poverty, illness, divorce, single parenting, unemployment, etc.)
Thoughts and Focus Can Cause Low Self-Confidence
The above situations are external to the person, outside his full control (of course he can choose to act to improve his situation, but the people and events themselves aren’t in his control). It’s possible for needs to be met and external influences to be positive and still have low self-confidence; no one tells someone that he is worthless, yet he has little self-confidence.
Frequently, someone’s own thought patterns chip away at his self-confidence. For example, these faulty beliefs are associated with lack of self-confidence:
- Having an external locus of control, believing that life in general is outside one’s influence
- A tendency to self-blameLearned helpless, the belief that nothing one does will improve anything
- The acceptance of every negative thought about oneself as true and accurate (listening to the harsh inner critic and accepting everything she says at face value)
Lack of self-confidence is caused by unmet basic needs, external factors beyond one’s control, and/or faulty thoughts. Lack of self-confidence can cause a sense of shame, depression, and anxiety, and it can be a factor in personality disorders such as narcissistic personality disorder and borderline personality disorder (Stone & Stone, 1993).
It’s important to recognize that your value is inherent. Your value isn’t dependent upon anything; instead your value is there because you are who you are. None of the causes of a lack of self-esteem are part of you at your core, which means that you can address them and gain self-esteem.
Last Updated: 17 January 2018
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD