Self-esteem, self-confidence, self-doubt. What are they? Everyone will have their own slightly different definition.

Steve Andreas’ brilliant book “Transform Your Self: Becoming Who You Want To Be” makes these issues a lot clearer. In his model, somebody’s “self-concept” is made up of the qualities and abilities they think of themselves as having.

For any given quality, they will have a collection of reference experiences, like a ‘database’ – probably with one iconic ‘image’ which comes up immediately when they think of the quality (though the ‘image’ is not necessarily a visual one), and a collection of reference experiences which come up when they think about it a bit more deeply.

So, if someone has a ‘database’ which supports them in feeling they have the quality or ability strongly, then they will feel confident in that context. How strongly they feel they have it will depend on things like number of examples and (for NLP buffs) the ‘submodalities’ of the representations. How the person responds to these will vary from individual to individual.

‘Self-esteem’ comes from how the person evaluates their ‘self-concept’ (or rather ‘self-concepts’ as there is one for each quality or ability the person is thinking about) – if they value kindness highly and they have a strong self-concept for kindness, they will feel good about themselves whenever they think about themselves in this context.

Conversely, if they only have a weak self-concept for a quality they value, or they have a strong self-concept for something they value negatively, they won’t feel good about themselves when they
think about themselves in that context.

Getting the book will give you a lot more information, obviously, but some things to watch out for in coaching would be:

  • If their self-concept tends to be about ‘not having’ certain qualities – e.g. “I’m not cruel” rather than “I’m kind”, then all their representations will be of the opposite of what they want – a recipe for unhappiness which will leave them feeling ’empty’ and also probably comparing themselves with other people.
  • A ‘robust’ self-concept for a given quality (Andreas found) rather surprisingly includes a few ‘counter-examples’ (of times when they didn’t display the quality or ability), which enables the person to recognise more easily when they are not displaying it in real life, and also to accept and learn from feedback more readily.

I can’t recommend this highly enough. It’s an NLP book, but the NLP content is fairly basic submodalities with very little in the way of jargon. It’s a book for coaches and therapists rather than a self-help book.

As I said, self-esteem and self-confidence are vague terms which are going to mean different things to different people, though I suspect the differences are largely going to be about content – the structure of what it means to each person is going to be pretty much as described in the book.

I’ve used the ideas a lot – they work!

Self-esteem, self-confidence, self-doubt

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